Most women in jails are mothers who won’t be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.
On Sunday afternoon, about 30 children — most younger than 10 years old — used markers, feathers, and stencils to craft homemade cards for incarcerated women throughout the state. Messages like “Free Black Mamas” and “Black Mamas Matter” were written across several cards in large, colorful letters.
The children, and the adults who brought them, were participating in “Wee Free Black Mamas,” a card-making marathon inside the Massachusetts College of Art and Design Sunday afternoon.
Photocopies of the handmade cards will be sent to the women since the jails don’t allow cards to be sent in.
A selection of the cards will also be exhibited later this month at locations across Boston, including the Bruce C. Bolling Building, the Boston Children’s Museum, as well as various branches of the Boston Public Library.
Francie Latour, co-founder of Wee the People, which hosts a variety of social justice-themed events and organized Sunday’s gathering, said her goal was to educate young children and their parents about money bail, a practice that forces people to stay in jail if they can’t pay their bail.
“If [the women] don’t get out, they can lose their job; they can lose custody of their children; they can lose their apartment,” Latour said. “So very quickly this can have a ripple effect.”
Latour said Sunday’s event focused on freeing black mothers because they are disproportionately affected by the money bail process. As black mothers, this issue hits especially close to home for Latour and her co-founder Tanya Nixon-Silberg.
“We love our children,” said Latour. “We belong with our children and it is cruel and oppressive to have mothers separated from their children just because we can’t afford to pay our bail.”
After the children made their cards, Latour and Nixon-Silberg gave a presentation explaining money bail and how racism affects the criminal justice system.
“What’s happening right now is that too many black women are ending up in jail for breaking laws that are pretty small,” Latour explained to the children. “And then because they have to pay this thing called bail money to get out and they can’t afford it, that’s where they get stuck.”
Several parents said this kind of event allows their children to learn about social justice issues in an accessible and kid-friendly way.
Molly Perkins, 37, of Milton said she loves bringing her kids to Wee the People events because they open up conversations about tough topics.
“It gives us a chance to talk about things that don’t normally come up in our daily lives,” Perkins said.
Her 7-year-old son, Max, said he wanted to make “art that gets people to feel better.”
Sarah Porter, 45, of Milton said she hopes her children will feel more comfortable discussing incarceration issues in the future.
“I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of difficult questions to answer over the next week, but I’m OK with that,” said Porter, who brought her two daughters to the event.
Porter said she especially appreciated that the event maintained a feeling of optimism despite the heavy subject matter.
“It’s not all sadness,” she said. “People care about people in jail, and I want my children to know that.”