Lezley McSpadden Makes Her Son Mike Brown More Than A Hashtag In Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil
The first thing you’ll notice about Lezley McSpadden’s book is the arresting picture of her on the front cover. She looks different than the way we’ve seen her in the news. Her already narrow eyes don’t appear to be almost swollen shut from crying. Her hair, as we’ve become accustomed to seeing it, is laid, with a purplish tint to it. And most importantly, she appears strong.
I hesitate to use the word strong here. Because far too often it’s been associated with Black women, in an attempt to diminish our pain and our vulnerability. And while Lezley is still hurting and will always hurt for the loss of her oldest son, her first child, there is strength in the way she’s chosen to move forward, for her three other children, for herself and in memory of her son Michael O.D. Brown, or Mike Mike as she called him.
And in her book, Tell the Truth & Shame The Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love Of My Son Michael Brown, we see how she managed to accomplish this unimaginable feat.
Tell the Truth begins with Lezley’s pledge to do just that. The very first sentence of the book is “I don’t tell lies because I can’t keep up with them.” Immediately she establishes an accessibility and familiarity that we haven’t been able to see on our television screens.
I remember watching Lezley at her son’s funeral, briefly. She appeared vacant, like all she could focus on was holding herself together. I remember wondering why she didn’t speak, like his stepmother did. I remember wondering what she had to say about her son, in the face of what the city of Ferguson, the media and complete strangers were spouting.
Tell the Truth answers all of those questions.
It speaks about her decision to have her son at 16-years-old, the strained, formerly abusive relationship she shared with Michael’s father. And most heartbreakingly, she talks about the challenges she faced in getting him to graduate high school and achieve a goal she herself was unable to complete. But more than that, it tells a story about the girl she was before and after she gave birth to her son, the woman she grew into raising him and the fighter she became after his tragic death.
The story, as we know, is sad, devastating. But more than that, it’s a love letter to her son. I found more often than not it’s not only her recollection of Mike Mike’s death that made me cry but the description of his birth, his character and the sacrifices she made to love and protect him that broke me up. She fought, often at the expense of herself, to ensure that he was safe, that he was healthy, that he had a chance in this world. Reading her anecdotes of their life together and knowing how his life ultimately ended is soul-crushing to us, but no one more than Lezley. Long before any of us knew Michael Brown’s name or face, he was treasured and loved deeply. He was beautiful and he mattered.
What’s most inspiring is the way Lezley has been able to turn tragedy into triumph. It would have been so easy to give up. It would have been understandable. The loss was that great. It would have been fair for Lezley to live a life of complete seclusion, choosing to focus only on raising her other three children. We could relate. After being thrust into the public sphere for more than two years, in response to such grief, who wouldn’t want to seek some privacy, some time to mourn without the eyes of the world on you?
But instead, Lezley used her pain and channeled it to help others. Not only did she start a foundation, the Michael O.D. Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation, but one of the flagship programs of the organization is the way it gives back to other mothers who’ve lost their children. The Rainbow of Mothers provides women who’ve lost their children to violence or other tragic circumstances, with counseling sessions, legal advice and a support fund for women who’ve lost wages in the face of a tragedy.
Through Tell the Truth, Lezley McSpadden helped give us a glimpse of what and who Michael Brown was to her. She made him more than a hashtag or a catalyst for a movement. She made him a boy beloved. A boy whose death represented a great injustice not to just the Black community but to the country, to the world, to humanity. And beyond the words on the page, it’s her actions since then that have proven that his life, death and the sacrifices she made and love she showed to him, weren’t in vain.
To learn more about the Michael O.D. Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation, you can visit the website at MichaelODBrown.org.