Babies, Botham, Books…and Hope

There’s nothing like the smell of a baby. Especially one that’s fresh from a bath, rubbed down and sprinkled with all those special-scented baby lotions and powders. It’s been nearly two decades since any sweet-smelling infants or toddlers were part of my daily routine, but I did mother three of them and that fragrance is so ingrained in my being that I can pretty much conjure it at will.

Other memories from that early phase of my motherhood journey still hit me out of nowhere sometimes: the silky soft feel of newborn feet; a sincere but slobbery open-mouthed kiss pressed against my cheek; the heartwarming gift of a toothless grin; the purest, most uncomplicated love I’ve ever known.  

I’m now half a century into life and my three sweet brown babies are three young adults. I have a fair amount of remembrances to look back on, so trust me when I tell you, there is nothing like the smell of a baby.


The death of Botham Jean has really messed me up.

He was sitting in his own apartment, watching TV and eating ice cream. He was deemed a threat by the off-duty police officer who erroneously and illegally entered his home and shot him dead. He received no medical attention as he lay dying.

Botham Jean was a 26 year-old business professional; a highly spiritual, influential young man. The apple of his father’s eye and forever his mother’s baby, he was a model citizen by all accounts.

And still his blackness was an automatic threat, worthy of death in the eyes of a white stranger.

Botham Jean, beloved and full of promise, was murdered in his own home…while watching TV and eating ice cream.


It’s a gut-wrenching thing to grow up brown-skinned in a country that devalues brown skin—fears and hates it even. Intellectually, people of all races know how evil and unjust this mindset is. Yet racial bias continues to undergird our entire nation…truthfully, our entire world. As a fish cannot escape the effects of a life spent swimming in contaminated waters, how can the bias we’ve been raised in not affect each of us on an intrinsic level? Our minds and hearts will continue to absorb this poison until each of us makes concerted, individual efforts to transform society. Brown Baby Lullaby, my forthcoming picture book, is one of mine.

More than a bedtime story, more than a lyrical love poem with evocative art, more than the nostalgic ode to my own babies it was originally intended to be, Brown Baby Lullaby is an opportunity to sow seeds. For Black and brown babies, it’s an opportunity to sow seeds of self-love and pride; to have their existences acknowledged as cherished and necessary via the joy-filled images of a loving brown-skinned family, bound in a hardcover book they can hold in their very own hands. It’s literary affirmation of our children’s real-world belovedness. Given our current climate, it’s important that we make sure they experience such affirmation in abundance.

For white babies, Brown Baby Lullaby is an equally important opportunity to sow seeds of connection and inclusion. If tended with care and consistency, these seeds can produce roots so big, so strong, and so deep, there’ll be no room for fear-based racial assumptions in the next generation of white adults. Laying the groundwork for a more just society in the future—where the instinctive reaction of white people toward Black and brown people will be no different than their reaction toward other white people—requires a proactive and intentional mindset. The earlier such intentionality takes place in our children’s lives, the more lasting its impact will be.

At public events in the past, I’ve sadly watched parents steer their interested children away from my books because the character on the cover wasn’t the same color as their child. Not this time, I hope. This time, I hope that the images and words of Brown Baby Lullaby will sow themselves into the hearts and minds of our little ones—ALL of our little ones—blossoming into a visceral belief in the value, humanity, and belovedness of every brown-skinned baby. And child. And human being. Because our hearts cannot take another Botham Jean.

Or Philando Castille.

Or Sandra Bland.

Or Jordan Davis.

Or Jonathan Ferrell.

Or Tamir Rice.

Or Eric Garner.

Or Trayvon Martin.

Or Atatiana Jefferson.

On October 12, 2019, Atatiana Jefferson was murdered in her own home by a police officer. She was 28 years old. She was playing video games with her nephew.

This has to stop. We have to make this stop.

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4 thoughts on “Babies, Botham, Books…and Hope

  1. Well said Sis. It keeps happening over and over again and people want us to just get over it. The very soul of America is burning with the injustices that brown people face everyday. There is a PTSD that we deal with on a daily when we are pulled over by the police or even if they are called by us for protection. What do you do when your protector is your predator?
    These things make my teeth itch and my soul is tired. We have marched and prayed and waited for people to do the right thing and they still treat us worse than animals. I think what could help is for police personnel to live in the neighborhoods they work in. When police live in the place they work in they become more aware of the community that they serve. Less likely to pull the trigger when it’s a teen or person you see everyday. White cops talk about feeling threatened by black boys or people. How do you feel threatened when you are the one holding a gun? Retraining might help, but these cops need mental evaluations and training to see everyone as a human being and right now that isn’t the case. I could go on and on, but we need to talk openly about this. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. I am crying as I read this because I saw Harriet with about 75 youth and some of their parents on yesterday. I am going to make sure they get a copy of this Essay. I know that real change in the mindset of people who see color as a major reason for division has to start with altered consciousness. This article speaks directly to that change by teaching all children, from an early age, that the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with the humanity of each person and the respect they deserve. I am so very proud of the thoughtful and insightful woman you have become. And just for the record, 49 years later, I remember your sweet baby smells, your open mouth kisses and snuggling together as you were fighting sleep. A mother never forgets. I love you.

  3. Beautifully written, sadly So true and an ever present reminder of the current mindset that plagues our world. I, too, hope that your book resonates with all parents and children.

  4. Yes, mothers never forget. I still see the beautiful brown baby whose first word was “happy” even though she now stands slightly taller than I and drives herself to places I used to take her to strapped in a car seat. While motherhood transformed me in all the expected ways, it also shackles me to the reality that every child doesn’t enjoy the safety and serenity I created for my child. This reality was most acute for me as I tucked her into bed each night. Some children live in surroundings devoid of the nurturance and warmth they deserve. And your essay underscores that for certain children, particularly those wrapped in brown skin, their youth and adulthood may meet with less than loving reactions to their very presence, their very existence. When a parent shoos a child away from your books that’s where it begins…the isms, schisms and vestiges of racism…transferred and conveyed from one generation to the next. It has to stop. I will do my part to share Brown Baby Lullaby with as many children as possible – of all races, hues and colors. Congratulations!

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