By Dana Bash and Bridget Nolan, CNN
Updated 1:03 PM ET, Sun May 23, 2021
“I said, ‘Baby, you got to understand. You are a young, Black male, and there are people in this country that are not going to care about you or love you like us, your family, your community,'” the Democratic congresswoman from Georgia recalled.
It’s the conversation no parent wants to have, but so many Black mothers and fathers across this country feel it is a must.
“‘You have to be really careful where you are, what you do. Don’t get into any verbal confrontation with anyone. … People will take out a gun and they will shoot you.’ And I remember Jordan had said, with that bravado, ‘Mom, that’s not going to happen to me.'”
Just nine months later, that’s exactly what happened to him. Jordan was shot three times, killed by a White man at a gas station who was angry that Jordan and his friends were playing loud music. At 17, he was the same age as Martin.
Forever seared in McBath’s memory is the call she got from Jordan’s father to tell her the gut-wrenching news.
“Jordan’s been shot,” he told her.
“Just this primal wail came out of me, and I was like, ‘Where’s Jordan?’ I just started screaming. Jordan’s father said, he told me ‘Jordan is dead,'” McBath said with tears welling in her eyes.
“I felt like in that moment that everything I had done to protect him, it wasn’t good enough,” she said. “Everything I had thought I had done, putting him in the right community and putting him in the right schools and keeping him around the right kids, the right families, it didn’t matter because he was a young Black male, and it was simply because of the color of his skin.”
The gunman in Jordan’s case was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Turning pain into purpose
The month after Jordan’s death, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 kids between the ages of six and seven — and six adults. A grassroots movement called Moms Demand Action was started in the wake of that tragedy to reduce gun violence in America, and McBath quickly joined in the fight.
“Any person that would allow me to speak or tell my story, that’s what I did, because I wanted the world to know what happened to my child. And it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t only happening to my child, but it was happening to children and people all across the country,” McBath explained.
She redirected her pain into purpose.
“I was raised that you fight to protect and care for the people that you can believe in and that you love. You fight for your community. You fight for those that feel defenseless,” she said.
McBath was even invited to speak at the 2016 Democratic National Convention when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee. She stood alongside seven mothers who had lost their children to gun violence or police brutality. She pledged her support for Clinton and promised to keep telling Jordan’s story.
“We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and urging you to say their names,” McBath said at the time.
“We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe,” she added on stage.
‘That’s my DNA’
McBath grew up in a house deeply rooted in the civil rights movement. Her father, Dr. Lucien H. Holman, was the Illinois branch president of the NAACP in the 1960s.
“I always joke and said he was the dentist by day, but he was the full-time, full-throttle activist for civil rights at night,” she said.
She grew up watching her father give speeches and taking car rides with her mother to deliver The Black Voice, a civil rights newspaper that he founded. She attended the 1963 March on Washington in a stroller.
One of the first songs she ever learned to sing was “We Shall Overcome,” because it was being sung all the time around her. Her home was filled with civil rights leaders trying to change America.
“That’s my background. That’s my DNA,” McBath said.
“I can remember at night as a small child, my house was filled with people and they were drinking and smoking and strategizing,” she added.
Her father even met with President Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. She sometimes wonders what her now deceased father would think of what happened to her son.
“My father would probably roll over in his grave, both of my parents, if they knew that Jordan died in the same kinds of circumstances that they saw, that they fought so hard to eradicate,” she said.
Called to action
McBath didn’t follow her civil rights DNA for the first 30 years of her professional life. She was a flight attendant for Delta Airlines and didn’t consider running for Congress until Valentine’s Day 2018, when 17 people — including 14 students — were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Parkland happened, and I was furious. I was furious, because there again, we had Sandy Hook and nothing was done. There was no legislation, nothing was put in place,” she said frustratedly. “I thought, well, who’s going to stand up for our children? Why are federal legislators even refusing, our state and local legislators? What are you afraid of?”
She decided to make a longshot run for Congress. No one ever told her the numbers looked good for her, but she went for it anyway, launching a campaign for Georgia’s 6th District, which Democrats had failed to take in a high-profile special election the year before.
“I believed that, as a survivor and as a person who’s living this tragedy every single day of my life, that there’s so many other people around the country like me that are crying out for legislation, for policy, crying out for sensible legislation that protects our communities. And I’ll find them, because they’re out there,” she said.
She won — flipping her suburban Atlanta district from red to blue — part of the 2018 Democratic wave tha
Rep. Lucy McBath is living her son’s legacy
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