Black Women's Empowerment

Why Can We (and Others) Have Some Compassion for Mentally Ill Black Mothers?
ANNAPOLIS, MD - FEBRUARY 1: Vontasha Simms talks with Melinda Hamilton, aid to Maryland Del. Edith J. Patterson February 01, 2016 in Annapolis, MD.  Simms, grandmother of Ji'Aire Lee, 3, who died while his mother, Romechia Simms, pushed him on a swing for 40 hours, visits legislators at the Maryland General Assembly to try and pass mental health reform. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

ANNAPOLIS, MD – FEBRUARY 1:
Vontasha Simms talks with Melinda Hamilton, aid to Maryland Del. Edith J. Patterson February 01, 2016 in Annapolis, MD. Simms, grandmother of Ji’Aire Lee, 3, who died while his mother, Romechia Simms, pushed him on a swing for 40 hours, visits legislators at the Maryland General Assembly to try and pass mental health reform.
(Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

 

I was horrified when I read the news about a young mother who had her son on the swing for days until he died of hypothermia and dehydration, all the while–kept swinging. As a mother of four kids, I can’t imagine ever hurting my children, but my general anxiety disorder if much more common, better controlled and much less serious than schizophrenia, which afflicted Romechia Simms. She has now been charged with manslaughter and child abuse. According to a story published in the Washington Post, “her daughter had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression before her grandson’s death. She was hospitalized twice after mental breakdowns. Pleas to authorities to help her daughter went unheeded, Vontasha Simms said, including when she called sheriff’s deputies after Romechia walked on the road barefoot holding her son’s hand.”

Now Romechia’s mother, Vontasha Simms, is wandering the halls of the House of Delegates with a notepad and hope that law makers will do more for mental health reform. Her hope is that no other child will suffer the fate of her grandson, Ji’Aire Lee, who was three years old.

Vontasha is going down the halls of government without a clue of what to do or how precisely the process works. She’s armed with only a legal pad, and in a sweat jacket and baggy T-shirt, she’s hardly dressed to book meetings with some of the most powerful people in government.

What Vontasha’s daughter did is horrific, and I know people struggle with their anger and outrage about a mother doing such a thing, and the haters of black women use instances like this as examples of us being “the worst stewards of children in the world,” as one hateful You Tuber likes to repeat over and over. All this outrage, without taking into consideration how serious untended mental illness is. There is a specific, and even more visceral hatred when a black mother causes a child’s death, because she is not often given the benefit of the doubt like say, a white woman who drowns six kids in a bathtub.

And while my struggles with my mental health are not even a fraction of what Vontasha’s are, I’m glad I’m able to have empathy for her in this situation, and concern for how many other black mothers who are stressed beyond the breaking point and live in communities that ignore or fail to recognize and acknowledge mental illness as a real thing, and medical practitioners who are apathetic to these “lowly” women who are seeking help.

So instead of complaining about it, I’m sending this blog post and an email to the writer of the Post article, and taking up a collection so Vontasha can buy herself a nice suit for when she lobbies on behalf of her daughter, and attends her court hearings. I know it’s not much, but if all of us in this community did something to show support, lots of pennies can get you lots of dollars. And perhaps as I write this, some of you in this community can strategize on how we individually can do more about this than just shake our heads in pity.

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