If Toya Graham Is A Hero, Why Is She Still Struggling?

October 20, 2015  |  

Toya Graham is making news again, six months after the police murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray sparked riots and protests in the streets of Baltimore.

The Baltimore mom who became a divisive symbol of “tough love” after physically disciplining her 16-year-old son on camera for his part in the protests now says that she is not living the life of a hero.

For one, she is in danger of losing her home. “We’re struggling,” Graham shared with CBS correspondent Jeff Pegues.

“We’re struggling, we’re just trying to make sure we keep food on our table for our children, keep them out harm’s way, keep them out of danger.”

She also told CBS that she is struggling to keep her family safe as well. As noted in the article, the city has seen 267 homicides so far this year. That figure is more than a 50 percent increase when compared to last year’s homicide rate.

And as her son tells it in the CBS piece:

“When the sun goes down, do you feel safe out here on the streets at night?” Pegues asked Michael, Graham’s son.

“No, because it’s dangerous out here at night, you gotta keep looking out your surroundings to see if someone’s going to harm you,” he said.

Michael admitted he’s scared.”I lost two of my friends. He was gunned down in the store on Liberty Heights and Garrison,” he said.

You never know what’s going to happen next, Michael said.

“You might wake up one day, or you might not wake up one day,” he said.

I am going to cut right to the chase and say that it’s pretty sad that in spite of all she tried to do to protect both her family and raise them “right (even if beating them is misguided),” the lives of Graham and her children have failed to change for the better.

Not that I am surprised. As previously noted by Stacey Patton, adjunct professor of history at American University and writer of the Washington Post piece, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?“:

The problem is that Graham’s actions do not assure that her son, and legions like him, will survive childhood. Recall the uncle who in 2011 posted a video recording of himself beating his teenage nephew for posting gang messages on Facebook. Acting out of love and fear for his life, he whipped the teen, but months later he was found dead anyway.

Praising Graham distracts from a hard truth: It doesn’t matter how black children behave – whether they throw rocks at the police, burn a CVS, join gangs, walk home from the store with candy in their pocket, listen to rap music in a car with friends, play with a toy gun in a park, or simply make eye contact with a police officer – they risk being killed and blamed for their own deaths because black youths are rarely viewed as innocent or worthy of protection.

What’s worse is that while Graham was being lionized by most White and old-school conservative Black people as a hero, very few paid attention to the desperate conditions, which she was and still is fighting for her children to overcome.

Graham’s story was not just about a no-nonsense Black mother disciplining her son for moral and respectable reasons. It was a story of a woman who a couple of months prior to Gray’s murder by police, had lost her job. And it was a story about a single woman in a poor community where jobs are not always readily available, raising a teenage son and five other children.

It was also possibly a story about redlining, predatory lending, and the affordable housing crisis. It was also possibly a story about the failure of the Black church (and other Black religious institutions) as well as the need for a new and more equitable New Deal. It was also possibly a story about the school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality and how all the aforementioned connections contribute to the rise of street violence. And it was also possibly a story about the larger role our government – from city to state and up the way to the federal level – played in both creating and fixing these conditions.

But instead of a lifeline out of those circumstances, we bestowed her with a faux honorarium and accolades about courage and heroism.

If her son Michael, as well as her five other children, end up being lost to either the streets or the system, it won’t be because of anything that Graham failed to do. Obviously, this is a woman who tried everything, including beating her son out in the middle of the street.

It will be because society as a whole failed to earnestly care about Toya, Michael, Freddie and all the other folks who consistently find themselves disenfranchised.

It is true that Graham is a hero. She is a poor mother facing insurmountable odds. But it is also true that although Graham is brave and steadfast in her aim to overcome, how we treat the people we deem heroes kind of sucks.

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