After 4 hours of typing away here at my computer and nothing coming out right, I finally decided to give up on writing the blog piece I had in mind and write the one that wants to be written.
Today is Justice Day in Jena, Louisiana. As I type this, thousands of people, mostly black, many of them young, urban, generation X and Yers, from across the country have converged on the racially segregated town in central Louisiana of 3000 residents to protest the unjust treatment of six black male teenagers by the courts in that parrish.
The mother of Mychael Bell, the one teenager who remains in jail and awaits sentencing, just appeared on CNN. She’d just spoken to her son by cellphone, she said. “He’s in good spirits and feels heartened by the sight of all the people who’ve come down to Jena to support our cause.” My heart goes out to the mother of Mychael Bell. I’m the mother of a daughter and don’t know what it feels like to raise a son. As the mother of a daughter I live with certain fears for my girl-child. Mothers of sons have their own fears. Especially mothers of black sons. Mothers of black sons in the deep south. Mothers of sons caught up in an unjust legal system. Mothers of murdered sons. Maime Till, mother of Emmett Till. Afeni Shakur, mother of Tupac Shakur. Camille Cosby, mother of Ennis Cosby. Rizpeh, mother of Saul’s two sons. Mary, the mother of Jesus. The list goes on.
My daughter phoned in the middle of the day from school last week breathless and excited, asking permission to sign up for the bus taking high school students down to Jena this week to join the protest. My heart caught in my throat. I was proud, on one hand, that my daughter understood that what was going on in Jena, Louisiana was something worth protesting. I was terrified, on the other, of actually letting my child go down to a small southern town rife with racial tensions. At that moment I knew what mothers in the 50s and 60s felt when their children phoned home to say that they were leaving college to join the freedom and civil rights movements down in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. How could I say “no” to my daughter who otherwise has always seemed unimpressed with the history lessons I’ve tried giving her on race relations in America. Perhaps she’s been listening all the while. Perhaps her generation has just needed a movement of its own.
Fortunately, all the seats on the bus were gone by the time my daughter went to sign up. But she did something last night I’ve been trying to get her to do for weeks since school started. She laid out her clothes before heading to bed. She wanted to be sure she had just the right black outfit to wear to school today to show solidarity with the Jena 6 and the thousands gathering there. My daughter missed the bus this time. But she will have another chance. History tells us that there will be other Jena 6s.