01 Sep 2018

Turning Point: Power Outlet

Depelsha McGruder (MBA 1998), founder and president of Moms of Black Boys United


Depelsha McGruder (MBA 1998)
(illustration by Gisela Goppel)

In July 2016, after visiting relatives in Georgia, I was watching CNN in the airport and saw graphic reports on the death of Alton Sterling, shot at close range by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There had been a number of other police killings of black males leading up to that point, including Eric Garner and John Crawford, as well as 12-year-old Tamir Rice. I flew home to New York and went to bed with those disturbing, bloody images in my head. Also churning around was a fact that had stayed with me ever since I heard it: Black boys as young as 10 years old are no longer viewed as innocent children but as a potential threat and aggressor. That made me feel like I was on the clock with my own sons, who were 4 and 7 at the time.

When I turned on CNN the next morning, they seemed to be talking about the same story, but now they were reporting from Minnesota. When I realized they were discussing a different case—that of Philando Castile, executed in his car while his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter sat in the backseat—it crushed me emotionally and psychologically, so much so that it was hard to get out of bed.

Eventually, I did get up to make breakfast. As I was scrambling eggs and cooking turkey sausage, I decided to activate an idea I’d had for a while—something I’d described to others as an online support group for moms with black sons. So I walked over to my computer and created a Facebook group called Moms of Black Boys (MOBB) United. I sent invitations to 30 friends. Five minutes later the 30 had grown to 150. In an hour it was 500. When I was at the grocery store that afternoon, I checked my phone: 4,000 members. By dinnertime, 15,000. By the end of the day more than 21,000 moms from all over the country had joined.

We still have so far to go with this issue. It’s something that we want to work on proactively, not reactively. I can’t stop.

We still have so far to go with this issue. It’s something that we want to work on proactively, not reactively. I can’t stop.

Then a mom from the group suggested setting up a conference call to figure out our next steps. From there, we formed a steering committee, and I drafted a mission statement and a long-term strategy. Today, we have two nonprofit organizations: MOBB United provides information and support to moms and sons and promotes positive images of black males. MOBB United for Social Change aims to influence policy at the local, state, and federal levels to impact how black boys and men are treated and perceived by law enforcement and society by providing a legislative platform and training moms to be advocates in public arenas. We still have so far to go with this issue. It’s something that we want to work on proactively, not reactively. I can’t stop.

As an introvert, I never expected to do something like this—but I have learned so much about myself in the process. In most work settings, I’m the person with the data-driven point of view. I used to get annoyed if people came in with personal stories and emotional stuff. But what mobilized people was the emotion. There are so many stats I could have cited—black men, for example, are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. Yet the simple act of exposing my vulnerability and fear when it came to my own sons’ safety is what connected, because so many others were feeling the same thing. That understanding is something I’ll remember and use for the rest of my life.

A former senior vice president at Viacom, Depelsha McGruder serves as founder and president of Moms of Black Boys United.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1998, Section I

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