Their painful bond: Black mothers speak out together on their unimaginable loss

Seven Black mothers. A shared bond in mourning.

When George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police in an incident captured on cellphone video, it galvanized the nation in a discussion about race and policing.

The disturbing video of Floyd's arrest and death showed a white Minneapolis police officer pinning his knee onto the back of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd can be heard repeatedly pleading, "I can’t breathe." In Floyd's dying breaths, he called out for his mother, who died years ago.

As Floyd's death reverberated across the country, it also laid bare the pain of so many in the Black community, igniting protests demanding justice and demanding an accounting for actions that were so blatant and gut-wrenching that they were universally condemned.

But Floyd was only the latest in a disturbing and inequitable pattern of Black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement and in racially-charged incidents across this nation.

Before Floyd, there was Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose, Botham Jean, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin -- all killed by police, or in Martin's case, neighborhood watch, within the past several years. In February, the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men while he was jogging in Glynn County, Georgia, sparked weeks of protests.

The list goes on of Black lives taken from their communities, their families and of course, from their mothers.

Shellee Mendes, a mother of three in Boston on June 27, 2020.
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

"Good Morning America" brought together seven mothers -- the mothers of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Antwon Rose and Trayvon Martin -- who have all lost a son or a daughter, for a conversation with ABC News' Deborah Roberts to discuss their shared bond in mourning, and their journeys and sacrifices as Black mothers in America.

These mothers share the searing pain of losing a child -- one that many of them say they relive each time another Black life is tragically taken.

"We are never ever going to recover from this. We live it every day. We carry the pain every single day," Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin said.

"If these tears do not shake America, the tears that we shed as mothers will be the tears that break America," Botham Jean's mom, Allison Jean, echoed.

Here, the women open up to "GMA" in their own words about their sons and daughters' lives, their tragic deaths, their legacies and what justice means to them amid the current movement. Read excerpts of their personal essays below.

The views and opinions expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother: 'No one deserves to be presented with such pain'

Wanda Cooper Jones speaks out on the life and death of her youngest child, Ahmaud Arbery.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo by AP

On Feb. 23, Ahmaud "Quez" Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased and fatally shot while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. Three white residents, including a father and son, told police they thought Arbery was a suspect in a series of break-ins. They were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault after cellphone footage showing the deadly struggle leaked online. In the video, one of the men is heard using a racial slur while standing over Arbery's body. A Georgia grand jury indicted the three men who had been arrested and charged in connection with the alleged murder of Ahmaud Arbery. They're facing nine charges including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal contempt to commit a felony. The three suspects remain in custody in Glynn County and have not been arraigned. They could face life sentences without parole.

Georgia was one of four U.S. states that did not have a hate crime law. In the wake of the killing, Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones pushed for George to pass a hate crime bill.

Georgia’s legislature passed hate crimes legislation on June 23, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law. The law, which imposes additional punishments for crimes involving bias or prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability, went into effect on July 1. The Department of Justice is looking at evidence to determine if a hate crime was committed in Arbery’s case.

In her own words, Cooper Jones reflects on the life and legacy of her youngest child and shares her opinions on his tragic death and heart-breaking loss.

Ahmaud Arbery is pictured with his mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Wanda Cooper-Jones

Ahmaud actually ran for his life. Then, he fought. That tells me that Ahmaud was not ready to die.

I didn't watch the video. My siblings have, and they described it. He fought these guys and then after he was defeated, when he fell to the ground in his last seconds of his life, he was called the n-word.

Ahmaud didn't deserve that. No human being deserves that.

It's bad enough that you chased him and you put him in the position to fight. Then after he's lying there dying, you feel no kind of respect for his life at all. You still disrespected him to the highest with calling him a name of such.

When there's a new victim of police brutality or hate crime, it makes me angry – angry that another family has to go through what I've gone through.

No mother and father, sister or brother --no one-- deserves to be presented with such pain.

They have to grieve in the way that I have grieved, in the way I’m still grieving and no mother and father, sister or brother--no one--deserves to be presented with such pain.

Breonna Taylor's mother: 'It should never happen to another Black daughter'

Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, grieves for the loss of her daughter
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo by Getty Images

Breonna Taylor was a few weeks shy of 27 when Louisville Metro Police Department officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison, and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, burst into her apartment and fatally shot her.

On March 13, 2020, the plainclothes officers executed a “no-knock” warrant as they searched for an alleged drug dealer, Jamarcus Glover, a former boyfriend of Taylor’s whom they claimed had used her address to receive packages.

Officers said that they knocked before using a battering ram to force open the door to the apartment Taylor shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, as the couple slept inside. Believing a home invasion was in process, Walker, a licensed gun owner with no criminal record, fired at the officers, striking Mattingly in the leg. Cosgrove, Hankison and Mattingly returned fire with more than 25 bullets -- some entering other apartments, including one with a 5-year-old child inside it. Taylor was struck at least eight times. In the wake of the incident, the three police officers were placed on administrative reassignment pending an internal investigation. Last month, Hankison was fired.

A civil suit filed against the officers on behalf of Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, is ongoing.

Breonna Taylor was a few weeks shy of 27 when she was fatally shot inside her apartment on March 13, 2020.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Tamika Palmer

Palmer, still reeling from the death of her daughter, she opens up about Taylor and the importance of joining the fight against police brutality in her own words.

[When I learned that she’d been killed] I fell to the ground. I could not breathe. I couldn’t focus on anything. People were talking and I couldn’t hear them. I was angry and all I could see was red. [And then] for her birthday to come up so quickly after this incident was heartbreaking. I didn't want to be up out of bed. I didn't want to deal with people. But all these people who I don't even know came from everywhere to celebrate her life. So I had to get up and I had to talk and I had to be around these people. I’m grateful, I really am, but just that day, in that moment, I didn't want to be that person [because] she's not here. She wasn't here to enjoy it.

I have so much anger inside; so much disbelief for what happened to my child.

It’s hard. I have so much anger inside; so much disbelief for what happened to [my] child. To know she was in her house, in her own bed and someone kicked in her door and killed her [is crushing].

Her murder could have been avoidable. Breonna should still be here.

I don't think I ever really understood my position in this fight prior to what happened to my daughter. Of course, I always had opinions and I always was worried about what was happening to the Black community, but I have Black daughters, and sometimes I think that we don't think that it can happen to them. People don't hear these stories about these Black women. But I'm now learning that I have a higher position in this fight and, and whatever I have to do to remain in it is what I'm going to do, because it should never happen to another Black daughter, another Black person, period.

Trayvon Martin's mom: 'We are never going to recover from this'

PHOTO: Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin: "We are never going to recover from this.": "We are never going to recover from this."
Illustration by QU Lan/Getty Images

On Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, 17, went to a convenience store near the home of his father’s fiancée in Sanford, Florida, wearing a hoodie. While walking back to the house, Martin was followed by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who called police from his truck and who was told by them not to follow the teenager. Soon after, a physical altercation between the two ensued, and Martin was shot and killed. Zimmerman claimed the shooting took place in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Grand” statute, but he was eventually arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He was found not guilty by a jury in July 2013.

In her own words, Sybrina Fulton recounts her emotional journey and shares her opinions that have been shaped by her heartbreaking loss.

Trayvon Martin
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Sybrina Fulton

Being a Black mother in America feels disappointing. At times it can feel hopeless. You feel helpless because you never know when you're going to be watching a news story in the safety of your home and the next day, you become the story.

Not one single day goes by that I don't think about Trayvon. I have another son, Jahvaris Fulton, and I have to keep moving because I have to fight for him. I can't do anything about Trayvon. The situation happened, the tragedy already occurred and I can't save him. But I can certainly work toward saving my older son.

I don't want any mother to listen to what people have to say about the way you should heal and the amount of time it should take for you to heal. Don't feel any pressure from anybody that you should forget, that you should heal, that you should be happy.

I want to encourage people to take a look at these tragedies. Think to yourself, 'What if that was my son?'

I felt like I was never going to be happy again. I went from being happy 95% of the time to being sad 95% of the time. For me, the thought of not having his pictures up and then all of a sudden having someone put them my face was triggering and I knew that was going to make me sad. So I leave pictures of Trayvon around my house. When I first started out, the hoodie would make me sad. Now, when I see a hoodie, like the one Trayvon was wearing when he died, I smile about it because I've trained and re-programmed myself to say, “That's in memory of my son.” You just have to do things in memory of your son or your daughter, and you just have to think about the good times.

I still cry eight years later and I don't apologize for crying. Those are my tears. That was my son. You have to know that you have to allow yourself to be sad on that day. And then you have to allow yourself to know that a brighter day is coming.

Antwon Rose’s mother: My son had to be killed by police in order for him to change the world.

Antwon Rose's mom Michelle Kenney: "I never imagined him losing his life to somebody who was sworn to protect and serve."
Illustration by QU Lan/Courtesy ABC News

Antwon Rose II, a 17-year-old, was killed June 19, 2018, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Officer Michael Rosfeld shot Rose after pulling over the unlicensed taxicab he was riding in, which was suspected to have been used in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier. Rose was a front-seat passenger in the cab and was shot as he fled. Video of the shooting was shared online, triggering protests in Pittsburgh. Rosfeld was arrested and charged with criminal homicide, but was found not guilty on March 22, 2019.

In her own words, Michelle Kenney reflects on the life and legacy of her only son and shares her opinions on his tragic death and heart-breaking loss.

Antwon Rose II is pictured with his mother, Michelle Kenney.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Michelle Kennedy

I always wonder if Antwon is proud of me. I struggle with that every day. I'm doing my best to make him proud because I wasn't there to protect him that day from this man who murdered him.

Today, he would've been in college. I would probably be calling them on the phone every day making sure he went to class. I just miss having my kid in the house.

I pray it changes so nobody else has to go through this.

I've talked to Tamir Rice's mom. She gives me the best advice, even when I don't want to hear it. I've spoken to Botham Jean's mom. I check on her, she checks on me. DJ Henry's mom is unbelievably amazing. That's just a beautiful soul. And my closest relationships are here with the mothers in Pittsburgh. We’ve had four police shootings since Antwon’s murder and none of them have received the attention that Antwon did. Those are the moms I check on because they’re right here in my city.

If I could speak to Antwon I’d tell him that I love him and that I'm sorry--so sorry. Like I said, I always knew he was going to do something big. I thought he would discover a medicine or something like that.

I never thought he would have to be murdered to make a difference.

I'm doing my best to make him proud because I wasn't there to protect him that day from this man who murdered him.

Botham Jean's mother: Every time a Black person is killed by police, I relive my son’s death

Allison Jean shares the life, death and legacy of her middle child, Botham Jean.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo by Getty Images

On Sept. 6, 2018, Botham Jean, an accountant, was in his apartment eating ice cream when a white Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, entered through his unlocked door and fatally shot him, claiming she thought he was a burglar in her apartment. In October 2019, Guyger was found guilty of murder by a Texas jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In her own words, Allison Jean reflects on the life and legacy of her middle child, and shares her opinions on his tragic death and heartbreaking loss.

You may not understand the pain that a mother endures when she loses a child, particularly a child who was unarmed and innocent yet was murdered by police. For me, it felt like I went into labor all over again. There is an emptiness in your stomach where you secured that child for nine months. I don’t know whether that void will ever be replaced and if that pain will ever go away.

After 21 months, the pain is worse than before.

It is a shame that America has such a reputation of disregard for Black lives, repeatedly stealing our children and leaving us barren.

Botham was a self-driven, focused and goal-oriented child. Botham knew what he wanted in life and went after it. He was quite aware of the aggression and hostility shown to Blacks, therefore he avoided anything that would cause him to come into contact with law enforcement officers. He stood for racial equality, unity and positive social change. The color of someone’s skin was not a deterrent to him, for he had friends of all races. He reached out to the poor and marginalized. He wanted to be the voice for the voiceless. He simply wanted to make the world a better place.

I would have so many things to say to him. I think I have a year and a half of things I want to ask him: What he thinks about George Floyd; Brett Kavanaugh; COVID-19. When LeBron [James] moved to the L.A. Lakers, I would joke with him when he was in the playoffs and when the team was down. I missed the basketball season. I cannot watch basketball anymore.

Two years and there have been so many after Botham that during George Floyd protests, when I heard them calling a number of names, often, Botham’s was missing.

I just want his name to stay alive. I just want it to be everywhere. Some people say to me, “Well remember, you have two more,” but you don’t make children to lose them -- you make children to keep them, to nurture them.

If these tears do not shake America, the tears that we shed as mothers will be the tears that break America.

Tamir Rice's mom: My 12-year-old son was killed by police. I’m not allowed to be normal.

Samaira Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a white police officer, said: "I don't even know what my son would have looked like."
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo by AP

On Nov. 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black child, was shot and killed by a white police officer while playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland, Ohio. Surveillance video of the shooting garnered worldwide attention, which led to Rice becoming a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Both officers involved were cleared of criminal charges, though one was terminated in 2017 after it was revealed that he had previously been dismissed from another police department. This information was not disclosed on his job application with the Cleveland Police Department. The police union is appealing a decision upholding the termination.

After her son’s death, Rice's mother, Samaria, launched The Tamir Rice Foundation, which aims to enrich children through after-school programs in arts and culture. The organization also seeks police reform by advocating to change laws and implementing new policies.

In her own words, Samaria recounts her emotional journey and shares her opinions that have been shaped by her life-changing loss.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, excelled in soccer, football, basketball and more, according to his mother.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Samaira Rice

Being a Black mother in America is stressful. I'm nervous and scared all the time. What America had done by killing our children, a lot of us walk around angry. I have taken my anger and created something positive.

No parent should have to endure something like this. Before, I was just living a normal life, trying to take care of my kids.

Now, I’m not allowed to be normal because of what America has done to my family.

God is using me in a way that’s much bigger than all of us.

Tamir is in high demand and I’m his voice, so that keeps me really busy in wanting to give back to the community with his foundation, and things that I’m doing with the platform that I have -- the platform that America has provided me. They provided it for me because they murdered my son. I’m still being a mom, a grandmother and I’m always going to be fighting for police reform, dismantling the whole system.

When I hear there's a new victim of police brutality or a hate crime, it's just this numbing feeling. It makes me feel like there's no hope, and makes me feel that America does not care about us as Black and brown people. My son was assassinated. With that being seen all over the world, I think it deserves an indictment, a conviction on a federal level.

Eric Garner’s mother on losing her son: ‘The nightmare was never over’

Eric Garner's mother Gwen Carr: "He may not have been anything to those who took his life but he was everything to me."
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo by Getty Images

Eric Garner was killed on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island, New York, after a New York City police officer put him in a banned chokehold. The encounter was captured on cellphone video, marking one of the first times in the social media era that Americans witnessed footage of a fatal interaction between law enforcement and a Black man.

In the clip, NYPD Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D’Amico confront Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The 43-year-old denies any wrongdoing. “Please just leave me alone,” Garner says. During the confrontation, Pantaleo puts his arm around Garner’s neck, and with the help of his fellow officers, forces Garner to the ground. Garner, who suffered from asthma, repeats, “I can’t breathe” 11 times before losing consciousness; the phrase immediately became a battle cry for protesters seeking justice.

Ultimately, Pantaleo was fired, though no criminal charges were filed. On June 12, 2020, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which states that any officer in New York state who hurts or kills someone by using a chokehold or “similar restraint” can be charged with a felony. Chokeholds were banned by the NYPD in 1993.

In her own words, Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, reflects on her son's life and shares her opinions amid growing protests against police brutality.

PHOTO: Eric Garner, pictured here with family, was killed on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island, N.Y., after a New York City police officer put him in a choke hold.
Eric Garner, pictured here with family, was killed on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island, N.Y., after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold.
Illustration by QU Lan/Photo Courtesy Gwen Carr

It's worse than a nightmare because at least with a nightmare, you wake up. This keeps playing over and over in my mind. George Floyd's death was another trigger. I am so sorry about that. His death echoed my son's.

After my son was murdered I had to take a stand. I'm the only one who could tell his truth and my truth. I have to tell the world who my child really was. They made him look like a thug, but my son was not a throwaway. My son was educated. He went to college. He was a lover of football — the New York Giants were his favorite team. He had six children. When he died, he had two grandchildren. Now he has a third.

He may not have been anything to those who took his life, but he was everything to me.

Eric will always be a hole in my heart because they took him away so suddenly. I will never stop fighting.

He may not have been anything to those who took his life, but he was everything to me.

The views and opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily represent the views of ABC News.

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