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Truth, Hope and Justice Initiative provides healing for mothers of children killed by police

NBA moms join effort to bring awareness and support to victims’ families


George Floyd’s words in the final minutes of his life hit every nerve and fiber in Cynthia Lane’s body.

“When he was screaming for his mother, something went through me instantly. I was watching the news and tears just dropped,” Lane said, recalling her reaction to the video of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

“The first thing that came to my mind was my son, my baby. Was he hollering the same thing: Mom, mama?” Lane said. Her 19-year-old son, Roshad McIntosh, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in August 2014.

“That hurt me to see that, and [Floyd] was a grown man. I can just imagine my baby,” Lane said, sharing that she has struggled with guilt and feeling that she let her son down by not being there. “Maybe I could have helped. What was he thinking when he got shot?”

In the instant her son was killed, Lane became yet another member of a sorority no one wants to join: mothers of children killed by law enforcement. The pain, grief and disbelief are real for these sorority sisters whose stories are often left untold.

Until now.

With the help of former Chicago sports and entertainment agent Andrew M. Stroth, these mothers’ stories are receiving the attention while providing the healing and peace the mothers long for.

Stroth, managing director of civil rights law firm Action Injury Law Group, founded Truth, Hope and Justice Initiative, a social justice movement to inspire change worldwide. The initiative supports mothers from across the country who have lost loved ones to police violence, connecting them with each other and with NBA mothers so they can form a circle of healing and community.

“I knew from my upbringing and from working in sports that mothers are the influencers, the first responders, the core of our African American community, of our faith community,” said Stroth, 52, who represented professional athletes for more than 20 years, including Dwyane Wade, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.

“I thought I needed to work to mobilize these mothers, amplify, lift up their voices, bring them together and create a platform,” he said. “I think if America sees what these mothers know their human truth to be, we can change the world.”

Leveraging his relationships and background in sports, Stroth has also been able to gain the support of the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players, whose members will assist him with the grieving mothers.

“I look at my kids and my kids are my world. And to imagine they passed away, No. 1, and then in such a violent nature, at the hands of people that we were told are there to protect us, I can’t fathom,” said Wendy Sparks, mother of Orlando Magic center Khem Birch and creator of Court-Side Moms, a podcast focusing on the experiences of professional basketball players’ mothers.

“I look at these mothers and I can’t even imagine the pain that they are feeling,” she said.

Sparks was on a Zoom call with other NBA mothers this summer when Stroth showed them a powerful video featuring the grief-stricken mothers unable to give any words to their pain.

“At first it was hard to watch the video, then I thought, ‘How dare you complain. These are real mothers. This is real pain. Real children that really died; and the way they died,’ ” Sparks said.

“I said, there’s gotta be something that we can do, even if it’s just to sit there and watch, sit there and support.”

Cherry Powell, chaplain of Mothers of Professional Basketball Players and mother of former NBA player and current pastor Roger Powell, said every parent worries about their child, but the anxiety is tenfold for Black and brown mothers.

“It’s a challenge to — every time your child is out — even adult children, you have to always have in the back of your mind that something could happen and that’s probably something normal that any parent would have,” Powell said.

“But it’s double down more for Black and brown and it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “I just don’t understand it. It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t have to be.

“We just want these moms to know that we support them, we wrap our arms around them and we’re in prayer for them and their entire families because that is something I don’t think you ever get over.

“You can live with it because you have to. And that’s what we [Mothers of Professional Basketball Players] are about, that is what we stand for: wrapping our arms — a village — around other moms.”

The mothers will be included in The Undefeated special, The Stop: Living, Driving and Dying While Black, which will air at 5 p.m. ET Sunday and will feature this Mother’s Trailer video from the Truth, Hope and Justice Initiative.

On Oct. 23, Truth, Hope and Justice will host a virtual inspirational gathering of mothers: Rise Up and Stand — A Tribute to our Mothers at 7 p.m. CT and broadcast simultaneously on Facebook and Instagram. Participants include singers Macy Gray, Andra Day, and Walt Whitman and The Soul Children of Chicago.

Unveiled during the tribute will be the Truth, Hope and Justice digital memorial, a curated collection of black and white photographs of mothers who have lost a loved one to police violence. The photos and stories will be published via the memorial each week from Oct. 23 until Mother’s Day in May 2021.

“We want to utilize these stories to raise awareness, advance civil rights and social justice in America and influence new legislation, specifically working to advance the Justice in Policing Act,” Stroth said.

“You have to change legislation and laws. If an officer’s belief is what guides whether or not he can use lethal force – that’s unacceptable. How come in our communities of color, there’s a disproportionate amount of Black folks shot and killed relative to other communities in other situations?”

That’s a question that Stroth and Truth, Hope and Justice are seeking answers to day in and day out — a fact Lane is grateful for.

“It means a lot that people take time out of their life to help us gain our life back. I don’t know how I would have been able to get the word out about my son if I had not had the support I have with Andrew and the other mothers seeking the same justice that I’m seeking.

“It’s been rough, but knowing that other mothers are also going through the same pain and hurt that I am going through helps,” she said. “We communicate with each other and try to help each other get through the pain that for me, never goes away.”

Alice Howell, executive director of the Truth, Hope and Justice Initiative, is equally excited for the virtual event and the “healing circle” of the NBA moms.

“We’re really looking forward to it. This tribute is something that will show them people are with them. I appreciate Andrew for standing with us and creating a platform for these mothers to stand,” Howell said.

“You don’t find many attorneys getting involved like this. People see the high-profile cases, but there are thousands of others we have never heard of that were swept under the rug,” Howell continued. “Once their child was killed they didn’t have the opportunity to have it in the media spotlight or having people fight for them. No marches or protests for them. So it’s very important that they get their loved one’s names and stories out there.

Howell is passionate about Truth, Hope and Justice and its mission because she’s a member of the sorority as well.

Her 17-year-old grandson, Justus Howell, was killed in a police shooting in Zion, Illinois, in 2015.

“He could light up a room. He was a caregiver, family person,” Howell said of her grandson.

“We were planning a great big Easter egg hunt. He was going to be the leader for hiding eggs for the younger kids. It changed our whole life and our lifestyle forever,” Howell said of the killing. “By my daughter LaToya [his mother] and I helping other mothers heal, it helps us.”

They travel and support moms, encouraging them to turn their pain into purpose and power — to get out there and tell your truth.

Howell, who encourages mothers to turn their pain into purpose and power, joined Stroth and others and took a group of mothers to Washington in 2018 to march on Capitol Hill and demand new legislation to address police shootings. The group also met with the Congressional Black Caucus and held a large rally.

“It gave them a platform. These are mothers who never stepped out to talk about their loved ones. This gave them the opportunity to do that,” Howell said. “It was such a healing moment.”

Healing is something Tambrasha Hudson is also focused on experiencing for her and all mothers. Her son, Pierre Loury, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in April 2016.

“I’m trying to heal. I travel to keep awareness about police violence, I meet with mothers. We have monthly gatherings where we are able to encourage and love on and uplift each other with Truth, Hope and Justice. This is how we keep their names alive and how we keep them relevant,” said Hudson, who keeps her son’s memory alive by celebrating his birthday and his “angel day” — the day she said her son became an angel.

“This should not continue to happen. We all have the same basic story and that right there should tell you something is not right. Something is totally wrong with the police department.

“It’s not something I wanted to go through. I didn’t wake up knowing that would be my last day telling my son I love you,” she continued. “He’s no longer here, so I have to be the voice for him. I have to fight for him. I have to bring awareness for him, and hopefully with all the things we’re doing some type of change will come out of this.

“If I could save one life from dying at the hands of police, then that means my son, he didn’t die in vain. The time is now for change.”

And that desire for change is what drives Stroth, the married father of three children, his Truth, Hope and Justice Initiative and the mothers he is helping.

“I’ve got hundreds of mothers who have their own George Floyd stories. I’d watch the news and every time a Black kid was shot it would be the same story: ‘Kid had a gun. I was in fear of my life. They turned and shot.’ I thought to myself, ‘How can 100 times out of 100 times the communication executive for the police department say the same story?’ ” Stroth asked. “I just don’t think that’s true.

“But then every week I meet with another mother and I can’t bring their son or their daughter back. And the mothers will tell you it’s a pain they don’t wish on their worst enemy. By the time I get the call, it’s too late, someone’s been killed in many cases … I thought, ‘How can we stop this from happening?’ And that’s when I formed Truth, Hope and Justice.”

Lane, whose search for answers in her son’s killing was documented in CNN’s digital documentary, Beneath the Skin, is grateful that through Stroth’s efforts, people are beginning to listen to the mothers.

“I’m glad other people hear our cry. I hope they hear our story, understand it and then they might not know our pain. Even if they haven’t lost a loved one to police violence, they are letting us know, ‘Hey, we’re here for you and we’re in this fight with you to bring change all over the world,’ ” she said.

“This makes me happy that me and the other mothers might get what we have been fighting for all this time.”

Howell believes the impact of losing a loved one and how it affects the whole family, not just the mother, is important for the world to know and see.

“You can’t just get over the loss of a child, especially by someone who is sworn to serve and protect you – the law enforcement. Mothers are starting to heal, talk about what happened, where they are now and their plans to move forward with their healing.

“It’s OK to keep your son and daughter’s name alive and to let everyone know what the system did. The ultimate tragedy is not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people. We stand silent no more.”

Dorothy J. Gentry is a freelance writer and educator based in Dallas. She’s covered the WNBA, NBA, G League and other professional sports leagues for several years. Her work has appeared in The Athletic, Slam and The New York Times among others.