(The Root) — BET President Debra Lee and National Action Network founder the Rev. Al Sharpton were joined by Cleopatra Pendleton, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, to announce the launch of MOM, Mothers on a Mission Against Urban Gun Violence. The initiative is being rolled out in May to coincide with the Mother's Day holiday.
In their remarks, Sharpton and Lee explained that they selected Mother's Day as the peg because, unbeknownst to many Americans, Mother's Day has activist origins. Although it did not become a national holiday until the 1900s, Julia Ward Howe initiated the first Mother's Day Proclamation and Mother's Day for Peace in 1870 to lament the impact of Civil War violence on communities. Among the things Howe said in the proclamation was this: "We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: 'Disarm, Disarm!' " Excerpts from the full proclamation were read by representatives of BET.
Lee and Sharpton are now hoping to replicate Howe's intent by galvanizing mothers nationwide to activism around the issue of modern-day gun violence. Speaking to The Root, Lee said, "Gun control and gun violence in our neighborhoods and our communities is such a horrible issue that we have to solve, and at BET, I've been looking for a way to work to use our media presence to help with this issue. Talking with NAN, we came up with this idea and [it] seems perfect."
Lee and Sharpton stated that the mission of MOM is to raise awareness, mobilize mothers and rebrand Mother's Day to return to its activist roots. They also unveiled a five-point plan to combat gun violence in urban communities, and BET committed its online and on-air resources to promoting these initiatives.
The plan consists of spurring mothers and others to do the following beginning on Mother's Day:
1. Find a local anti-violence program to which you will donate time and money.
2. Work with other mothers to petition local churches and community centers to stay open to provide anti-violence programming and other options for young people, especially in the summer.
3. Contact local and federal elected officials to make your voices heard on gun violence.
4. Get involved on a local level with organizations like NAN's Occupy the Corners program to make a difference.
5. Commit to spending time mentoring youths in your area.
Lee said she believes that mainstream media do not cover urban gun violence with the same intensity given to nonurban violence, like the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. "That's one thing we hope we can resolve at BET. We've been trying to shine a light on this for a long time, about what's going on Chicago every weekend, what's going in in other major cities, how it's affecting the black community. We need to be the bullhorn for that because it is being ignored and minimized by the mainstream press."
Lee would say later, in her remarks at the podium, "We don't need what they call the mainstream press to tell us this is an issue. We don't need to criticize [the] New York Times or whoever else for not covering our violence. We know it. We live it every day." (Her remarks are noteworthy because they come two days after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the New York Times for inadequate coverage of minority gun deaths.)
The guest of honor at the event was Cleopatra Pendleton, who lost her teenage daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, to gun violence shortly after Hadiya performed in the presidential inaugural parade. Many have been in awe of the strength Pendleton has shown in the wake of such a devastating loss, but she has worked to ensure that her daughter's death is not in vain.
When asked what she would say to other parents grieving a similar loss who are not involved in anti-gun activism, she told The Root that she would tell them, "Do what you have to do to cope." She added, "This is my way of coping."
Pendleton then explained that she understands not every parent will cope in the same way, but it is important that the voices of those who have experienced the pain of gun violence firsthand are heard in the debate. "It's important," she said, "so that there's an awareness of what happens after a child dies."
Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.