To celebrate the lives of mothers who have given their all and are doing the work of raising young Black men, here are nine portraits commemorating the different layers of motherhood: the mothers of newborns, teens, and young adults; the family of women who collectively raise a young man; the aunt that selflessly raises children who aren’t her own; and last but not least—the mother who grieves over the loss of her child to war and violence. This Mother’s Day, we honor all aspects of motherhood and all its greatness.
1. Nataki Hewling of Staten Island, NY, speaks about sons, seven year-old Mekhi and three month-old Jordan
“Being in Staten Island, my 7 year old is often the only boy of color in his activities, so he goes to school in Manhattan because I want him to be comfortable with who he is, in any social setting. He’s a young actor and already sees in media the way that Black men are portrayed and is already starting to ask questions. I want him to be strong enough to challenge that. I’m working hard to raise two beautiful African-American boys. It can be daunting sometimes with what we see out there, but I want to raise my newborn to follow his heart and be strong as well.”
2. Emunah Y’Srael of New Haven, CT speaks on her five-month-old son M’Ale Al-Alim
“I give praise and honor to the Holy one of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the blessing of motherhood. The mother is the first teacher of the children. To raise a young man, I must teach him to be the provider and the leader for his community and for society. It’s a challenge to raise him to follow universal principles and laws in spite of what we see on the TV or in the media – things that go against what he should be. But I will be there as a guiding force to make sure he does the right thing. I want to raise him to know that he can make a difference – that his light can shine in darkness.”
3. Mom Takiema Bunche Smith speaks about family: Great-Grandmom Adeline Bunche, 6 1/2-year-old Na’Im, and Grandmom Tetina Bunche “My son has the unique privilege of having three generations of mothers playing a role in making his world and now he’s got this strong attachment to different people who all have unique strengths to give him, and he benefits from that. Relationships are the most important thing in a child’s life – especially a young boy’s life – and I think he has a very enriched personality because of his relationships with different generations of women.”
4. Model Tammy Brown of Boston, MA speaking on her three year-old son Gregory
“I think the challenges that come with raising a young Black boy are much like everyone else’s challenges – I want to making sure he has exposure to new things. I want him to want to explore and figure things out and ask questions. Even now, when he voices opposition to something I’m saying, it’s not in a disrespectful way, which makes me feel like I’m doing something right in terms of teaching him proper communication. The feminine element creates balance—especially for a young boy. Not that a father’s love is any less important, but our affection and love can’t be given by anyone else or manufactured. The role of a mother is everything.”
5. Rukia Lumumba of Brooklyn, NY speaking about four-year-old Qadir
“I was raised with nothing but boys, so I don’t know anything else. But I do have a fear – growing up in Mississippi and seeing what my brothers went throughhaving bad run-ins with police officers, etc. As a mother, you do have an anxiety. Will I let him walk by himself as he grows up or go to the store on his own? I have my law degree and work as a juvenile justice advocate, and I see the reality each day of what happens out there. I have to teach him how to navigate a world where he may be looked at differently for no reason of his own. Despite all of this, I look at my son and frankly, I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to be his mother.”
6. Tamisha Jackson of Wilmington, DE remembers her son LeShawn, who was only 16 when killed in a car accident three years ago.
“Being LeShawn’s mother inspired me to change for the better. I promised him that I would do whatever I had to do to see him succeed in life. My baby was a good boy: loveable, handsome, energetic, empathetic, trustworthy, and an overall joy to be around, who continues to inspire those that knew him. I promised him I would go back and finish college, and one of the hardest things for me was walking across that stage without him here. I would give ANYTHING just to hear him say “Mom! Mom!” I deal with a lot of guilt knowing that I can’t bring him back or couldn’t prevent a car accident, but I also know that without his love as inspiration, I would NOT be the woman that I am today. I am alive. I want to keep him alive, because I’m proud of him. Motherhood is one of the best things I’ve ever had and he gave that to me.”
7. Former television producer Richelle Blanks of Harlem, NY speaks about sons two year-old Jahlil and 19 year-old, Taven (not pictured) who is finishing up the semester at Buffalo State University.
“Being a teen mom and a victim of domestic violence, getting [my oldest son] Taven to college with goals and dreams is an accomplishment for me. I’m proud that he made it out of the neighborhood and never let anything stop him. I graduated college Magna cum Laude and set the example, and now Taven is setting the example for our family—including my 2-year-old Jahlil, to stick to a plan. I never say ‘I did it.’ I always say ‘we did it.’ We struggled together, and we succeed together. No matter what life throws at you, you can get through it and you can do it. That’s what motherhood is. That’s what family is.”
8. Wanda Brown, left, of Pawtucket, RI, speaks about great nephews Jhalil (age 13, center) and Dominique (age 17). Wanda has been their guardian for over 7 years.
“I am their Great Aunt, so in addition to making sure they are well educated and prepared for the world ahead, I have to do as much as possible to ensure that they do not grow to resent women, simply because their mother became unable to look after them. Family is everything. I have some health issues but raising these young men to be successful is more than worth the strength, determination, love and commitment that it takes.”
9. Paulette Cunningham speaking on 18-year-old son Muhammad Cunningham
“My son is almost 19, but I’m nowhere near finished raising him. My goal has always been to raise him so that he’s a good man to whomever he wants to be with. I’m proud that he’s become worldly, but still inquisitive of the world. In our case, we’re the only blood relatives we have. It’s just us, but this relationship has taught me that you can be a great family even if you’re a small family. I’m proudest of the fact that, even though he’s a young adult, I still feel like I have more work to do. I definitely don’t feel like I’m done – I’ll be happy when I am! But I still want to sacrifice for him and that feels good.”
“Real Mothers and Sons” by was shot and directed by EBONY.com Contributor L.A Thompson.