“I go to the cemetery twice or three times a week just to feel close to him. I am angry everyday. I am always asking God, ‘Why, why, why, why my son?” –Ebonie Martin, mother of Deonte Hoard
The Black mothers’ burden is to live simultaneously with the overwhelming joy of bringing a new life into the world and the overwhelming fear of having to nurture that life in a world that does not value Black children. The Black mothers’ burden is a cross all Black mothers have had to bear since enslaved Africans arrived in America. On March 11, 1997, Ebonie Martin gave birth to Deonte Hoard and inherited the Black mothers’ burden. Deonte was a loving son, dedicated brother and loyal friend, but when you are a Black child, especially a Black boy growing up in America, those traits are meaningless to people who do not value the humanity of Black children. Nine days before his eighteenth birthday, Deonte was murdered. This murderer stole the memories Deonte deserved to share with his children and grandchildren one day. Deonte did not dance with his girlfriend at prom; he did not walk across the stage at graduation; and he did not move into his college dormitory last week at Central State University. Those American traditions were violently taken away from Martin and Deonte just as they have been violently taken away from so many Black mothers and their children.
Not only has Martin had to come to grips with the tragic loss of her son, but she has also had to grapple with the fact that no one has ever been charged or even arrested for Deonte’s murder. This illustrates another harsh reality of the Black mothers’ burden: injustice without closure. Despite these horrific challenges, Martin persevered with a sense of purpose.
“Every time I walk by Deonte’s room, I ask the Lord to give me the strength to make it through another day, so I can share with other parents who have lost their child that we must be a voice for change,” she reveals.
Martin has been on a crusade to make sure the death of her son was not in vain. She has received support from her local Chicago community, city officials and religious leaders, but no one has been more supportive than Megan Delaney, a restorative justice specialist and Deonte’s former teacher. Together, they have kept an eternal flame burning in memory of Deonte Hoard. They have organized a peace walk and a youth basketball tournament in his name, which focused on brotherhood, justice and respect for community. Those three elements are a few of the tools needed to combat the abuse and violence plaguing many urban, inner city neighborhoods. Martin and Delaney want people to understand that abuse and violence, which took Deonte’s life, have lingering effects on the entire community, especially within educational institutions.
Delaney shared the following advice as a possible roadmap for how schools could better serve their students’ social-emotional needs: “…I do believe that school staff and teachers need to be better informed about how trauma affects our students and how it can impact their behavior and academic needs. I believe this understanding is the first step to building a trauma-informed community that can support students during times of crisis, tragedy or ongoing traumatic experiences they may be dealing with.”
The weight of the Black mothers’ burden is incalculable. And when the terror of that burden manifests itself with the loss of a child, only that group of Black mothers understands the unrelenting pain Ebonie Martin carries. Emmett Till’s mother understands Martin’s pain; Trayvon Martin’s mother understands Martin’s pain; and Tamir Rice’s mother understands Martin’s pain. Hopefully, Martin’s efforts will put an end to the fear and pain Black mothers live with everyday.