Tag: Melba Pearson

Birthing While Black: Food for Thought on Mother’s Day

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Photo Credit: CreateHer Stock

As Mother’s Day approaches, the conversation should not only be about Hallmark cards and what gift to buy the mothers in your life. While it is extremely important to show honor to our mothers daily (not just on Mother’s Day), we as a society should be focused on supporting mothers too. We are in a country with an extremely high rate of mortality for Black mothers — 3 to 4 times that of white mothers. Serena Williams has been public about her near death experience after giving birth; the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle,  chose to have a doula present when delivering her baby.  If high profile Black women are having concerns in the delivery room — let’s think about how much more dire this can be if a mother is giving birth behind bars.

The conversation has been elevated to include mothers who are in custody. Movements like #FreeBlackMamas and The Dignity Act illustrate the problems that face mothers behind bars. The Dignity Act was included as part of federal criminal justice reform bill, which just recently passed. It requires that women are not shackled while they give birth, receive menstrual care items, and searched by same-sex guards when at all possible. Sadly, states have been slower to pass these types of reforms.

A version of the Dignity Act passed in the Florida Legislature this month. However, this bill would not have helped Tammy Jackson — who was left to give birth alone in her jail cell for six hours in Broward County. Despite her repeated pleas to the guards, she was not provided medical attention.  This is part of the greater problem where certain mothers are not valued. The fact that someone is incarcerated or in custody does not diminish their humanity. People who are in custody are the responsibility of the Department of Corrections; as such, it is the guard’s responsibility to ensure that those in their care receive the help that they need.

Additionally, medical professionals need to have regular implicit bias training.  The assumption that Black women are stronger, therefore perceived to be less in need of medical attention, is a deadly fallacy that costs mothers their lives. This is something that is a relatively easy fix to the high mortality rates.

As for the guards who left Tammy Jackson to give birth alone in her cell without medical attention, it is my hope that her pain becomes a teaching moment in the road to criminal justice reform. No one should be judged by a mistake they may have made. 83% of people who go into custody come out – the trauma that was caused by this experience lasts, leaving repercussions on not only the person who was incarcerated, but begins a ripple effect from the immediate family to society as a whole.

As I do every Mother’s Day, I must wish my own mother a happy Mother’s Day in heaven. As I learn more about the medical traumas that mothers, especially Black mothers face, I marvel at her strength and appreciate her even more.

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Missing the Little Things on Mother’s Day

It was March of 2012. I took an extended trip to New York from Florida to spend time with my mother, who was battling cervical cancer. She had hid from me how bad it was since I had just gotten married weeks before, and she didn’t want me to worry. After collapsing and being hospitalized, I discovered the full extent of what the disease was doing to her.

We were hanging out at home one afternoon, and she was going through some of her things. She handed me a silver bracelet and said “here, take this. I don’t need it anymore“.

Of course, silly me did not grasp what she was doing. I was there thinking “she figures she’s not going out to any fancy events“.

Denial is a powerful thing.

When she passed away weeks later, it was the bracelet that gave me a modicum of comfort. Some nights I would go to sleep after clutching it and weeping uncontrollably.

As time went on, it became a symbol of her companionship. I’d get ready for a challenging meeting or an interview, and I’d say “ok Ma, don’t let me say anything crazy. Help me get my point across“.

Now, sometimes I’ll just tap it. It’s enough to center me, channeling some of her strength, eloquence and energy.

On this, the 7th Mother’s Day without her, I reflect. I still grieve, but it’s less crippling than in past years.

This week I published a post on the power of the little things (if you missed it, see it here). Something as small as a silver bracelet can mean so much.

Today, cherish the little (and the big) things that your Mom taught you or gave you. A Mom is beyond blood; it’s an emotional connection to a woman who pushes you forward to your future. Ties that bind can be biological, emotional or spiritual.

If you are without your mom today, I hope that the memories, along with the love of those around you, will help you through the day.

Happy Mother’s Day, especially to mine in heaven.

 

My mother and I at my law school graduation in 1997. RIP Mama Pearson

 

 

The Power of the Little Things

Photo courtesy of CreateHerStock

So as many of you know, I am obsessed with spinning. Most importantly, spinning at SoulCycle. I embarked on a challenge to complete 15 classes in 30 days. Between my schedule, exhaustion, and just life, it was a lofty goal for me, but I tried for it anyway. Saturday was my 10th class. The staff of SoulCycle South Beach left me a card at my spinning bike. It was a note of encouragement to keep pushing to my 15 class goal, to show appreciation for my efforts and my loyalty for coming to the studio as a local resident (we get many tourists due to being in South Beach).

I don’t know whether it was stress, or some other driving factor, but the card made me quite emotional. It was such a little thing — a small gesture, a token appreciation, a word of encouragement.

Often people over look at the little things and how important it can be for someone. For you it’s something small; but for someone it could be something huge that they need it right now.

In my new journey in leadership, I’ve had some growing pains. Being a social justice warrior part time is one thing; but when it’s your whole existence, it can take a toll on your soul. Additionally, you have to make sure that you’re growing in leadership. Since people look to you as a leader, you feel the pressure to make sure you are doing it right — that you’re really motivating your team and looking at the big picture.

In that spirit, I took a day off from work to fly out of state to see someone I greatly respect. I walked away from our lunch with two critical points; to always live in my truth, and to always focus on what is right.

Living your truth means not only telling the truth, but acknowledging when something is hurting you — when someone is hurting you. Being vocal is critical so that your own mental state can be preserved. Many times we hold in resentment, we hold in things that are wrong, or we accept certain treatment because we think we’re supposed to. That is not living in your truth, and creates a level of stress that is detrimental to you professionally as well as to your health. Stress truly kills.

Also, the key is to focus on always doing what’s right. You may not always get it right, but if your motivation is to do what is right, what is good for the organization and what is good for your fellow person, then you are on the right track.

This journey has been a serious learning curve for me. It is really teaching me the value of the little things: receiving hug from a friend, giving hugs to my father, a beautiful sunny day, an enthusiastic puppy, a really great song that comes on in the car, or an unexpected note cheering you on.

It’s the little things that help us deal when life comes at you fast.

Legal Divas of Color: 10 Ladies Rise in Alabama

Photo Credit: Andre WagnerEvery Black History Month, I have done a series on this blog on the topic of “Legal Divas of Color”. The intent is to highlight African-American women who are doing great things in the legal field. Many serve as an inspiration to me to keep fighting the good fight and pushing the boundaries as far as they can go. It is also a reminder that the term “diva” is not a pejorative term; a diva is a woman who is strong, self-assured, and commands her worth.

When one thinks of the state of Alabama, sadly what comes to mind is the long history of racism and segregation. One thinks of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King; the actions of brutal police officers; and the last state in the country to overturn miscegenation laws as required by the Supreme Court.

However, Election Day 2016 showed that times are slowly changing in this southern state. 10 female attorneys of color rose to the highest positions that one can hold in the legal field in Jefferson County. The newly elected District Attorney is Lynneice Washington; and nine women of color were elected judges in Jefferson County. The nine new judges are Javan Patton, Debra Bennett Winston, Shera Craig Grant, Nakita “Niki” Perryman Blocton, Tamara Harris Johnson, Elisabeth French, Agnes Chappell, Brendette Brown Green and Annetta Verin.

District Attorney Lynneice Washington ran on a progressive platform of reforming/reducing the use of the death penalty, creating alternatives to incarceration for low level offenders, and creating a citizens-police advisory board. In doing so, she defeated the incumbent who had been appointed to the position after the retirement of his successor.

Photo Credit: Lynneice Washington campaign

These wins are even more significant when you look at the fact that the current administration carried Alabama, and defeated Hillary Clinton resoundingly.

In this day and age, there seems to be a resurgence of the “tough on crime” rhetoric coming from the Justice Department and the White House. These policies have proven to be ineffective, leading to mass incarceration and no rehabilitation to be found in the criminal justice system. Now, there is a rise of a more progressive approach to criminal justice, which has shown to be effective in reducing recidivism and integrating people back into their communities. This is why it is more important than ever to elect progressive district attorneys and judges so that the whole defendant is being considered, as well as what is right for the victim, and the community at large. Local politics have become more critical in criminal justice than national policy. Groups such as the ACLU, and activists such as Shaun King are mounting voter education campaigns on this critical issue.

The wave of power seen in Jefferson County, Alabama is absolutely historic. I look upon these wins as hope for the future!

Congratulations ladies for being Legal Divas of Color.

Please see the bios of the nine judges here as well as a great piece detailing the District Attorney Lynneice Washington’s plans for the future of her county.