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The gift mothers truly deserve

Ronald Mitchell
The gift mothers truly deserve
“Thank you, Mom!”

Our nation sets aside the second Sunday in May to honor the mothers of America. Like so many others, I spent this past Sunday reflecting on the love and sacrifices of the women who do so much to hold our families together, to care for and nurture us. At the same time, I can’t help but feel sorrow for the many challenges facing mothers struggling to raise children in a country and world divided by war and poverty and inequity.

In America, those challenges are especially prevalent among women of color, who face the worst outcomes by far when it comes to health care, infant mortality and childbirth, not to mention equal pay and equitable promotion for those who work outside the home.

While we hold up Black mothers as our beacon of strength, we cannot ignore our responsibility to translate that love and respect into policies befitting the role mothers play in society. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley captured that sentiment in a powerful speech delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in the lead-up to Mother’s Day. In her address, our history-making federal legislator makes an emotional appeal to back up our love for mothers with action and not just accolades — or, as she says, quoting her grandfather, she’d rather “see a sermon than hear one.”

There is no better way to honor our mothers than to take Ayanna’s message to heart. Below is her speech in full. It deserves a hearty “amen” from us all.

Ronald Mitchell, publisher and editor, Bay State Banner

Ayanna Pressley’s Mother’s Day speech

This time of year, Mr. Speaker, we wax poetic about the contributions of mothers. We call their work valued, their love endless, their role invaluable.

Mr. Speaker, mothers across America don’t want a Hallmark card. They want policy change.

I grew up in a small storefront church on the south side of Chicago and my grandfather was the pastor there. And even as a pastor, he would often say that he would rather see a sermon than hear one.

Mr. Speaker, the mothers of this country are deserving of policies. Policies that see them, center them and serve them, and they would prefer that over bouquets, verbal or otherwise. We tell mothers that caregiving is their greatest contribution, and then undermine them at every turn.

We tell women that motherhood is aspirational and the greatest contribution they will ever make, while for many a safe pregnancy is a privilege and not a right.

Then we thrust them into a broken health care system that denies their bodily autonomy, criminalizes pregnancy outcomes, and jeopardizes their lives. We tell mothers that the work of keeping that baby warm, safe and fed is the highest calling, and then we allow negligence and policy gaps to create a baby formula shortage in the midst of a pandemic as mothers panic to meet a most basic need.

We tell mothers that they must work like they don’t have children and parent like they don’t work, while we fail to pass a universal paid-leave policy, thrusting mamas and caregivers back into the workplace and mere weeks after their babies are born. We tell mothers that it takes a village and we’re so proud to be a part of theirs, and then we fail to invest in safe, affordable child care.

We tell mothers that they are their children’s first teachers, and they send their little ones out into the world with a hopeful heart, and then a stark reality keeps them up at night — that policy gaps will fail to keep that child safe from a gun on the block or in the classroom. We tell mothers that in the twilight of their lives, after they’ve poured into their babies, that we will take care of them, and then we gut social programs that would help our elders age in community with dignity and the care that they need.

Mr. Speaker, mothers don’t need empty praise. They need policy change, now, by the grace of God and the sheer will and brilliance and sacrifice of my mother, my shero, Sandy Pressley, may she rest in peace and power, the woman who gave me my roots and my wings.

There are many lessons that I was afforded by her example. Chief amongst them that being a mother was, in her opinion, her greatest achievement and her superpower. But it was also not her only identity. And because I had a front row seat early on to her humanity, I saw the many struggles and hardships that she was confronted with on a daily basis. Not for a lack of good character. Not for a lack of strong work ethic. But because of an absence of policy or of policy violence.

Mr. Speaker, as a nation we penalize and marginalize the very people who give us life. But yet and still, mothers and caregivers persist — persist in doing the work of community and movement building, of mothering, of nurturing, when it’s been 101 years too long, and we have yet to even enshrine gender equality in our constitution.

We still have not passed the Equal Rights Amendment, and still we raise our voices and we rise in the halls of power navigating systems not built for us to speak out. Together we press day in and day out for a more just America. Because being a mom, being a mama, being a mommy, is our superpower. But this is not a just nation which supports us as parents, as caregivers. We want this to be a just nation and one that is more just and fair for the generations we are raising, and for the generations to come.

We fight for the rights of our children and grandchildren. We move with the clarity and conviction that only caretakers can. Leaving a better world behind is not an abstract concept. It is grounded in the children right in front of us. Every society owes a debt of gratitude to those who mother, and in their name we press for a world that lives up to their aspirations. A world that keeps their babies safe. A world that keeps all our babies safe.

Mr. Speaker, I would rather see a sermon than hear one.

Black mothers, editorial, Mothers Day, Rep. Ayanna Pressley

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