When Fear for Your Son’s Life Ignites a Movement for Peace

Renee Liverpool was in Atlanta, pregnant with her youngest son, when the video of Philando Castile being killed by police went viral in the summer of 2016. As the country confronted yet more proof that black bodies aren’t safe on US streets, Renee found her excitement for the birth of her son was increasingly marred with fear.

Renee faces the reality so many mothers raising children of color have to confront: her future will be filled with conversations about driving while black and questions like, “Is it OK to wear a hoodie as a black boy? Can I play capture the flag in neighborhood backyards without someone calling the police?”

All  these questions rushed through her mind as she attended baby showers and watched her growing baby boy on the ultrasound.

“You do not want to be afraid for your child’s life before they are even here.”

There’s something you need to know about Renee, though.

She is unstoppable. Confronted by fear, she looks for solutions. She looks for another way.

A Friends for Coffee Moms meeting. Photo courtesy of Renee Liverpool.

So Renee decided to create a safe space for women raising children of color to grieve, ask questions, and support one another. So she started a group called Coffee Moms in suburban Atlanta.

Coffee Mom quickly grew, and led to a larger gathering called Friends of Coffee Moms. Here, anyone was welcome to come and learn about the experience of raising children of color in one of the United States’ largest cities.

At the same time, a community leadership program gave Renee the opportunity to join a local police officer on a ride-along.

Renee’s friends and family didn’t take kindly to the idea of her riding in an officer’s car for several hours. “They were afraid and understandably so,” she said.

Within 30 minutes of stepping into the police car, police were already making an arrest. “My eyes started to be opened to the other side, to a different perspective. I started to understand the fear that police experience, too.”

Not all of Renee’s friends want to hear about her perspective shift—and she doesn’t blame them. To be a minority in the US is to fight simply to be seen and heard. You’re expected, unfairly, to have to constantly share your perspective with the world, just for a chance to be understood.

Some of her friends feel her willingness to see from a different perspective will diminish the importance of the black experience.

“What is your goal?” she asks in response. “You can make a point, or you can make a difference. Both responses are valid—and both are even needed. But I want to make a difference. I want to move the needle toward peace and love and understanding.”

Renee always has peace in mind. It’s what keeps her coming back to the table and inviting others to join her.

That’s exactly what happened when Renee met Michael, a white police officer who worked with the Atlanta Police Department and now serves on a smaller force in the suburbs. They became close and started brainstorming ways how to bring their two communities together.

Michael believes that police don’t adequately understand the black community’s experience. He wants his fellow officers to respect the dignity of minorities who are frequently given what he calls “the short end of the stick.”

Michael, a police officer working toward peace. Photo courtesy of Renee Liverpool.

Renee and Michael are starting a monthly Love Anyway Gathering, and they’re inviting other police officers and moms raising children of color to join them. They will be confronting the hard questions together. No one has any illusions of it being easy.

But they have a dream of starting gatherings for those like them all over Atlanta, and maybe even all over the country. They also want to start a program to pair young black boys with police officers for ride-alongs, to lay a new foundation for mutual trust and respect.

A Friends for Coffee Moms meeting. Photo courtesy of Renee Liverpool.

When I asked Renee why she does it, why she continues having these conversations, her answer is simple:

“We want our sons to come home.”

Join Renee and Michael on the frontlines of peace, and start a Love Anyway Gathering to confront the divisions in your community.