The 100 or so people who gathered in Eastlake Park near downtown Phoenix early Saturday evening heard one message over and over: Black lives matter to Black mothers.
Janelle Wood, founder of Black Mothers Forum, led the event. She invited mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to join her briefly on stage in solidarity. Speakers, including youth activists, faith leaders, parents and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, spoke about what it means to be Black in America, ways the state and country can continue this dialogue and why this conversation on race is important.
Each mother spoke about giving their child “the talk.” For most white parents, this means talking to their child about the birds and the bees. But for Black parents, it’s teaching their kids how they should act when – not if – they encounter a police officer.
“You say ‘Yes, sir.’ You put your hands on the steering wheel, keep them in there. You don’t move,” Tamara Elleraas, a supporter at the rally, said she told her son. She said she first gave the talk to her 21-year-old son when he was 11, and it has continued throughout his life.
While police officers can take off their badges and uniforms, Elleraas said her son cannot take off his skin. She said the fact that her son may be scrutinized and targeted solely because of his skin color is a travesty.
She said her son has been racially profiled at school, and at his first job as a grocery bagger, someone threatened to shoot him.
“As a mother, I can’t be silent,” Elleraas said. “I have to fight for his right to breathe.”
The Friday evening rally, like others across Arizona and around the nation, was sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minnesota on May 25. On that same day, Dion Johnson was shot and killed by police while sleeping in his car on the side of an Arizona highway. His mother, Erma Johnson, spoke at the event, calling for justice, accountability and transparency from the police department.
Debora Colbert, interim director of Black Mothers Forum, said she was grateful that racism and police brutality was getting attention not only in Arizona, but across the country and around the world, because it makes it hard to turn back.
“People are awake and ready to work,” said Colbert. “We want to keep this momentum going.”