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June 2, 2015
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Toya Graham Hits Her Point Home- Mom Says "No" To Son In Riots

June 2, 2015 07:55 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

Toya Graham is a single mother who lives in a run-down and dangerous neighborhood in West Baltimore.   She was not a likely candidate for national recognition, and yet, there are many who are hailing Toya as a hero.  
Riots broke out in Baltimore following the death of Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old African American man. The reason for the death has been reported as being caused by what is called a “rough ride” in a police van.  Freddy died April 19, 2015, seven days after his arrest. It was not surprising that many young people in the community joined in riot, as fury over alleged police brutality exploded into a maelstrom of brick throwing,looting,and destruction of property.

Mom Says No To Son In Riots

Toya Graham anticipated her son Michael’s desire to join the melee, and specifically instructed him to stay away.  She was not surprised to spot him, however, wearing a face mask and his hoodie as the crowd surged toward her home. As the mother of six and a long-term survivor of random violence, Toya had one goal:  to prevent Michael from becoming the next Freddy Gray. She ignored the threat to her own safety as she tore off her son’s mask, hit him upside the head, and ushered him home.

Mothers, from Cleopatra to Erin Brockovich have, historically, risen above their perceived capabilities in their determination to protect their children.  This leads to the question, “Why have today’s parents, in many instances, failed to garner their strength in service of family preservation?”
There has been an increasingly worrying rise in the occurrence of parents who are afraid to set limits with their children.  They are loath to hurt their children’s feelings.  What began as a well-intentioned desire to respect their child’s individuality has, unfortunately, led to households where parents are held hostage to their children’s demands.


How has this happened?  When did so many parents forget that part of their JOB is to teach their children discipline?  A child does not feel safe without discipline.  A child will not succeed without discipline.  A deficiency of self-control leads to lowered self-esteem and a reluctance to stick with difficult challenges. Parenting is NOT a popularity contest. Even if, the children, once they become adults, make accusations of poor parenting, so what?  No one knows how to perfect that particular task.  A parent must do the best he/she can. It is the child’s responsibility to grow up and get past presumed parental failures.  A child will never feel confident if he/she is unable to take responsibility for his/her own behavior.
Blaming the other (or parent) puts the locus of control out there in the cosmos.  What could be more damaging to self-confidence than the belief that one has no control over life events?  Taking responsibility teaches children that it is possible to influence outcomes.  This, of course, does not happen 100% of the time, but some feeling of control is, clearly, better than none. 

Warrior Mom

The “warrior mom” knows her own values.  She does not need to sit down and make a list.  She can feel when her child has crossed the line and does not hesitate to correct the situation.The “warrior mom” is not concerned with the opinions of others.  Her goal is to protect her family.  She knows who she is.  She has a strong sense of right and wrong and does not need to question her “right” to do as she sees fit.  Is she open to learning?  Of course.  She will not adopt strategies that clash with her core beliefs. Abuse is a whole different topic.  An abuser is focused on violence and rage.  An abuser cares more about punishment than teaching.  There is a vein of self-hatred and sadism that makes the abuser unfit for the role of parenting. There is a need for genuinely strong men and women in society.  As individuals learn to work cooperatively rather than competitively, especially when raising children, everyone benefits.
A young woman was in a discussion about a family conflict, she was questioning why the “child”, who was an adult, should be the first to apologize.  This young woman was reminded of the fifth Commandment, “ honor thy father and mother”, which led to a conversation regarding why that held relevance today.  She understood that setting this injunction aside would have a strong influence on her relationship with her children.  It was a lesson she needed to learn. 
Hats off to Toya Graham!  Applause for those who are willing to risk temporary rejection while teaching important life lessons.  Sometimes it’s tough to be in charge, but if those in positions of responsibility refuse to act, who will?  

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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