“I said I wasn’t gonna cry today,” Lezley McSpadden-Head said after placing a wreath on her son Michael Brown’s grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery Friday afternoon to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his passing.
The tears came anyway. McSpadden-Head has been forced to mourn the loss of her son as the world watched, from the moment she learned he was fatally shot by a Ferguson Police officer on August 9, 2014.
Five years later, she grieves publicly once again.
“This day will never be an easy day for me, but my Lord and savior will keep me covered,” McSpadden-Head said. “I thank him for protecting my mind.”
As she dropped her head to cry, Samaria Rice put her head on McSpadden-Head’s shoulder. Tragically, it’s a pain she’s all too familiar with.
Three months after Michael Brown was killed, her son, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, was killed by Cleveland Police when they mistook a toy gun for a real one as he played in a local park.
“It’s not the proper order to bury your children,” Samaria Rice said. “We definitely share a pain – and this is a group that I wouldn’t like nobody to be in.”
Samaria Rice was on McSpadden’s left, Marion Gray-Hopkins was at her right. On November 27, 1999, her 19-year-old son, Gary Hopkins Jr. was fatally shot by police in Prince George County, Maryland.
“This is a sorority, but we didn’t pledge for this,” Gray-Hopkins said.
They are members of McSpadden-Head’s “Rainbow of Mothers,” women who have lost children to police violence and other violence. She provides fellowship and support to them through her Michael OD Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation.
“We are all collectively feeling the same pain,” said Nadine Jeffries, who lost her daughter, Brishell Jones. “When we see each other, we don’t have to open our mouths, we already know the pain that has been instilled in us because of our tragedies.”
Also at the grave with her was Gina Best. Her daughter, India Cager, was fatally shot by members of the Virginia Beach, Va. SWAT team a year after Michael Brown’s death. Cager’s 4-month-old daughter was in the backseat of the car when her mother was killed.
Some had lost their children before Michael Brown’s death. All agreed that the support system McSpadden-Head extended to them has been critical.
“For Lezley to reach out to us mothers, it’s a healing of itself ,” Best said. “We birth our babies and into life and we labor in their death as well. And this is a space that we don’t have every day. Some of us have no family – our sisters have become our families.”
It’s a pain so profound that no word exists to describe their sorority. “There is no word in the lexicon to describe parents who have lost their children,” Best said after pointing out the terms widow, widower and orphan are used to define individuals with deceased spouses and children with deceased parents.
As the world looked to Ferguson five years later, McSpadden-Head has been taking things day by day since the tragic moment that ignited a community to call for change.
“It’s not a one day event,” said Rhonda Dormeus. “This is not annual. This is every day for us.”
Dormeus’ daughter, Korryn Gaines was killed by police in Baltimore, Maryland.
They thanked McSpadden-Head for her strength and sisterhood – and the region for bringing attention to the fractured relationship between the African-American community and law enforcement by way of Ferguson.
“Michael changed the world – everyone knows what happened in Ferguson with Michael Brown,” Best said. “ You don’t hear about the other hundreds that no one knows about – and it happens every day and has continued. But he is going to bring about change through his mom. She birthed a warrior – and she is a warrior.”
And the mothers by McSpadden-Head’s side – her rainbow – vowed to continue to fight with her.
“We didn’t pledge for this, we were chosen. I believe that whole heartedly,” Gray-Hopkins said. “That’s why we are here standing on the front line for change. We know that it may not happen in our lifetime, but we know that we are building a foundation for those behind us in hopes that our children will say that this world was changed on the back of our work.”