Turning Pain into Purpose
with Robert Woodson and Sylvia Bennett-Stone
How do we measure the consequences of a child’s death? We can add up the numbers, perform the investigations, and write up the reports, but there is no way to quantify the pain felt by the child’s family, no way to account for all the time lost, and no recompense that can make up for that loss. Even if an individual responsible for the death is tried and convicted, even if justice is served under the law, one cannot really say that the scales have been balanced.
That is one reason I find the work of Sylvia Bennett-Stone so astonishing. With her organization, Voices of Black Mothers United, Sylvia provides support to mothers who have lost children, often to violent crime, when they need it most, and when they are themselves most at risk. VBMU emerged after Sylvia lost a child to violence. In, as she says, “turning pain into purpose,” she’s managed to offer often life-saving services to mothers facing unimaginable suffering.
In the following excerpt from a recent discussion, Sylvia and Robert Woodson, who helped Sylvia get VBMU off the ground, discuss how the organization is reaching out to families around the country to help them deal with the pain of losing a child and working with police to transform those communities. As Sylvia and Bob say, ending this violence requires good relations between police and the black communities affected. Sylvia’s work serves as an example to those of us who believe that, if black lives really do matter, we’ll need to work with, not against, law enforcement in order to save them.
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GLENN LOURY: Excuse me, you call yourselves Voices of Black Mothers United.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: We are.
ROBERT WOODSON: Your situation. Why we got started.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: What happened. I was a community affiliate of the Woodson Center since 2006. And in 2004, my daughter was killed. She was at a gas station. The bullet went through her body, stopped in the heart of her girlfriend. Both girls died.
I dropped off the scene for some years. And when I came back to the communication hub of the Woodson Center, Mr. Woodson [asked], “Where you've been?” And I shared. And I also shared the frustration that no one wants to hear about a black child dying in the community. Mr. Woodson said, “Well, you know what? I find that to be a problem.” You know, everyone wants to jump up and down and hear about Black Lives Matter and the platform of defund the police because it's something negative. People want to hang onto something negative. But we're going to give them something positive to hang onto. Because there was not an alternative to that. So Mr. Woodson gave black mothers a voice, nationally, to be heard.
ROBERT WOODSON: We provided a platform, Glenn, as we always do. Now, everybody talks about people in these communities. No one talks to them to ask them what's important to them. Black Lives Matter and others say we need to defund the police. Well, 80 percent of black Americans living in these communities are against defund the police. They want more police. Black Lives Matter and other say that racism is the biggest problem facing black America. 60 percent polled said that is not the case. And so some of these mothers, when they spoke out and said that we need to address the enemy within, we are killing our children, not white police.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: That's correct
ROBERT WOODSON: Well, actually some Black Lives Matter people attacked these mothers and said, “You're off message.” And so I said, wait a minute. They need to be speaking for themselves. And so I told Sylvia, why don't we reach out? So far, it's spread like thousands. So now we have how many chapters?
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: Twenty-two states and thousands of mothers. And a lot of these mothers have their own organizations where they actually took the step to turn their pain into purpose. They just needed direction of what to do on the ground and how to help on the ground. And that's what we've been doing.
ROBERT WOODSON: There's one study, I'm sorry Glenn, that shows that 35 percent of these moms end up dying five years after they lose a child. And so what Sylvia does is counsel many of these women in the early stages of losing a child. Just last week or so, she talked to mom at a suicide, had her on the phone and had her husband call the police. She and other moms are reaching out to provide that kind of comfort, but they're also engaged in, as she said, other activities to prevent crime.
We actually have moms embedded with homicide units, so that they respond and go to a site of a homicide, because that's where a lot of drama occurs, where a lot of anger gets expressed towards the police. So in some cases, they even changed the way they process a murder scene so that they don't leave a child laying there for hours while they investigate. But this was all because of the input from the moms who work with Rodney Monroe, who's a former chief of police who's working now in a very creative way. So we really are working with these moms, because they have some exciting, innovative ways to heal the hearts of these moms, but also healing the community and working towards preventing violence.
Sylvia, I'm sorry for your loss. Crystal Joy, that was your baby's name,
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: Crystal Joy. It was crystal clear that she was going to be a joy to the world.
So what we have here in the face of the awful tragedy of losing a child to violence, to gun violence or other, is a constructive response from the victims, the surviving victims, to take matters, to the extent that they can, into their own hands and to try to move forward positively. You're working with police in some of these cities.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: It's an absolute must. Police is very much a part of the equation in order to reduce the violence. There's, like Mr. Woodson was saying, 80 percent of the community members want more police. They want sensible policing in their communities. Defund the police is not an option. When you work with the police and you talk about what's happening and what's going on within your community, what you need out of a peace offer that they've sworn to be. And they have that understanding, as well as the community members have an understanding that, okay, we're going to be here, and we're going to be visible. So don't get upset when your son is stopped. You know, these are the things that we have to do to reduce this violence. Now, one of the bigger issues ...
And I, and I'll tell you a story. Last year, we had a forum with the police and survivors and community members. Well, the police expressed their frustration as to the community won't talk. You may know who is doing what, but you won't say anything. So they gave a very good definition of what snitching really is. Whereas the community members and the people that were there really had no idea that snitching is when a defender or someone that's already in prison tell on someone else to get their sentence reduced. But when a community member calls the police and tells of someone doing something that's violent in their community or committing or crime in their community, that's called a community member complaint. That's what that is. It's not snitching.
ROBERT WOODSON: They also, Glenn, were able to work in five cities where moms were actually employed to deploy at a homicide site. As a consequence, it instilled trust between the police, and as a consequence, the number of close cases increased in cities where we had the moms. So they are really establishing trust between the community, and as a consequence, more people are willing to disclose who the perpetrator was. So we are going to be expanding that and doing some evaluation of that, but we hope to be investing in more chapters. So the more moms can get involved, beyond just grieving, but part of dealing with that grief is taking action to prevent other moms from having to go through that. And that's an important part of the healing.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: What happens is that, every time I see a mom on the TV and she's just received the news that her child is dead and she's wailing and that pain resonates within me.
I can imagine that it does.
SYLVIA BENNETT-STONE: So we have got to reduce this, because it's just killing families. It's killing families, because you just don't kill that one person. It destroys and breaks down that whole family.
Thank you, Glenn, for profiling these two wonderful people and their organizations. I was a loner in not trusting BLM, and ignoring the shaming if I did not donate to BLM; and now I have two organizations that will receive my donations! Thank you again.
I was stumbling around Substack seeking substance and found glennloury.substack.com. Dr. Loury's truthful discussion with John McWhorter about the death of Trayvon Martin cinched it. As a result of viewing glennloury.substack.com, I found you and your work. Those who attack faith and family are legion. God bless you Sylvia Bennett-Stone. You are the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Your righteous work does not fit their political agenda. We cannot have healing while the lies regarding Trayvon's death (and others) continue to be supported by many, including The New York Times and our former POTUS. I voted for Barack Obama figuring he could help America. I was wrong. It's just all about money. He should be working with Black Mothers to stop the killing of the innocents.