As protests for racial justice and against police brutality continue to unfold across the country (and worldwide), many of the events have turned violent, with nighttime burning and looting taking the place of more peaceful daytime rallies. And unsurprisingly, President Trump is only stoking the (literal) fires with his incendiary and not at all fact-based tweets. (Namely, he called protesters “THUGS” in his characteristic all-caps tweet-shout, and dropped a phrase with racist origins that also glorifies violence: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”) But among all the nation’s leaders who, unlike Trump, are actually trying to do some leading in this time of unrest, the voice of one powerful mother stands out: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“He should just stop talking,” was Bottom’s assessment of Trump this weekend, when she spoke to Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union. “This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet and I wish that he would just be quiet. Or if he can’t be silent, if there is somebody of good sense and good conscience in the White House, put him in front of a teleprompter and pray he reads it and at least says the right things, because he is making it worse.”
In addition to her straight-up common sense approach to leadership and public speaking, perhaps Bottom’s greatest asset is her recognition that she is a mother, first and foremost — one who is committed to protecting the wellbeing of her children, and all children.
“Above everything else, I am a mother,” Bottoms told attendees in a heart-wrenching speech at an Atlanta press conference on May 29, in which she also condemned the more violent means of protesting against racial injustice and the recent murder of George Floyd.
“I am a mother to four Black children in America,” she continued, “one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt. And yesterday when I heard there were rumors about violent protests in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do: I called my son and I said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I cannot protect you and black boys shouldn’t be out today.’ So, you’re not going to out-concern me and out-care about where we are in America. I wear this each and every day, and I pray over my children, each and every day.”
In her speech, she also pleaded with protesters to stop the looting and rioting, and to “go home,” because “this is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos.”
Bottoms’ anger is absolutely justified; it echoes the words of writer Nikesha Elise Williams, who wrote for SheKnows this week about her own Black son: “His very existence is a threat…every second he draws breath is grace and mercy from those who can weaponize their false, fresh white tears against him.”
It’s clear that Bottoms’ message is hitting home — as is her ability to channel empathy, her calm but heartfelt public speaking, and her relation to her constituents on a human-to-human level. And in a time when women are casting about ten million more votes than men in recent elections (according to the Center for American Women and Politics), Bottoms’ approach — and her legitimizing the needs, concerns and fears of mothers and children, especially POC — is one that politicians in Washington need to learn from, stat.
Here are more powerful quotes from Black women who are moving mountains with their voices.