Lanise Stevenson with her 12-year old son Ethan are featured in the documentary ‘For Him I Will.’ (Courtesy Photo)
Oct. 26 marked six months since last April’s uprising. And one of the most enduring images from those transcendent, volatile days was that of Toya Graham repeatedly slapping her 16-year old son upside his masked head. The single mother of six recognized him while she watched the events unfold on television, during those initial moments of the protests at Mondawmin Mall following the funeral of Freddie Gray.
Within days, the images of Graham disciplining her son went viral and millions heaped gushing accolades upon her for her actions. But, I feel like implicit in much of the praise was a perhaps not so insidious sentiment; `All these young, Black thugs need is for their mommas to go upside their heads and knock some sense into them.’
I too applaud Graham for loving her son enough to go get him off the street, literally dragging him away from an incredibly perilous scenario.
However, where much of the world may see a definitive narrative of how a Black mother should deal with her Black son, I see just one small flicker of time in the 16-year history of Graham and her son.
Of course, the relationships between Black mothers and sons is vastly more complicated and nuanced than a few thunderous head slaps.
A new documentary, “For Him I Will,” crafts an infinitely more complete narrative of Black mothers and the inherent challenges in raising the sons they love by themselves in Baltimore. The documentary had its debut screening Oct. 25 at the Delta Center in Park Heights.
The film, by Baltimore filmmakers Bobby Marvin Holmes and Justin Gladden, focuses on the stories of three mothers: Lanise Stevenson, Bridget Bridgeford and Ericka Bridgeford (no relation).
“I started going to funerals when I was 12-years old, so for me having a Black boy in Baltimore was a very scary thing,” Ericka said.
“When I was pregnant with my first child I kept saying, `I hope it’s not a boy, I hope it’s not a boy. I wasn’t prepared for parenthood, I was prepared to just try to live everyday. I was trying to figure out who I was,” added Ericka, who was 24 when she had her son Paul.
“For Him I Will,” is the second documentary for Gladden and Holmes who are intent on producing authentic, organic Baltimore stories.
“I have a commitment to tell the stories of my community. Seeing other media outlets, organizations cover the unrest I thought it was a disgrace,” said Holmes. “We have a responsibility to tell these stories and to tell them right. Justin and I have an agenda…we’re Black men, so we’re Black boys as well…so, we want to tell the stories that you often don’t hear about the Black male and see Black males being vulnerable, which some of you don’t see on your prime time television,” he added.
The mothers speak with gut-wrenching honesty and clarity about their sometimes tenuous journeys and the evolution of their relationships with their children.
“I was so afraid of not raising them right that I wasn’t doing a lot of anything other than hugging and kissing them a lot when they were little, but I didn’t feel like I was doing a lot of relationship building with them,” Ericka Bridgeford said.
“So, when I decided I really wanted to be on this earth and stand in my own power and make a decision about who I was everyday, that started at deciding the kind of mom I was going to be. And I chose to be a friend and be someone who was trustworthy to my children and from that moment on every day I learned what building a relationship with them was,” she added.
Stevenson, who is raising her 12-year old son Ethan, hopes, “For Him I Will” is a conduit for women, particularly those with Black boys to unite and encourage each other.
“It is time for us to truly come together in an authentic way,” Stevenson said. “Because we know how to be together in a superficial way, we do that very well you see it every day on social media. But, to come together as women in a very authentic way is something that I hope that this film will evoke because it’s so necessary.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of “First Edition,” which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 pm on WEAA 88.9