Editor’s note: Yvonne J. Medley, a freelance writer from Waldorf, attended the Million Mom March in Washington on Sunday and wrote this account of her experience for The Washington Post.
When some of the women where I worship, at the Resurrection Prayer Worship Center of the United Methodist Church in Brandywine, kicked around the idea of participating in the Million Mom March, I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
With a smile on my face and a slow nod, indicating my approval, I thought, there was no way I would give up what little spare time I have to bake in the glaring sun.
But then the momentum of the march scooped me up. And the reality of my growing fear (really an obsession) demanded my presence. It’s the fear of knowing that my four children–Robert, 20; Renesha, 17; Rashad, 9; and Rachel, 2–don’t have to be doing something wrong or mingling with the wrong crowd to come face to face with gun violence.
So there I was, on Mother’s Day, standing on the Mall, among 700,000-plus strangers, and baking under the glaring sun.
I originally had planned to go by myself because I didn’t want the trouble of friendly companions whining to leave early, stay late, stand over here, sit over there, complain about the heat or the public toilet. I just wanted to put my name on history’s ledger and let Congress know my intentions.
Then I got the bright idea of asking my 17-year-old daughter to come along. Surprisingly, Renesha quickly agreed to go. And though she’d never admit it, I knew it was her Mother’s Day gift to me, especially since she’d exhausted her cash flow on her prom the week before.
We headed off Sunday morning. The Metro cars were almost bare. And it was a lucky thing, too, since my daughter refused to sit with me on the train (something about being seen in public with me hurting her image). We’d barely stepped off the train and attempted to maneuver above ground, when seemingly out of nowhere, we were engulfed in a heavy flow of women and children (and some men) bearing signs, wearing Million Mom March T-shirts, visors and buttons, and bubbling with energy. We promptly rode the wave.
It didn’t take long for emotion to flood the back of my eyes at the sight of women carrying posters and photographs and wearing T- shirts graced with the faces of their deceased children. How fair could it be for a woman to wear on her back the portrait of a young man, happy and dressed in his prom tuxedo, and branded with “1980- 1997” printed under his photo? Yet she walked proudly, as if she were pushing the stroller that had once cradled him safely inside.
One woman walked around with a huge yellow sign, decorated with a collage of her son’s baby pictures. In the middle was his final photo- -the one of him as a young man lying in a casket. I turned my head, determined not to let my daughter see tears trickle down my cheeks. When I looked, she said she was wiping the wind out of her eyes.
All these mothers and fathers were willing to relive their worst nightmare for anyone who inquired, just because, they said, they didn’t want anyone else to go through what they endured.
A woman from Los Angeles told me that a gunman on the loose killed two others before killing her daughter. Another woman from New Orleans spoke of her daughter, a policewoman, killed in the line of duty. The woman’s smile was soft and it quivered as she graciously accepted the condolences of passersby–mine, too.
The main program began, and we’d been standing in place for about 20 minutes when Renesha tugged at my shirt and announced that she was ready to leave–she was bored.
“We just got here,” I replied and turned my attentions back to the stage. She perked up when performer Tanya Blount sang two songs. Renesha’s excitement waned a bit when someone, trying to squeeze by, stepped on her foot.
And when I shouted “Hallelujah” and “Amen” to Blount’s rendition of “His Eyes Are on the Sparrow,” I made instant friends with a woman from Pennsylvania who was crammed next to me. We had a lot in common (except race, careers and residence–I am African American and she was white; I am a writer and she was a social worker; I live here and she lives there).
This woman and I hadn’t experienced the tragedies that other marching mothers had seen, and we didn’t want to. Our presence was a purely proactive search for a pound of prevention. Throughout the program, we talked about our children, our lives, the clever sayings bobbing up and down on protest signs, like “Mommy, why can’t we go to the Zoo?” and “Moses never owned a gun.” And we talked about our vow not to forget the march, come November.
My 17-year-old, by this time, was sitting on the pebbled ground beside me, cushioned by a towel I’d given her. She was plucking the dirt out of her manicured fingernails in subtle protest over not being able to leave yet. I chuckled at her teenage antics and obsessed over her right to grow into adulthood.
Sniffling sounds surrounded me, and mine joined the serenade as mothers, one after another, braved the podium to recount the most horrific moment in their lives. How tragic is it to be in your home one minute waiting for your child to bring in a few groceries, then be hurled into the irreversible future, standing in front of thousands, talking about the night your son or daughter was killed? For me, Sunday confirmed the power of a mother’s pain.
A good two hours into the program, Sarah and James Brady moved the crowd as they spoke. My daughter looked up and said, “Who are they?” Astounded, I laughed when I realized she was only a baby during most of the Reagan era. Then I said simply, “I’ll tell you later.”
About four hours had passed, and I was filled with hope and accomplishment. During the ride home on the Metro, Renesha chose to sit next to me on the same seat. And I was thankful to have her–and her siblings–alive and well. And I thought, “It’s my duty to keep them that way.”