A Deep Dive Into ‘Parenting While Black’ in a Post-Freddie Gray Baltimore

By Akiba Solomon Aug 11, 2015

Remember Toya Graham, the black Baltimore mom who became famous when she was videotaped smacking her masked 16-year-old son and yanking him away from a tense protest on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral?

Well, in a Talking Points Memo feature, Colorlines alumn Carla Murphy followed up with Graham, a single mom of six, and spoke with a range of other black parents in the city who say they’re stuck between trying to protect their children from racially charged police violence and neighborhood street crime.

Graham, who appeared on CNN and CBS and got a call from Oprah Winfrey after the video of her smacking her son, Michael, went viral, tells Murphy that she doesn’t regret hitting her only boy that day because she doesn’t want him to become "the next Freddie Gray."

I’ve seen police drag someone out the car and slam ’em on the ground or, it’s 30 below and they got ’em on the concrete or, you call for domestic violence or something that’s been going on in your house and they point the finger at you. …I’ve seen it over and over again.

As a result, says Graham, she can’t turn to police for protection from the civilian violence that permeates her neighborhood. Citing a local 9-year-old shot in the leg and the many children she’s known who were slain in the streets, she admits that she often wants to stay in her house.

You know how you walk down the street and you walk in the midst of other people? I don’t even want to do that. …I don’t know who’s being targeted for whatever reason. We just don’t know. 

Writer Murphy also checks in at a twice-weekly support group led by 64-year-old Cherry Hill community activist Shirley "Mama Shirley" Foulks. There she encounters Jackie Mayo, a black mom of 8- and 10-year-old boys who have both been diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral challenges.

Mayo recalls the time a white female police officer wielding a nightstick accosted her at a supermarket and told her, "You gon’ get your black ass over to the bus stop." One of her sons responded, "She didn’t have to talk to you like that. I don’t like cops." 

Yet, like Graham, Mayo has the twin fear of her kids being pressed into a dangerous underground economy that permeates their block. "I’m afraid that when they become teenagers, the older one will have his brother out there doing stuff and adults will hurt them," she is quoted as saying. "I have drug activity in front of my home. Every time we sit out there, they’re watching the dumpster, making sure you don’t touch their stuff." 

Writes Murphy of the dilemma, there are "no entries in the dozens of popular parenting manuals for ‘How to help your child respond to gunfire on her block,’ or ‘How to help your son channel his anger over police violence.’"

Maybe there should be.

Read the whole story at Talking Points Memo.