COMPTON — Dozens of mothers gathered at Burrell McDonald Park March 10 to attend what the organizer hopes will become an annual event.
The first “Mothers with Sons” symposium was put together by Symone Starr Parker, the proud mother of two sons who said that she felt that a mother with sons gathering was long overdue.
“I had never heard of an event that honored mothers and their sons,” said Parker, who thanked Councilwoman Tana L. McCoy for co-sponsoring the symposium.
“Mothers, do you know how special you are?” Parker asked the audience. “God has given you a special assignment to raise kings. You are in charge of developing, nurturing and guiding your son because he is going to grow up and become the head of his household and someday he will make his mark in the world.”
The event was attended by more than 200 mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and foster mothers who were treated to a buffet breakfast followed by a gourmet lunch. The auditorium was gaily decorated with purple and pinkcenterpieces.
Topics discussed included how to raise a child with attention deficit disorder, how to cope with the death of a child killed by gun violence, coping with a son’s illness, and what a young male should do if stopped by police.
McCoy said that mothers who are grappling with a son’s illness should remain strong and revealed that her son had been born with chronic granulomatous disease.
“The doctors predicted that he would not live past the age of 4,” McCoy said, adding that she poured as much love, encouragement and support into her son as possible. She said that her son defied the odds.
“He eventually married and had three children,” McCoy said proudly. “He was the kindest, sweetest person you ever wanted to know. When he passed away at age 37, we were all right there at his bedside.”
Pausing, she said, “I tell my story to let mothers know that you can go through a storm because God is always by your side.”
A number of mothers revealed that they were still grieving over their sons who had been killed by gun violence.
“It’s OK to cry, roll on the floor and holler,” said one audience member, who admitted that the shock of losing her son is still painful. “For a long time, I had no one to talk to. I’m still struggling with how to fill that hole in my heart.”
“I lost my son in 2015,” Jennone Marshall told the audience. “If you have lost a child, the pain can be overwhelming. You have to take mental days and take care of yourself,” she advised. “You may be grieving the loss of your son, but be sure to take time to practice self-love.”
After losing her son to gun violence, Lawanda Hawkins founded Justice for Murdered Children. She said that her organization offers a number of resources, including a monthly support group for the families of murder victims and even helps with burial expenses.
She added that not only have mothers lost sons to gun violence, but also to drug abuse, mental health issues and gang violence.
“You have to draw your faith and strength from God,” she told the audience.
“Try to recharge and do something you really like to do so that you can calm yourself,” McCoy said, adding that she is working with local leaders to help change gun laws. “Take a day to relax. If you are not whole and OK, you cannot care for your sons.”
Several of the mothers in attendance are raising children with special needs and revealed that they had become advocates for their children to ensure that they are not misdiagnosed or mistreated in school.
“My son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” said the mother of a 3 year old. “He is easily distracted which makes it hard for him to be successful at school. He could easily be misdiagnosed because he is misunderstood. Throwing up his hands in school is not a gang sign.”
Pausing, she added, “It is a daily battle to be accepted.
Tammi Terrell Morris, a spoken word artist and the mother of two autistic sons, ascended to the stage to read a touching poem about motherhood.
“Taking care of two sons with autism can be overwhelming at times,” she told the audience.
“Mothers, you must rely on your intuition as you fight for the rights of their sons,” McCoy said. “You need help and fortunately, there are resources available.”
Los Angeles County Public Defender Sharonda Bradford, who attended to provide legal advice, pointed out that many of the young men currently serving time behind bars had been children with special needs.
“There definitely is a school-to-prison pipeline,” Bradford said. “We have to end the criminalization of our children.”
During a question-and-answer period, a mother asked what advice she should give her son if he happens to be stopped by police.
“You have to teach your kids to respect authority,” Bradford said. “Make sure that he follows every command given by the officer because you want your son to come home. But if you find out later that he was mistreated by an officer after an encounter, don’t hesitate to contact the public defender’s office.”
A mother asked how to let her son know that there are consequences for his actions.
A number of women emphasized that she should practice “tough mama love” to establish at an early age that her son must obey her rules.
“You have to let them know that they cannot do what they want to do and get away with it,” Parker said. “It is our job as mothers to introduce them to consequences. If you don’t, you are doing a disservice to your son.”
Pastor Monique Robinson, who read from her book “Longing for Daddy,” said that a mother should rely on her intuition if she feels her son is in need.
“In 2009, I was an associate pastor of a church. I was very busy, but God spoke to me and told me to quit my job,” she said. “He told me to go home and take care of my son, who was born with a hole in his heart.”
Robinson quit her job and was shocked to find that her son was in turmoil.
“I didn’t know that he was being misdiagnosed and being harassed at school,” she said. Robinson spent all of her time tending to her son and his heart condition gradually improved.
“He’s 14 now and he is beyond gifted,” said a proud Robinson, who added that her son is now an in-demand voiceover actor. “He’s a series regular on ‘The Chi’ TV series and does voiceover work for Amazon Prime. He’s also working for Nickelodeon and DreamWorks.
“Being the mother of a son is the greatest gift you could ever think of,” Robinson told the audience. “God has you and he is not going to leave you. Don’t place your child or grandchild in the back seat. Put your daughters and sons first because you are their greatest advocate.”