Free Black Mamas Group Pays Bail and Reunites Black Women with Their Families for Mother’s Day
The Free Black Mamas movement has spread to more than 30 cities, with people donating money to bail out hundreds of Black mothers for Mother's Day
Shalice Williams didn’t know how she would afford the $2,500 bail after she was jailed over a probation violation in 2017. She was arrested when she missed a check-in with her probation officer in Baltimore because she was unable to bring her three children.
“The children are not allowed into the office, and so me not being able to show up with my kids was technically me not showing up,” Williams, 25, told ABC News. So, Williams was arrested again. And even though she had served her time for her original offense, she remained in jail for more than a month until the local Black Mama’s Bail Out project posted her bail.
“It was a beautiful feeling, for people who did not know me, to come and get me out for Mother’s Day,” she told the site.
Thousands of Black mothers arrested for non-violent offenses sit in jail simply because they can not afford bail. But Williams is among the hundreds of mothers bailed out in time for Mother’s Day through the National Bail Out Collective‘s annual Free Black Mamas movement.
Since its start in 2017, the Free Black Mamas movement has raised nearly $1 million to bail out more than 300 people from jails across the country. More than 30 cities participate in the annual movement from New York to California. This year, the effort has raised more than $350,000 and will make bail payments for more than 100 Black mothers on and around Mother’s Day, organizers say.
“What feels good is seeing the amazing progress and beauty of the women we bail out,” Bethany Stewart, of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, tells PEOPLE. “It’s been really amazing … those things are really life-changing and sustaining for all of us in this work.”
National Bail Out is accepting donations for the initiative.
After the mothers are released from jail, the Collective, comprised of more than a dozen organizations, provides the mothers with some resources and support services including transportation and housing assistance.
“We recognize that our people have needs. We wanted to support our folks and we felt it was irresponsible to just bail folks out and be like, ‘Okay, cool! You’re bailed out. That’s it!” National Bail Out’s Arissa Hall tells PEOPLE.
“We wanted to make sure our folks were not vulnerable to rearrest and re-incarceration. That meant to provide the services that, unfortunately, the state is not providing.”
The Collective has even established the Free Black Mamas Fellowship, an eight-week paid fellowship to help mothers who have been bailed out engage in effective political organizing.
Organizers say that many people held in jail are awaiting trial or court hearings and simply cannot afford bail to be released. There are at least 89,000 Black women locked up in local jails in the U.S. for nonviolent offenses who have not been convicted, according to a 2018 report from the Prison Policy Initiative.
The Collective notes that bail is often used to “coerce people to plead guilty,” noting that people held in pretrial detention are 14 percent more likely to be found guilty — and nearly 11 percent are more likely to plead guilty. Marbre Stahly-Butts, executive director of Law for Black Lives and founding member of NBO, adds that Black women are disproportionately affected by this injustice.
“If you are a Black mother you are are twice as likely to have bail put on you. So often in these conversations about mass incarceration and bail, the focus is on men and almost erases the impact it has on women and queer folks,” Stahly-Butts tells PEOPLE.
“There’s a real reality that when a woman, a mama, a caregiver is locked up the impact of that is not just felt by her or her children, but it’s felt by her entire block, her whole community, because Black women have been the backbone of Black communities for so long that when one of them is stolen by this system the reverberations of that go far beyond just her family.”
Local organizers in the various cities have put together their own fundraising efforts under the national campaign, engaging community-members on the local level to not only donate, but to discuss bail, mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.
“We see bail as a symptom of an underlying problem. We believe that people are more than the mistake they made. When folks have done harm, we think there are better ways to deal with that harm than to put them in a cage,” Stahly-Butts says.
“We are fighting across the country at the county level, at the city level, at the state level, and the federal level to see a shift of funds away from police, away from jails, away from surveillance, towards community-based solutions. That’s everything from drug treatment programs to housing, to educational programs, to youth development programs, to transportation vouchers, across the board.”
Stahly-Butts adds: “We understand the bail outs as connected to the long and deep history of anti-Blackness. We see these fights to free our mamas for Mother’s Day and to fight against money bail really as fights that continue the work of abolition that our ancestors began.”