Join us in welcoming The Moriah Group’s new President, Kary A. James, to our village! Kary has expertise in organizational leadership and infuses justice and equity in her work to improve systems and facilitate effective collaboration. She holds an M.S.W. from Norfolk State University and a B.S. in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University.  

Learn more about Kary in this Q&A, and say hello at

Tell us about yourself.

My personal and professional lives have been very parallel. My entire life has been centered in and structured around service. As a child, I watched my mother in her role as a public health nurse and my father as a child welfare agency director. I grew up watching my parents lead and serve. It was always impressed upon me to contribute, give back, be of value, and improve the lives of others. 

I am a mother of three beautiful children. My daughter is studying civil engineering at Old Dominion University, my other daughter is studying architecture at Temple University, and my son is a rising high school senior. And I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend. 

I also occasionally ride my motorcycle—a Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Low. I love old school hip-hop. I’m a classically trained pianist. And immersing myself in water and dipping my toes in sand bring me pure joy.

Describe some of the previous experiences that bring you to this work.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have phenomenal leaders in my life from the very beginning. My parents, aunties and uncles, and elders in the work have guided and mentored me. My graduate degree is in social work, and I thought that would lead me to clinical work and I would eventually open my own practice. But my career went in a different direction. After graduate school, I moved from working in direct service in the child welfare and foster care systems to leading at the national level to create equitable, diverse, and inclusive cultures and frameworks across various systems. I’ve worked at the direct level—impacting individual families immediately. I’ve also worked at the systems level—holding institutions accountable, dismantling racist infrastructures, and positively impacting more lives. But no matter my role, I’ve always grounded myself in being a servant-leader, advancing thriving for Black and Brown people, working for sustainable change, and modeling the courageous leadership I’ve witnessed throughout my life and career.  

What are you passionate about?

I often ask this question when I meet someone for the first time. I am wired to be a person of service. It authentically brings me joy to do this work. At this point in my career, I don’t have another box I need to check off. So I want to focus my efforts on helping people of color to thrive, to win, and to fully walk in their purpose.

What inspires you about The Moriah Group?

Everything! I love that I’m at an organization where the work is unapologetically and wholly centered on improving the lives of Brown and Black people. It brings me immeasurable joy to know that I can leverage all of the knowledge I’ve learned, all of the expertise I’ve gained, and all of the skills I’ve developed to impact people at a human and community level in this magical place.  

What does thriving mean to you?

We thrive when we know what brings us joy. Waking up every day understanding what joy looks like, what it tastes like, and what it feels like—for ourselves at a deeply personal level—is something we should all experience wholly and fully.

In this Open Letter, Rooted Change—the newest initiative created by The Moriah Group—is expressing its solidarity with Tennessee State Representatives Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones who were expelled from the House of Representatives over their protest against gun violence. They have since been reinstated, but we affirm their unequivocal right to fight for racial justice and gun reform. We also remain committed to amplifying the pathways of liberation for all boys and young men of color.

By The Field Leaders’ Table

The name “Justin” is a derivative of the Latin and biblical name “Justus,” which means “…just, fair, and righteous.” Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson received the opposite of fair or just treatment when the Democrats were both expelled from the House of Representatives by a Republican majority last month. Their infraction? Breaking the rules of “decorum” during a protest on the House floor where they spoke passionately against gun violence. Justice continues to elude “The Justins” (as they are affectionately referred to by their constituents), and elude many young men and boys of color across the nation. 

We, the members of The Field Leaders’ Table, pen this open letter in support and admiration for the courage and resolve of these two representatives who called out the atrocity of gun violence. We acknowledge the racial injustices facing all boys and young men of color and urgently appeal to like-minded, mission-driven organizations to unite during this heightened moment in history.

As a collective of social justice leaders led by the Rooted Change initiative of The Moriah Group, The Field Leaders’ Table empowers BYMOC-serving organizations to actualize their missions—through leadership and capacity development, and research and policy change, in service of creating systems that support the positive evolution of communities of color. 

To The Justins, we say:

You are serving your communities with the determination and mission of liberation that’s reminiscent of other civil rights activists and leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Ziad Ahmend. You stood resolute against the silencing that marginalized communities and leaders of color experience throughout their lives. You exhibit a core appreciation for humanity, intellect, and the wisdom of your elders. You demonstrate the likeness of icons who are on a mission; who are encouraging peace, respect, and dignity; and who are manifesting love. 

Furthermore, your expulsion shined a light on the white supremacist ideology that still permeates American politics. White supremacist ideals are perpetuating an exponential growth of domestic terrorism and nationalism that is being willfully ignored. In fact, community violence has become a daily norm and mass shootings have become a household term radicalizing and dividing our communities. Both are seemingly sanctioned and encouraged by members of our own government. Your protest calls attention to the broader systems and structures that empower and motivate extremists through relaxed gun laws. 

According to the Center for American Progress, Americans of color (ages 15 to 34) experience the highest rates of gun homicides across all demographics. The gun and whoever wields it has become the judge, the jury, and grievously, the executioner—far too often. Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide, and they are twice as likely as white Americans to die from gun violence. If we reenacted a federal assault weapons ban, researchers estimate that we would see 70% fewer mass shooting deaths. Yet, our legislators and leaders continue to offer their thoughts and prayers instead of enacting systems change and policy reform.

We, The Field Leaders’ Table, want Representatives Jones and Pearson to know that we see you, we hear you, and we offer our unyielding support—as we do for all boys and young men of color striving to realize freedom and reclaim their humanity. You are now the torchbearers in the struggle for social equality. We encourage you to call out the legacy of white supremacy whenever it attempts to stifle the voices of young men and boys of color in leadership—and in life. We salute you for boldly speaking on the sickening realities and trauma inflicted on communities due to gun proliferation. And we stand with you in demanding the immediate enactment of gun reform policies.

To local and national organizations, we say:  

Remain committed to amplifying pathways of liberation for boys and young men of color and join us in our efforts to build a coalition of support for all of “The Justins” we know and love in our communities by:

Through Rooted Change’s work with boys and young men of color, we recognize that we are partnering with current generations who are The Justins of tomorrow: men who will stand up to issues that are important to their communities, despite the oppositional white power forces at play. We applaud how The Justins handled adversity in stride and remained unequivocally solid—proving intellectual power can confront and challenge and match white supremacy. 

Representatives Pearson and Jones, we affirm your unequivocal right to confront and challenge adversaries. We see you and we are here for you as leaders who understand your fight for justice. And in this moment, we tip our hats in your honor for being legislators who won’t back down, truth tellers who won’t give in, and audacious men of color who won’t give up. You are the brilliance all boys and young men of color embody. 

In solidarity,

As Senior Director of Executives’ Alliance (EA), now housed within The Moriah Group, Ericka facilitates a network of philanthropic and field leaders to collectively dismantle the systems and narratives that traumatize young people of color. Her expertise spans education, philanthropy, health, community development, and direct service in nonprofit leadership. She is also deeply passionate about uplifting, empowering, and healing communities of color. 

Learn more about Ericka in this Q&A, and say hello at

Tell us about yourself.

I am the daughter of Renee, granddaughter of Juanita, great-granddaughter of Addie Lou, and great-great-granddaughter of Georgianna. I was raised in Washington, D.C., primarily by my grandmother, so I embody the old school values of fairness, community, service, hard work, integrity, and family. Because of this grounding, I am a truth seeker and lifelong advocate of justice and equity. My education at Howard University (proud Bison for life!) incubated me—fortifying a deep understanding of my history and my gifts. As a mother of two daughters and a son, it is my personal responsibility to use those gifts to make this world better for them and for future generations. The spiritual and emotional health of our communities is also important to me. I am a Reiki Master and avid learner of various healing modalities. And I love live music, a great movie or book, and time near any body of water.

Describe some of the previous experiences that bring you to this work.

I have spent the past 25 years in service-centered roles and leadership positions working with both national grasstops and local, grassroots community members. This includes serving on various boards such as the D5 Coalition—a five-year initiative aimed at advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy. My expertise spans organizational development and governance; to building and strengthening leaders; to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). In my professional career, I have often been the only woman, the only person of color, or both at many tables. I know firsthand how it feels to be invisible, labeled, overlooked, and oppressed. I also know about the brilliance that is ignored and untapped in communities of color. In recognition of my advocacy for equitable opportunities for women, children, and communities, I was a 2021 recipient of the YWCA of Greater Charleston’s “What Women Bring” Award. 

What are you passionate about?

I am a student of social justice and a staunch believer that those living through complex societal and systemic inequalities should be the architects of the solutions that will improve their futures. They deserve a seat at the table and their voices deserve to be heard. I am also passionate about coaching and inspiring individuals to reclaim their power and embrace their personal and professional potential. 

What inspires you about EA?

I am deeply inspired by the potential for youth of color to thrive as they see fit. Through the EA model, national philanthropic, advocacy, and nonprofit leaders will collaborate to set the stage for thriving by dismantling the systems and narratives that oppress communities of color. And I am excited about the opportunity to fuse my personal values, lived experiences, and professional expertise to drive systems change and liberation for communities of color.

What does thriving mean to you?

The ability to thrive is a basic right that allows individuals to lead secure and prosperous lives as they define it. Thriving means thatthroughout their livespeople have equitable access to supports such as affordable and quality healthcare, housing, education, safe neighborhoods, and careers where they are paid based on knowledge rather than gender. These types of supports allow individuals, families, and communities to thrive emotionally, economically, physically, spiritually, and mentally.   

We are excited to introduce a new look for Forward Promise and The Moriah Group! Our new logos illustrate our growth and represent the mandates from our village that will help young people of color and their communities heal, grow, and thrive. Together with the Nafasi Fund, we are reclaiming the humanity of people of color by advocating for self-directed solutions rooted in our unique cultures.

The new Forward Promise logo focuses on the roots and trunk of our collective family tree. The roots both signify our rooted communities and our understanding of dehumanization as the root of racism. The trunk represents the solid presence of grantee organizations to provide the culture and community that our young people need to recognize their sacred humanity.

The new Forward Promise website is now live with language that better captures our charge to reclaim our humanity, and features that make it easier to access relevant research and resources. You will also see the changes to our branding reflected across all of our social media platforms.

The new Moriah Group logo focuses on leaves and roots. The leaves represent the communal and ancestral wisdom that our young people need in order to withstand the challenges they may face. And the roots illustrate our work supporting rooted communities for all people of color to ensure that young people thrive. The Moriah Group branding has been updated to reflect these concepts and our refreshed website is on the way.

Finally, Nafasi Fund is almost one year old and is already helping Black-led organizations with the infrastructure they need to receive the funding they deserve. The Nafasi Fund logo spotlights the trunk and leaves. The trunk signifies the Black-led organizations that create and direct social change in their communities. And the leaves represent the ways in which these organizations can flourish and spread their wisdom and healing when properly supported.

As always, we are grateful for your hearts, wisdom, and perseverance in this work. And we are proud to walk alongside you.

Women’s History Month is always an introspective time for me. I think about all the ways that women have been, and continue to be, visionary shapers of their communities. And I think about how I have been prepared to be the visionary leader that I am today by the example set by the women who have gone before me. I stand in that truth without backing away from the light it creates.

I didn’t have much choice in the kind of woman I would become. I come from a long line of strong, Black women from a hilly village called Moriah on the small Caribbean island of Tobago. My grandmother Esther, whom everyone called “Mother,” gave birth to nine children, including five daughters. Vanessa, Mother Esther’s middle daughter, is my mother.

All my life, I have been transfixed by the resilience and resourcefulness of these six women. As a child, I remember marveling every time my mother turned a nearly empty pantry and refrigerator into a deliciously healthy family dinner.

All my life, I have been humbled by their courage. I watched their journeys of immigration and sacrifice, rebuilding their lives from scratch in North America. I remember attending night classes with my mother at Howard University. She didn’t allow the lack of a babysitter to keep her from earning a master’s degree to provide a solid life for us.

All my life, I have been taught how to love by watching their service to others. To follow the example of the women in my family means I must also be a strong, spiritual, and loving leader with a servant’s heart.

Mother Esther was a force. My mother tells countless stories about how my grandmother brought women in the village together to problem solve when someone was sick or in need; and how she assigned her daughters to visit and care for elderly and widowed women in the village. She turned her front yard into the hangout spot on the weekends to keep the youth in the village safe, stringing lights and baking coconut buns for them to enjoy in within the sanctuary of her space. I grew up with the understanding that the wellbeing of young people is vital to the future of a community. Mother Esther’s commitment to children and youth struck a chord in me to also create spaces that ensure their safety and opportunities to thrive.

Mother Esther cast a vision for her village and her family in her little home at the top of the hill in Moriah, and she let nothing stand in her way to achieve it. Likewise, my mother and my aunts Wilcenia, Vandalyn, Eunice, and Joan added to that vision for our family through their diligence and sacrifice. All of them saw the needs of others and served them, even in the midst of their own struggles.

When I look into the faces of the four generations that have come from my grandmother’s womb, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for her vision and her constant prayers. I am sure of my purpose to write the next chapter of the vision for my family and for all children in the place I now call home – these United States of America. I founded The Moriah Group to honor my grandmother’s vision for her village and her family. And each day, I pray I’m doing everything with the tools I have been given to continue her legacy in ways that make her proud.

Author: Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, EdD

Author: Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, EdD

With COVID-19 an ever-present threat, many parents are burdened with questions as some school reopen for face-to-face instruction:

As a child advocate and a parent to children of color, answering these questions is even more difficult because of two factors: an understanding that continuing my children’s education is a critical component to their growth, and an awareness that the weighty experiment of in-person learning is borne on the backs of people of color—as has been the case throughout this pandemic.

Since this health crisis began, the lives of working-class people of color in “essential” industries have been placed at risk to maintain the economy and conveniences of affluent white Americans. We have witnessed the seriousness of this virus downplayed as some spun the story of its disparate impacts on people of color.

Then Southern students, nearly 60% of whom are children of color[1], were used to test the waters of school reopening. At the prodding of the President, and against health experts’ advice, many Southern districts opened in late July and early August for in-person education. Others opted for virtual learning in the first quarter, with plans to reassess. The nation held its breath to see what would happen and proof of the danger in placing children back in school buildings manifested quickly. In Tennessee, Hamilton County Schools had to close two school buildings just hours into the first day of school after reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases.[2] Across the state, the majority of school districts opened for in-person education and hundreds of teachers and students were quarantined almost immediately due to potential exposure.[3] While some schools across the country decided to postpone in-person schooling because of the risks, there are some schools who are making plans to transition from virtual to in-person schooling in the coming weeks because virtual learning simply failed.

The lack of federal leadership on the issue of schooling during the pandemic has meant that all of our children are at greater risk. The politics of this pandemic makes schools reopening feel like a tug-of-war between opposing parties with the health and wellbeing of our children hanging in the balance.

The dangers accompanying virtual education, while not immediately life threatening, also have potential for negative consequences. The beginning of this pandemic revealed major inequities in the education of students of color. Gaps in technology access, hunger, supervision, and learning support have not yet been resolved. Tragically, this will create learning gaps for students of color that may take years to correct, if at all.

Schools can help improve outcomes for students of color in four ways:

Ensure the physical safety and wellbeing of students and families. Schools can create a sustainable means of distributing food to families during virtual learning to offset the loss of school meal programs. They can also provide families with information about securing their homes while parents are at work and students are home. Schools can also engage a technology partner to assist families with cyber-security while children are learning online.

Equip parents and students with the necessary learning tools. Students of color have historically faced an internet and hardware digital divide. Now is the time to partner with local internet companies to provide free internet access to families and laptops and Chromebooks to all students who need them. Schools should ensure that all communications are translated for students for whom English is a second language. In the process, reach out to parents and caregivers of color to ensure they can take full advantage of the supports available.

Structure the virtual learning experience to address the present needs. A regular 8 AM – 3 PM school day does not work for many families during this crisis. Schools can make the learning day flexible so students can begin at the time that is most conducive for their household. Use teacher specialists, aides, and other school staff as learning coaches to support students who have limited parental support. Partner with a trusted community organization to safely provide learning assistance to families of color. Make learning coaches available during evenings and weekends.

Be attentive to the mental health needs of students, families, and teachers. The challenges of essential work or loss of income, food insecurity, housing instability, and COVID-19 deaths are faced most harshly by families of color. This, coupled with ongoing racial tensions and protests, significantly impacts the capacity of students of color to learn. Provide mental health workers to regularly check in with families and provide care. Similarly, ensure teachers have regular opportunities to care for their mental health as they are thrust into a new type of teaching and feel immense pressure from both administrators and families.

How schools will address the new (and long-standing) equity gaps students of color is the problem to be solved. In addition to the academic, logistical, and safety net issues disproportionately impacting students of color and their families, they should not be expected to continue to serve as guinea pigs in all aspects of this pandemic. As tumultuous as 2020 has been, we have an opportunity to do more of what is right to ensure that students of color thrive.

[1] Digest of Education Statistics, 2019. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2020, from
[2] Mangrum, M. (2020, August 13). These Tennessee school districts are already reporting COVID-19 cases after reopening. Tennessean. Retrieved August 24, 2020 from

Limited Release: October 16, 2019

Public Release: June 4, 2020

Ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up and they will likely give you a list. Their dreams are boundless and they derive genuine excitement from planning their future. They believe they have a future of their own choosing. As boys and young men of color (BYMOC) get older, many lose the sense of the possible. The dehumanization they and their villages face make hoping frivolous when survival becomes the goal.

Dehumanization is the persistent invalidation of humanity through perceptions or actual treatment, and is the cause of generations of historical trauma. At the center of dehumanization is the pervasive idea that people of color do not need, and are not worthy of, basic human dignities. Dehumanization threatens the healthy development of BYMOC and their villages and manifests in the narratives, policies, and practices that impact them.

Paulo Freire wrote “Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.” Because dehumanization is not a “given destiny,” we can help boys and young men of color to shift the narrative and disrupt the cycles of emotional and physical violence that oppress them. This short film, “I AM HUMAN,” is part of our multi-pronged effort to reclaim and affirm the humanity of BYMOC and their villages.

Clink the link below for more on the dehumanization framework and strategies for disrupting its effects, read and download our paper, Disrupting Dehumanization and Affirming the Humanity of Boys and Young Men of Color and Their Communities.”


Author: Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, EdD

Jogging on a sunny spring day is normal. Chasing, shooting, and murdering a Black man while he is jogging is NOT normal.

Playing music outside and enjoying yourself is normal. Being shot and killed because someone else does not like your music is NOT normal.

Walking to the convenience store to grab some snacks is normal. Being gunned down on the sidewalk while walking home is NOT normal.

Getting a driver’s license, a significant teenage milestone often met with celebration, is normal. The deep anxiety and stress that a Black parent feels when it’s time for their child to get a driver’s license is NOT normal.

Going to the mall to shop with friends and enjoying a pizza is normal. The chest-gripping fear, shallow breathing, and even sharp pains that a Black parent feels when a child is fifteen minutes late for curfew is NOT normal. The release of shoulders, sigh of relief, relaxing of jaw muscles that a Black parent experiences when their child finally walks through the door is NOT normal.

I spend another Mother’s Day grateful for my children’s safety, and yet keenly aware and saddened that there are weeping Black mothers all across this country.

This is the America that Black people experience. This is the America that we are all living in. An America that, since its very beginnings, has dehumanized Black people and, indeed, all people of color. White America has systematically demonstrated that the bodies of people of color are disposable. From using our bodies for economic gain to demonizing our bodies to create fear, this notion of control over bodies and the boundless ability to take the lives of people of color is a theme that runs deep in our nation’s narrative. And while society tries to downplay the abuse people of color as ancient history that should be laid to rest, the truth is that in my own short lifetime, the chasing, beating, burning, dragging, and shooting of Black bodies remains a part of my reality and the regular news cycle.

No matter how long it’s been happening, YOU CAN’T CONVINCE ME THIS IS NORMAL.


The media coverage has seemingly desensitized the American public to some to these happenings but let me tell you, Black folks are not desensitized. Black people are living in a traumatizing state of anguish with deeply emotional responses ranging from a deluge of tears or profane ranting to stunned silence and internal weeping.

Every incident is profoundly re-traumatizing. Each heinous act of dehumanization, coupled with the injustice that white aggressors are largely free from consequence, carries the message: “You, Black child, are unworthy. Your body and your life have no value. You, Black parent, have no recourse. This is our America where we can kill Black people without fear of punishment.”

Racialized trauma carries deep emotional and physical consequences for people of color. The mental scars will be felt most deeply by those who knew Ahmaud Arbery best. However, the entire Black community also experiences mental scars. The continual reminder that society deems us “less than human” is a psychological burden which reinforces a hopelessness that Black people must fight hard to overcome.1 Research tells us hopelessness is tied to depression, suicidal ideation2, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and violence.3 The physical consequences are also very real. Racialized trauma is linked to higher presence of stress-related hormoneswhich set the stage for obesity and heart disease. Teens who experience heightened discrimination have trouble sleeping5, higher blood pressure, higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones—all of which are tied to the manifestation of chronic diseases.6

And when we talk about pandemics, like COVID-19, having greater impact on people with underlying health conditions such as chronic lung disease, severe asthma, diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease, we neglect to connect it to the underlying reasons why these health conditions exist in the first place. For Black people, racism, dehumanization, and its accompanying trauma are proven contributors.

Despite all of this, people of color are expected to thrive in this America. They are even blamed for not thriving because this is supposed to be a land of great opportunity where anyone who seeks advancement can attain it. Nevertheless, attaining it does not guarantee your safety or wellbeing.

There are many things in America that need to be fixed. Thoughts and prayers for the victims of racial violence are rarely offered and not enough. We must reform gun laws so that guns do not fall into the hands of people who seek opportunities to do intentional harm. We must eliminate Stand Your Ground laws that have been shown to increase violence rather than improve safety. We must reform our justice system so that racists who commit these crimes are not protected by loopholes in the legal process, by insufficient investigation, and by corruption. We must change the way media covers the stories of these incidents. Too often, coverage is slanted to reinforce the loopholes and racism that exist in our legal system and demonizes victims of color by unearthing any speck of dirt that can be found about them. They use the most stereotypical pictures that conjure up false narratives of the predatory and dangerous characteristics of Black boys and young men. All the while forgetting to state the obvious: this person was a victim.

These abnormal atrocities cannot continue.

We, who believe in freedom, will not rest. We will not rest until this country sees the humanity of people of color, guarantees our safety, and provides real opportunities to thrive.


  1. Madubata, I. J., Odafe, M. O., Talavera, D. C., Hong, J. H., & Walker, R. L. (2018). Helplessness mediates racial discrimination and depression for african american young adults. Journal of Black Psychology44(7), 626–643. Retrieved from
  2. Polanco-Roman, L., & Miranda, R. (2013). Culturally related stress, hopelessness, and vulnerability to depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in emerging adulthood. Behavior Therapy, 44 (2013), 75-87.
  3. Smith-Bynum, M., Lambert, S., English, D., & Ialongo, N. (2014). Associations between trajectories of perceived racial discrimination and psychological symptoms among African American adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 26(4pt1), 1049-1065. doi:10.1017/S0954579414000571
  4. Lee, D. B., Peckins, M. K., Heinze, J. E., Miller, A. L., Assari, S., & Zimmerman, M.A. (2018). Psychological pathways from racial discrimination to cortisol in african american males and females. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 41(2): 208–220. doi:10.1007/s10865-017-9887-2. Retrieved from
  5. Wang, Y., Yip, T. (2019). Sleep facilitates coping: Moderated mediation of daily sleep, ethnic/racial discrimination, stress responses, and adolescent well‐being. Child Development. Retrieved from
  6. Brody, G. H., Lei, M. K., Chae, D. H., Yu, T., Kogan, S. M., & Beach, S. (2014). Perceived discrimination among African American
    adolescents and allostatic load: a longitudinal analysis with buffering effects. Child development, 85(3), 989–1002. Retrieved

I’ve been a mother for 14 years. I have a teenage son and a young daughter. Being a mother is a great honor that brings an indescribable joy. I marvel daily at the ways my children are growing and developing. I am also humbled at how parenting has made me a better human being. At night, I often gaze at my two precious children sleeping and am filled with gratitude and warmth.

But being a Black mother is also a heavy mental load. At times, it is both physically and emotionally exhausting. My need to protect my children from all types of dehumanizing attitudes and actions in the world around them takes a toll. I feel the stress in my jaw when I get angry over an unjust situation and then realize I’ve been clenching my teeth. My neck and shoulders tighten as I worry about their well-being when they’re out with friends, and realize I’m unable to truly relax until I hear them come in the door. My heart aches and my eyes sting from holding back tears when we discuss an injustice carried out against a child who looks like them.

Having “the talk” in households of color isn’t just that discussion about sex. It’s also the talk about what to do when someone calls you a racial slur. Or what to say when a teacher tells you they don’t expect you to do well in their class. Or how to respond when someone disrespects you by touching your hair, your clothing, or your body because it’s “different.” Or how to behave in the mall so you don’t get accused of stealing. Or how to engage with police officers so you make it home safely. These are talks I wish I didn’t have to give, but they are necessary to keep my children safe.

Every day, I look at my precious son, who now towers over me, as he gets up and prepares for school. I pray that his mind and spirit are well as he faces each new day. I think about how the opportunities to thrive for boys and young men of color are obstructed by the day-to-day indignities they face in our society. The historical treatment of people of color, and the current laws, practices, and social conditions in communities in the United States continually send a message that it is okay to degrade, shame, and devalue our boys and young men.

The weight of these messages, and the trauma it creates, is a heavier burden than a boy should have to bear. The work of humanizing the injured heart and mind of a boy of color happens through protection, connection, affection, direction, and correction, as coined by my friend and colleague, Dr. Howard Stevenson. So, as a fiercely determined mother to a boy in this predicament, I work daily to liberate him from the weight of this load.

I protect his heart and his mind by affirming him each day. I call him “scholar,” and “prince,” and “world-changer.” I protect him by offering a counter-narrative to the harsh characterization of his people, and giving him the knowledge of his ancestral history that reveals the legacy and power that lives within him. I protect him by connecting him to media that tells positive stories about boys like him. I send him stories of triumph and tenacity to invalidate the oppressive stories of hate.

“I protect him by offering a counter-narrative to the harsh characterization of his people, and giving him the knowledge of his ancestral history that reveals the legacy and power that lives within him.”

I connect him to the rich history of his immediate and extended family — the men who came before him and worked tirelessly as laborers, entrepreneurs, pharmacists, teachers, chefs, and nurses. I connect him to a tight-knit circle of friends who are like family that we have created to be a part of our village. I connect him to community institutions that pour into him — our church, his martial arts master, his basketball coach.

I pour affection onto him like running water. Even when we are in disagreement, I want him to feel love in my words. It sets the tone for his day when the first words he hears before he leaves our home are words of love and positivity. I also shower him with physical affection. Even as a teen, he still accepts my wet cheek kisses and warm hugs. That affection beats back the harshness of the world around him. Proximity and touch do wonders for the heart.

“Affection beats back the harshness of the world around him. Proximity and touch do wonders for the heart.”

I direct him by listening to his dreams, and pushing him to develop the skills to support the fulfillment of those dreams. I point out for him abilities that he may not recognize yet in himself, and I encourage him to build on them. I direct him by helping him to conceive how seemingly disparate skills come together to form a vision for his life that is fulfilling and rich.

I have high expectations for his behavior, his treatment of others, his honoring of elders, his respect for women, and his work ethic. I correct him when he falls short, and I hold him accountable. I want him to understand what it means to walk strongly in his manhood — with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and grace. I correct to foster understanding and changed behavior. This requires a lot of conversations, examples, and sharing of my own missteps in life.

“This is how I show my love. To liberate his mind from the chains of dehumanization that threaten to drag him down when he wants to soar.”

This is how I show my love. To liberate his mind from the chains of dehumanization that threaten to drag him down when he wants to soar. To transcend the negativity, and instill a hope that stirs up in him the strength to thrive. I don’t always get it right. And, I don’t do it alone. I am held up by the power of the ancestors, my own mother, his fathers, and the village that wraps its loving protection around us. This is my child, and I see this as my charge as a Black mother. And to all the mothers of beautiful boys of color who embrace this as their duty, I see you, sis. I see you.

A mother’s love liberates.

(Ms. Shirley Christian, Dr. Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, Ms. Laquita Brown, and Dr. Karla McCullough)

Author: Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, EdD

It was a short exchange, really. One that might seem insignificant to onlookers who couldn’t hear the words being spoken. But it is a small moment I will cherish forever.

I was invited to Jackson, Mississippi by the Juanita Sims Doty Foundation to conduct a training on the cycle of dehumanization and racialized trauma, and its impacts on health and well-being for children of color. Representatives from two school districts, higher education, public health, and the justice system were all in the room, as were mentors and volunteers who work daily with children. I scanned the room before the training, mostly to gauge the racial composition and mood of the audience. In that moment, I didn’t give thought to the range of ages in the room.

In my presentation, I unpacked dehumanization and its five forms – historical, cultural/spiritual, social, emotional, and physical. I shared historical and contemporary examples of how dehumanizing actions and policies have been enacted against people of color. I talked about the grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and parents going back in time who experienced these atrocities, and the pain and trauma that follows families for generations. I discussed how we punish children of color for behaviors that are actually responses to unfair treatment rooted in white supremacy. As I shifted to sharing solutions, I talked about the importance of the narrative we tell about people of color and how the story is incomplete without hearing from people of color. I also gave examples of programs run by our Forward Promise grantees and Fellows who are doing transformative work, healing the hearts of youth of color. Programs like Beats Rhymes and Life in Oakland, California and LatinxED in Chapel Hill, North Carolina anchor youth of color in their culture to withstand the dehumanization that plagues them daily as they go to school, as they go to work, and as they live in their communities that are too often plagued with social problems beyond their control.

And then it happened.

After the program, two Black women in their mid-70s came up to me. They seemed quiet and unassuming in their demeanor – until one of them began to speak. Her name was Ms. Laquita Brown. She took my hand and held it tight. She looked directly into my eyes and said, “I want to thank you for your work. I want to thank you for putting words to our experience. You need to continue to take this message on around the world.”

Her message was simple, but all that she represented gripped my heart and I was at a loss for words. There before me stood two elders who lived this experience of dehumanization in ways that I can only read about. They were alive when Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten. They were alive when Medgar Evers was assassinated. And now, they volunteer their lives in service to Black boys in Jackson, teaching them about justice, service, and racial healing. They are living examples of the connectedness between our history and the present day.

That small moment was a powerful reminder to me of how much this work matters.  Those who have come before me as trailblazers in this fight for freedom, humanity, and equity need me – need all of us – to pick up the mantle and press forward with our passion and commitment to disrupt the cycle of dehumanization for the sake of our youth.

This endeavor to change our society so that it works for EVERYONE is no easy task. But time is ticking, and our children are growing. This work of transforming the way society functions for people of color is urgent. This work needs the mighty groundswell of our unapologetic voices for change, our knowledge of history and weaving it into a narrative that connects it to the present. Together, we must create the will to implement solutions we already know can work, and to think more innovatively to develop even bolder solutions. We will see a new day if we amass the power and promise of each of us that are committed to the fight.

So bring your best to the line, and let’s labor together for the betterment of our children, our communities, and our society. The elders and the ancestors are counting on all of us.