The phone rang just once before Alfreda Hagans picked up. Her voice was settling and comforting in a time that requires it. The confidence that helped her raise two young Black boys in a country that has a history of not loving them was evident.
Just hours earlier, one of her sons, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., took a stand against racial injustice, sparked by the recent shooting of Jacob Blake at the hands of a Wisconsin police officer. Bradley decided to sit out Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, and his teammates supported him by also choosing not to play. The game was postponed.
Bradley’s protest made his mother proud. Hagans describes her son as laid-back and typically quiet, someone whose feathers aren’t ruffled easily. But in a time in which Blacks are frightened by the police, Bradley’s mother can’t help but sit back and feel the pain of the Black mother who loses a son or daughter. She also wonders why a profession she once held in the highest regard often doesn’t treat people the same way? Bradley’s mother was a Virginia State Trooper, working on the patrol side.
Imagine that? Raising two Black men while also trying to make sure they aren’t victims of police brutality and racial injustice. How did she do it?
Before the phone conversation began in earnest, Hagans had to let it be known: “I speak from the heart.”
So, let’s start there.
Bradley jokingly warned about his mother’s boldness, her ability to speak from a place that’s true to her and her experience.
“You sure you want to go that deep?” Bradley asked. “Because my mom will spit it truthfully until you will feel the hurt and pain emphatically.”
Some of that pain exists in navigating the space of being a Black mother, raising her children with Jackie Bradley Sr. in Richmond, Va. She was a state trooper, but she knew the job had a fatal flaw. Though she knew every cop wasn’t bad, she knew the system was broken. There was a paranoia she carried when sending her two Black sons out the door. Will they return?
“It’s still a thought,” Hagans said. “Because my youngest son [Dominique] is still with me. It had gotten to the point that even though he’s a grown adult, he’s 28, I say to him, ’Always let me know where you’re at. Text me.’ Or I would tell him — there are certain areas, I don’t care what city and state you’re in — they’re certain areas where you know there are predominantly white officers there. I tell him, ’Don’t drive through that area, because if you get stopped, I already know it’s going to be a problem.’ ”
Each time Bradley and his brother left the house, Hagans told them if they got stopped, tell the officer that they would like to call their mother, who is a state trooper, hoping that could be a signal. Still, she knows that’s not always the outcome, which is why she leans on faith and her own mother’s words she shared with her sons.
“She told me, she said, ’Freda, let me tell you something, in this world only the strong will survive,’ ” Hagans said. “I have held on to that all my life and I shared it with my sons all throughout their life.”
Strength was required when she was just 11 years old, growing up in Burgaw, N.C. It was the first time she felt racism. She was with her mother and her older brother, checking on a neighbor’s house. All of a sudden, they saw a car turn off the main road and began intentionally driving directly toward them.
“We had to run in the ditch and tried to get away,” she said. “And we couldn’t understand why would somebody just drive off the main road and try to run us over?
“As we were running for our lives,” she recalled, “these young white guys” said they were going to kill them.
Strength was required when, in her first year on the job in 1993, Hagans was the only Black female state trooper recruited and selected to join the force in the whole country.
She wondered to herself: Why doesn’t anybody look like me?
“I did feel like, ’Wow, I know there are more qualified African-Americans than just me,’ ” Hagans said. “And I was the only Black [woman] out of 50 states?”
Strength was required when she decided to quit her job in 1999 while going through a divorce with Bradley Sr. He couldn’t understand it. Hagans was going to really walk away from a state job? She had her reason: She wanted to be present.
“The streets will not have my children,” Hagans said. “I know how rough it is. I’ve seen it in other people’s lives, parents trying to raise Black males. If I had to work two or three jobs, I was not going to let the street have mine. I was not going to give them an opportunity to get in the streets and be influenced by the wrong people.”
Strength is now required for Bradley Jr. In the face of racial injustice, like his mother in the police force, Bradley is the lone Black player in his workspace. He’s fighting a fight to end police brutality and has been often left to answer questions about how he’s oppressed. His teammates and manager stepped in for him Thursday, but the shared experience of being Black and a threat is something they can’t grasp.
“I wish it weren’t the case,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said Friday. “I wish he weren’t the only one. But seeing him as a lot of these issues have been brought to the forefront in the baseball world . . . he handles it so well and with so much grace, probably more than I think I would in his shoes.”
It’s a huge burden to bear, but Bradley said he “can take it on.”
His parents reared him for this. But that doesn’t stop the pain from seeping through his mother’s pores as she watches the same profession that employed her kill and harm Blacks who look like her two sons.
“I’m totally disgusted,” Hagans said. “Even though you have a badge and have to do a job, you are still supposed to have that human side of you. To see officers react in fear with no sense of humanity, it is totally disgusting to me. My thought is if you are that fearful of Black people or brown people, then you need to turn your badge in and go find another profession.”
This isn’t new news to Bradley.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with my mom,” Bradley said. “To hear the things she’s seen as a cop. To hear the things she’s experienced. She’s seen some stuff.”
The pain Black women carry when they lose a Black son gets lost. In a lot of Black homes, Black women serve as the foundation to a family that has been fractured by systemic oppression. The Black mother and Black son carry a special bond.
“When things happen to our children, to our Black males,” Hagans explained, “it’s like a pain that goes so deep that the full explanation of it can never be explained. If people can’t really try to understand the struggle of the Black mother raising a son, it’s best they keep the negativity to themselves. And that ain’t even about politics.”
Police brutality won’t end overnight. But that doesn’t keep Bradley’s head from spinning in the wee hours of the morning, thinking about what he could do better.
He’s finding his voice in a world in which Blacks are marginalized. His mother’s boldness is coming out of him. His mother’s strength and survival is coming out of him.
Hagans paused for a moment as she sat on that thought.
“Probably so,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Hagans was the only Black female state trooper in 1993. Hagans was the only Black female state trooper recruited and selected for the force in 1993.