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Why We Need To #FreeBlackMamas for Mother's Day and Beyond

America’s criminal justice system is one that continually targets and disrupts the lives of Black mamas and caregivers everywhere.

By Gloria Oladipo

Black mothers in the United States are constantly under attack. Among crises such as medical racism in maternal care and continual demonization, Black mothers disproportionately face the threat of incarceration.

For the 219,000 women who are currently incarcerated, with the majority being Black women, Mother’s Day is another day spent separated from one’s children whilst enduring the violence of the U.S. carceral system instead of celebrating with breakfast-in-bed and Hallmark cards. In the face of this crisis, the National Bail Out collective was founded in May 2017. Created by a diverse group of activists who are all impacted by the carceral system, the National Bail Out collective is a group of lawyers, abolitionists, and activists who organize to provide assistance to those who are incarcerated, end pre-trial detention and money bail, and ultimately abolish mass incarceration.

To highlight the disproportionate number of incarcerated Black mothers, #FreeBlackMamas was also created as a grassroots movement connected to the National Bail Out collective. In an effort to liberate incarcerated Black mothers, #FreeBlackMamas collects donations that go towards bail payments and legal fees for incarcerated Black mothers. The movement has now spread among different groups outside of the National Bail Out collective and become a nationwide collaborative effort to raise money to free Black mamas in pre-trial detention.

Andrea Ritchie, an activist, writer, and lawyer who is apart of the Movement for Black Lives Police Table, spoke more about the importance of focusing on Black mamas: “Women are the fastest growing prison and jail populations. Particularly in terms of the jail population where bailouts are focused, over 80 percent are mothers, the majority are mothers of minor children and many of them might lose custody, at least temporarily. Research from the Essie Justice Group points out, mamas are bailing everyone else out, [but] when it comes to mamas being incarcerated themselves, there might not be anyone on the outside to bail them out.”

A key initiative working alongside the National Bail Out collective is Babies and Bailouts, a project created and sponsored by the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism Organizing Collective. Babies and Bailouts is “a chance for communities to come together to learn more about the money bail system and also gather much needed baby supplies for women and families being impacted by mass incarceration.”

The idea was a shared vision of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism Team Sankofa which includes, Quiana Perkins and Paige Ingram, Community Organizer for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and member leader of Southerners On New Ground [SONG]. The team conceived of the initiative after a presentation from the #FreeSiwatu organizing collective that featured a recorded prison call. Siwatu-Salama Ra, a Black Muslim woman who was incarcerated at the time and forced to give birth while in prison. “At the Allied Media Conference, it was [Siwatu’s] family: her husband, her children, and her sister as well as local Detroit organizers who brought her story to life. “Her story as so compelling, it called for a response. Our response was Babies and Bailouts”, said Quiana.  “[And] really through the power of organizing, she was able to get out on bond from prison,” Ingram described.  

In addition to freeing Black mamas, movements such as #FreeBlackMamas and Babies and Bailouts are all apart of a larger effort to humanize Black mothers and caregivers. “We have coded Black women’s behavior—if you are a Black mama, you’re on welfare, you’re lazy. On the other end, if Black mamas get in trouble, it is assumed that they were the aggressor or that they were angry. Whatever reason given doesn’t feel valid enough,” said Perkins as explanation for why people generally don’t rally around Black mamas.

The #FreeBlackMamas and Babies and Bailouts movements actively challenge this narrative, declaring that Black mothers are worthy of our help and attention. Furthermore, these movements push us to reconsider who we traditionally think of as Black caregivers. “Single dads [and] grandmothers are caregivers. Queer folks [and] trans women in particular, have become caregivers for trans women in their community. Folks [need] to try and figure out how can we collectively look after one another,” both Perkins and Ingram agree.

Ultimately, while both movements focus on the tangible act of freeing caged caregivers and ending money bail, they are both aimed at a larger goal of ending mass incarceration. “Right now, the system we have isn’t corrective or transformative. We need to step back and say ‘what do we want to happen?’ and really be open minded about all the ways we can get there that don’t include caging people,” explains Perkins.

This Mother’s Day, celebrate the legacy of Black caregivers by supporting the National Bail Out Collective as well as the #FreeBlackMamas and Babies and Bailouts projects that are happening simultaneously. America’s criminal justice system is one that continually targets and disrupts the lives of Black mamas and caregivers everywhere, buying into and accelerating stereotypes about these demographics. Help fight that by donating your available time and resources to free Black mamas and caregivers who are still in cages.

More information on how to get involved in the National Bail Out collective and #FreeBlackMamas campaign is available here. More information on how to get involved in the Babies and Bailouts movement is available here.

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