Parents of Murdered Children Deserve Answers from BLM Leaders | Opinion    

Parents of Murdered Children Deserve Answers from BLM Leaders | Opinion 

By Sylvia Bennett-Stone 

My daughter, Krystal Joy, was killed in 2004, caught in the crossfire of two gunmen while she was sitting in her car after pulling up to a gas pump. She was only 19. I've spent the past 17 years helping Black mothers deal with the grief of losing a child to senseless violence.

This is why I am outraged that leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement—who have built personal platforms on the deaths of victims like 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant—are stepping away from activism to enjoy their financial gains instead of helping support the families whose grief catapulted their movement into the national spotlight.

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of BLM, is leaving the organization to pursue a multi-year TV development deal with Warner Bros. She owns at least four homes totaling more than $3 million. Meanwhile, Lisa Simpson, the mother of 18-year-old victim Richard Risher, said in March she is facing homelessness and says she has never received any financial assistance from the BLM organization; instead, she says BLM leaders called her "a liar and crazy." Breonna Taylor's mother has called BLM a "fraud" for claiming to raise money on behalf of her daughter but never giving back to the families they purported to help.

The BLM foundation took in just over $90 million last year. But it won't reveal how much (if any) it gave to help the families of Black victims, many of whom need financial assistance to pay for counseling, food or rent as they take time off work to deal with crippling grief.

After my daughter's death, I remember going out to the same store I had shopped at for years and not being able to find my way back home. Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare. The first week, you are numb. You have to remind yourself to breathe as you go through the motions of contacting loved ones and making funeral arrangements. The second week, you are in denial. You don't really believe your baby is gone; you keep expecting a call explaining that there was some sort of mistake. By week three, the unthinkable reality has started to set in. Everyone else has gone back to their normal lives, and your loss is no longer a priority. You are alone, left to figure out how to continue living without your child. You still forget to breathe sometimes. I have conversations weekly and sometimes daily with mothers of other Black victims about these experiences of grief.

I, too, have been criticized by people affiliated with BLM because I advocate for mothers who lost children to neighborhood violence. I have been told that speaking about these murdered children would "dilute" BLM's message.

While many people have expressed support for BLM out of a desire to support victims' families, that was never BLM's priority. If it were, mothers like Simpson and Rice would have been cared for financially, mentally and emotionally, instead of being ridiculed in their suffering.

The movement to hold BLM accountable is growing. A new initiative involving the original 10 BLM chapters—the BLM 10 Plus movement—is now seeking transparency and accountability from the organization about how and where donated funds have been used. The father of Michael Brown Jr, the black teen shot by police in Ferguson in 2014, has joined the movement.

In January, I helped launch a new initiative called Voices of Black Mothers United to honor the lives of our murdered children by creating communities that are safe for everyone. We are bringing together mothers of fallen children and community partners to heal and strengthen communities by supporting intervention and sensible police reform.

We join a growing chorus of parents and community activists demanding accountability and transparency from BLM.

BLM and its affiliates should be very clear about their priorities so that people understand what they are supporting when they send a check. If BLM doesn't intend to operate as a charity, it should be up front about that. But more than anything, its leaders need to be willing to answer for the rise in neighborhood violence that occurred in the wake of their call to defund the police. Crime is skyrocketing and police officers are quitting in droves.

Activist groups like BLM should support families grieving the loss of a child to homicide. The first step is to provide wellness checkups, and assess the need for mental health assistance, financial assistance and other services to ensure the family's stability.

One of the most effective ways to move forward after the death of a child is to find a way to serve others through the loss. That's why, in addition to offering support and healing to these mothers, it's important also to offer them a platform to speak to the specific challenges facing our neighborhoods in the areas of crime reduction and police reform. Loss often gives tremendous clarity and insight into these problems, and we must remember that parents play an important role in helping our nation progress.

The deaths of Black Americans shouldn't be buying luxury homes for BLM leaders. The movement's first priority should be to support the families of victims and to foster community-based approaches to ending violence and discrimination against innocent Black victims. I'm sick of Black Lives Matter leaders profiting off our murdered children. It needs to stop.

Sylvia Bennett-Stone is the Director of Voices of Black Mothers United, a project of The Woodson Center in Washington, DC. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.


Read the full Op-Ed on Newsweek.