Community Voices

Black in Time: Mother’s eye contact and conversations guides her son, teaches respect

Mother’s Day arrived early this year. Historically special attention is paid to mothers the second Sunday in May throughout the United States. This year nearly three weeks before on Monday, April 27, breaking news on television, radio and social media called attention to the actions of a mother in Baltimore who publicly corrected her son.

In interviews transmitted worldwide the mother revealed her desire for her son to immediately remove himself from the area where adults were being disrespected. After the incident, the teenager revealed that making eye contact with his mother caused him to stop resisting her actions. In a split second, he figured out that she was trying to get his attention because she cares and wants to protect him from harm.

The mother’s actions sparked controversy and a national debate. This controversy is not new. As a young wife and mother in the 1980s, I remember discipline as a hot topic. My discussions with a family friend, Marguerite Miller, led her to invite me to join mothers who had organized decades earlier to support children and youth.

At that time I was unfamiliar with the group, Jack and Jill Of America (JJOA). Later I learned that it was founded in 1938 by Marion Stubbs Thomas in Philadelphia. Twenty mothers came together to discuss creating an organization to provide social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth between the ages of two and nineteen.

Since that meeting, chapters were organized across the United States. Today, JJOA has more than 224 chapters representing more than 30,000 family members. Tammy King of the eastern region is the 24th national president.

Locally, the Miami chapter was organized in December 1964. Initiated by Geraldine Arrington, 26 charter members joined forces to make a meaningful impact in the lives of children. Fifty years later, 35 member families and guests participated in the Miami chapter’s golden anniversary celebration.

In a published message to members, Tracy Seaton, the Miami chapter’s 13th president, reminded mothers, “we have but a few short years to provide them with experiences and opportunities we know will benefit them for a lifetime.”

Current JJOA members whose mothers were also members are well aware of the support the group provides generations. The term used to describe these members is “Legacy.”

The two legacy members in the Miami chapter are Nicole Yvette Strange-Martin and Agenoria Paschal-Powell.

In a statement Strange-Martin wrote, “As our children take off in the journey of their “big” lives, it is pertinent for parents to have crucial conversations with them from a young age. Starting daily or even weekly conversations from a toddler establishes a bond between parent and child that can be carried into the teen and adult years. It also dedicates a time for you to discuss any essential issues that may be happening in their lives. Of course, conversations are warranted of the age of the child and teen. For me, I started talking to my son early about being nice to others, using appropriate manners, treating your friends with respect, displaying empathy, asking questions, looking both ways before you cross the street, and unfortunately, predators and “stranger-danger.” As he grows into a young man, I know that these talks will have a different nature, but I feel foundation is key! Don’t wait until you think the child is ready. If the child can hear your voice, then they can also hear the voice of hatred, racism, and bigotry. Its too late when you allow them to journey and you have provided a foundation for them to chart their way. I needed guidance from my parents and my child needs guidance from his parents.”

Through service projects, JJOA creates an environment to stimulate children’s growth and development.

Jack and Jill mothers reflect mothers nationally as it relates to guiding youth to take responsibility for their actions and make changes in their behavior. Even when children complain and resist some mothers apply principles of tough love and are clear about the consequences of actions. Winning strategies include making eye contact and regular conversations, talking and listening.

Every year one day is designated to recognize mothers, motherhood and maternal bonds in our society. Mothers who enrich lives should be thanked daily. Mothers who mourn children they lost especially in cities such as Baltimore; Ferguson, Missouri; and Sanford, Florida will be remembered forever.

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Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to