In honor of Mother’s Day, a group of black matriarchs joined together in Phoenix to raise their voices out of concern for the safety of their children.

Led by Janelle Wood, the group of about 30 friends and neighbors on Saturday morning marched west from Phoenix City Hall to the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in an effort to spiritually dismantle systems that historically “oppress, depress and arrest the black community,” the group said. 

Along the way, Wood, the creator of the Black Mothers Forum, led participants in prayer for healing, restoration and renewed relationships with law enforcement, local government and the justice system.

The prayers were followed by religious and patriotic songs as Phoenix police officers escorted the group through the streets of downtown. 

Wood started the Black Mothers Forum in August 2016. Several mothers had wanted to join together to “stop the bloodshed in our community.”

“How would you feel if you watched your child pulled from you and you had no control over it?” Wood asked. “Together, when we become united and educated on certain things, we can speak up to things that are causing our children to go to the prison system, get killed, commit suicide or get involved in drugs.” 

Nikita Ortiz, 49, said their faith will guide them.

“Without faith, there is no hope for change,” she said. “With faith, we can put action to everything we hope to achieve. There is a higher power we want to guide us.” 

In 2014, USA TODAY reported FBI arrest records show black citizens in more than 1,000 cities were more likely to be arrested than people of other races.

“We’re all looking for change. I’m tired of seeing young people getting killed. I’m tired of seeing police officers get killed as well,” said 61-year-old Priscilla Krucko. “We all want change and want the violence to stop.” 

Many of the mothers at Saturday’s march mentioned the ongoing court cases involving three Hamilton High School football players who are alleged to have participated in the abuse and sexual assault of teammates in a hazing ritual.

Nathaniel Thomas, 17, is charged as an adult with several felonies, including sexual assault, in connection with the crimes believed to have occurred over a 17-month span. 

Two 16-year-old boys were charged as minors following their arrests at the school in March.

Wood, who said she doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of the case, said she felt that the coaches, administrators and other adults at the school should also be held responsible for what occurred under their watch. The head coach was subsequently reassigned off campus.

“We want to see healing and restoration in that community, especially with those teammates,” Wood said. “The Hamilton hazing incident has really impacted the mothers. We want the focus on the adults who had charge over those young people. They need to take the responsibility. They need to be at the adult court system answering to the felonious charges and not the juvenile they have right now … They were entrusted to keep them safe.”

Wood said she and the Black Mothers Forum are attempting to contact the families of the victims and defendants. 

“We believe we need to take responsibility and start to speak, get educated and get organized to start a course of action so our children can fulfill their God-given purpose,” Wood said. “We’re tired of our black sons killing each other and being killed by police or anybody else. We’re tired of the mass incarceration, tired of the school-to-prison pipeline. We’ve had it.”

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for May 21 at Phoenix’s Broadway Heritage Neighborhood Resource Center, 2405 E. Broadway Road. 

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