Fostering Hope this Mother's Day

This Mother's Day is different for me. 

On February 13, 2019, my family buried my nineteen-year-old male cousin and gained an angel following a senseless act of violence. The very next day—on the universally recognized day of love—I started the job of my dreams. In the span of 24 hours, I was forced to simultaneously confront my past, present, and future—a history of familial and community trauma, the start of a new job with the potential to transform the lives of people of color, and a renewed conviction to build an alternative future for my own sweet little brown boy, my young son.

With Mother’s Day approaching fast I find myself pondering a central question: What gives me hope? 

My new role as the Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Community Innovator’s Lab (MIT CoLab) gives me hope and a place to actualize my visions of societal transformation. CoLab works with MIT students, faculty, and technical resources to build collaborations with communities. Together we implement strategies that harness existing community assets to promote inclusive economic development that is environmentally sustainable, socially just, and deeply democratic. Through CoLab we are creating a brighter future in places riddled with “hopeful contradictions” like Brooklyn where my cousin took his last breath, the Bronx which holds a reputation as the poorest urban county in the United States, and as far as the shores of the Pacific region of Colombia.  

In these communities, we are working with local leaders to map the assets—land, social, cultural, labor, business, financial, and political capital; ask the questions—what do you want for your community? How can we help you build it?; and invest in black and brown stakeholders when they identify the solutions to structural problems crippling their community. These interventions have allowed local residents to dream big (think), connect to resources and networks (link), and co-create the infrastructure and policies we all want for our children and seven generations into the future (do). 

As an Afro-Latinx woman with roots in Costa Rica and Honduras, I am no stranger to structural and systemic violence; and as a product of the “do or die” era of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, I am no stranger to the untimely deaths of young men of color. I have been here before and yet, this time seems very different—I have more agency in constructing opportunities that will provide on-ramps to wealth creation strategies that end generational poverty. 

While I can’t bring my cousin back and undo a tragic past that will plague his mother this Mother's Day and indeed every day, as well as my family for years to come, CoLab is working in real-time and in real ways to change the material conditions in communities that look like the ones I grew up in and in which I am raising my son. We are spurring innovation, supporting advanced manufacturing, facilitating the creation of good jobs with living wages, connecting and convening local anchor institutions with entrepreneurs, values-aligned business developers, and financial institutions. Where I grew up, this is real change. This is putting your money and influence where your mouth is. 

There is a great sense of loss and sadness in my family this Mother’s Day, for our personal loss and for the countless mothers who have lost children well before their time. With the grief, there will also be an abundance of black joy, music, food, tight hugs for those who are still with us, and a personal commitment by each of us to do our part in shepherding work that changes lives. That’s what I’m doing at CoLab. That’s what I’m showing my son by example. That is my promise to my little brown boy. This is my act of resilience and revolutionary love in memory of my cousin. 

This Mother's Day I will hold my head a bit higher as I carry forward the work to build on our hopes for a better, safer and more inclusive future for all our sons.

Taina S. McField, CoLab’s Deputy Director