What Emmett Till's mother taught me about grief and justice

OOn February 26, 2012, my entire life changed in ways I could never have imagined. In an instant, after the brutal and inhumane murder of my son, Trayvon Martin, I found myself drawn into a circle I never knew existed—I became “The Mother of the Movement.”

It is very difficult to describe what it is like to be a part of this circle, in which none of us chose or imagined to be a member. On the one hand, there is a sense of honor to stand with such brave women who, despite the deepest pain and gravest injustices, choose to speak truth to power. On the other hand, we are all bound together because we have experienced a pain like no other—the pain of losing a child to racism, hate, and police brutality. We go through these harrowing experiences as the world watches and judges, creating narratives of who our children were that are often unknown to us.

Today, there are hundreds of mothers in our circle, and unfortunately, every year their number grows. When a mother is tragically forced into our community, we do not prescribe how she should feel or act. There is no instruction manual or resource guide for how a black mother should grieve after losing a child to racism.

But there is one mother that I, and so many in our circle, identify with and look to for guidance and inspiration: the original “Mother of the Movement,” Mamie Till-Mobley.

Till-Mobley epitomizes strength and action after her son Emmett’s murder. I learned so much by following her story, which is now beautifully portrayed on film TO. I find myself reliving my power and pain. I am transported back to the day when I, like her, questioned everything around me – when everything went silent in my world, as if I was living in a bad dream.

Read more: Till arrives at a time when the Emmett Till story seems to be all over the place. There’s a reason why

I remember the pain of reality setting in and the confirmation that I was not in a bad dream, but the unthinkable had indeed happened: my child had been shot and killed at the hands of someone who did it with hatred and racism at the core of his motivations. Through her story, I relive the painful steps one must take after the death of a loved one—scheduling appointments, holding on to precious memories, and even providing strength for my family—all while processing why and how this happened to my child and family.

But as I remember my pain, Till-Mobley’s story also reminds me of my strength. I remember the moment I decided I was going to fight for justice for Trayvon. I remember my determination not to cower, but to choose to stand in my power. I remember the times when I found the strength to lead a march, speak at a rally, or call another grieving mother to ease her pain. Indeed, my strength fed my strength.

Daniel Deadweiler as Mamie Till Mobley in TILL directed by Chinonye Chukwu.  (Lynsey Weatherspoon—Orion Pictures)

Daniel Deadweiler as Mamie Till Mobley in TILL directed by Chinonye Chukwu.

Lynsey Weatherspoon—Orion Pictures

Mamie Till-Mobley’s legacy reminds me that even though the Mothers of the Movement never wished to be in the situations we find ourselves in, we all share a deep obligation to fight for justice—justice not only for our children, but for others, so that no mother ever joins our uncertain circle.

Till-Mobley, through her strength and actions, sets a strong example of how to turn pain into strength. Her decision to “show the world” the brutality of Emmett Till’s murder not only sparked the civil rights movement, but changed it forever. how images, however painful and graphic, can be a catalyst for change.

Likewise, her determination to ensure the world embraced her child’s humanity remains a constant reminder that we must always fight against the character assassination often hurled at victims of hate crimes and police brutality.

Till-Mobley’s decision to ensure that the world confronts racism and hatred head-on is a powerful lesson that still rings true today. We must never look away, no matter how terrifying or difficult the battle before us. We must continue to shine a light on racism and police brutality. We must continue to fight for laws and policies aimed at ending hate crimes and police brutality. We must vote to ensure that those elected to office protect our communities, not put them at risk. And we must always protect the legacy and boldly speak the names of our loved ones who have been taken from us because of racism, hatred and violence.

There is much that all of us—not just us Mothers of the Movement—can learn from Mamie Till-Mobley’s story. Her unwavering commitment to speaking truth to power should inspire everyone.

But especially for black mothers who have lost children to racial violence, her legacy helps us understand that one of the greatest expressions of our love has always been our will to fight.

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