It all began with the death of George Floyd and, now that former police officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of his murder, Sherilyn Bennett believes now is the time for a check-in with her two adult sons KJ and Devonte. She believes that her role as their mother includes the responsibility of providing emotional support for her sons and notes that the check-in may prove mutually beneficial.
Surprisingly, many parents remain unaware of how deeply the tragedy has affected their children. The suppression of traumatic responses is not healthy and parents shouldn’t take the lack of response for granted, assuming their sons are well. Ms. Bennett encourages parents to avail themselves to guide and comfort their children as they express anger, sadness, confusion, or other emotions. Bennett hopes to make parents aware of the angst their sons and daughters may experience due to heightened tension between citizens and police- some even feel targeted by police officers.
Last year, Bennett began compiling stories of systemic racism and police brutality from mothers around the country. The response was overwhelming, and she released, “boy: Defending Our Sons’ Identity in America” in January of this year.
“There is a history of black men being sacrificial lambs…it has to stop. The lynching, the shooting, the disregard of their humanity. They are our sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and leaders. They were never American boys.”Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, African-American historian and lecturer (historical contributor, posthumously)
The book chronicles the demoralizing and traumatizing encounters of black boys and men told by their mothers, sisters, and wives. Bennett added the story of her son who was detained without cause on his college campus. To this day, the future of that stop remains grimly unknown, but thanks to a coach who intervened, Bennett doesn’t have to think about it. Still, she knows many have faced this reality and, the scars yet remain.
Ms. Bennett also recognizes the irrational disparity of emotional safety in the black community. She cites the failure for black men to openly show emotion as the root of this issue. She says of her and her ex-husband’s efforts to check in with her two sons, “we will parent until we die!” and encourages parents of both sons and daughters to get involved in the process of making self care a priority in the wake of the trial and guilty verdict.
In her book, Ms. Bennett included legal and mental health perspectives for readers to consider. In her contribution to the book, Stephanie Brinkley Wellon, LMHC wrote, “..it is in our DNA to respond to trauma the way we do. Fight or flight mode does not work for us. We are simply stuck. It becomes hard to fight and we don’t have anywhere to go so we can become stuck in our emotional cages.” Ms. Bennett began the conversation with her sons and has encouraged parents to do the same.
Mrs. Gwen Carr (Eric Garner’s mother) contributed the foreword and has encouraged activists to families, friends and the general public to move “from demonstration to legislation.” Mrs. Carr has successfully taken the fight for justice from the street to the chambers where decisions are made and laws are passed, and she is far from done. Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act” into law. Before her untimely death, Erica Garner also worked to honor her father and avenge his death.
The nation is faced with officer-involved shootings (Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Andrew Brown, Jr.) once again and as the details are sorted out; parents and their children of all ages have an opportunity to bond, not over trauma as we have in the past, but in comfort and support of each other.