Remember My Name

As a mother of two, my heart bleeds for the parents of Lauren Spierer, and any other parent who is forced to endure the agony of not knowing their child’s fate.  I can remember when my sons were three years old and one of them was “missing” in a Chuckie Cheese for fifteen minutes.  That 15 minutes dragged on like hours.  As each minute ticked by, I imagined all sorts of frightening possibilities.  Therefore, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to not know where your child is; even your adult child, for days, weeks or even months.

Recently, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts offered a $10,000 reward to find missing college student Lauren Spierer.  And, in the days since her disappearance the media coverage has been quite extensive.  From the moment it was clear that Spierer was missing, the police lodged an expansive search for the missing coed.  But what about, women like Phylicia Barnes, Tamika Huston and Romona Moore.  Could the daily, large-scale media coverage have saved their lives or at least lent support to their families during an agonizing time?

In the case of Romona Moore, her mother Elle Carmichael, would answer a resounding YES!  In the Spring of 2003 at approximately 7:00 p.m., Romona Moore told her mother she was going to a local fast food restaurant and would soon return.  However, Romona never returned.   She was a bookish Hunter College student who never partied and as far as her mother knew, had never even had a real boyfriend.  She spent most of her time in the library and when she wasn’t studying, she was working part-time as a receptionist.  Despite the fact that Romona always called her mother if she was going to be late coming home, her mother took into consideration the fact that her daughter was now 21-years old and instead of reaching out to the police immediately, she decided to wait, at least until morning.  Elle Carmichael called 911 at 9:00 a.m. when morning came and her daughter was still not home.

The police arrived and took a report, after Carmichael begged them to.  However, they were sure to mention that they really didn’t have to.  The officers suggested that Carmichael file a missing persons report that evening, as her daughter would then be missing a full 24 hours.  When Romona did not return that night, Carmichael did exactly that.  Interestingly enough, when Carmichael filed the missing persons report she was admonished for bothering the police with a report for a 21-year old and told that the police officers that initially arrived at her home should NEVER have taken a report in the first place and the next day, the complaint was marked “closed.”

For four days Carmichael and family and friends searched for Romona Moore, when it was clear that police would do nothing.  In fact, one of the families’ leads paid off, and they eventually found Romona.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  By the time police grudgingly followed up on the families’ lead, Romona Moore was found dead.  For four days she had been chained in a basement and raped and tortured by two psychopaths.  Ironically, the day that the police finally went to the residence where Romona was held, was the same day she was beaten to death by her captives.

Laci Peterson, Natalie Holloway, Jon Benet Ramsey…Lauren Spierer; those names will probably ring in all of our memories for years to come, but what about Phylicia Barnes, Tamika Huston…and yes, Romona Moore.  What about their lives?  What about their families’ loss?  Why was there no large-scale nationwide search for these women; no daily, extensive media coverage, no obvious police presence?  Were their lives any less worthy of being sought, with as much vigor as the search for their white counterparts, simply because of the color of their skin?

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINE$$

I’m a HUGE Judge Mathis fan! He reminds me of so many family members and life-long friends. But, what I think makes his demeanor such an approachable one is the constant reminder that he was once one of the “real” people. Judge Mathis has always been quite vocal about his “checkered” past and his climb from poverty and lawlessness to actually becoming a Judge (of all things). What I think endears him to me even more is his viewpoints on the responsibilities of parents to their children, especially men. Often, Mathis will remind male litigants that the responsibility of parents is to not only care for their children emotionally, but financially as well. So many times when brought before the Judge male defendants have attempted to plead their case by pointing out their scarceness of available funds to provide for their offspring. Mathis’ pat reply is often “I’ve seen women hold down more than one job, go to school and care for their kids. So, if you don’t make enough money, go out and get a second or even a third job if you have to or go back to school and get an education that will allow you greater earning potential.” Recently, when Mathis made the same suggestion to a defendant, the defendant’s response was “I want to spend time with my kids.” Mathis’ humorous yet realistic response was “kids can’t play if they’re hungry.”

My initial response to his comment was one of laughter, but after the laughter stopped I thought about it from the perspective of a single mother. We’ve all heard cliches like “money can’t buy you happiness,” but, on some level, can’t it? How “happy” is a child that has to go to school with an empty stomach and return home to the same? Although (luckily) my children have never been caught in the grips of poverty, as a child I was. I learned early on what it felt like to go to bed still hungry or to feel shame at having to be assisted by other family members. My mother was a strong single parent. But, often times there just wasn’t….enough. When I recall those early days, I must admit, happiness is not the first word that comes to mind. Yes, there were moments of happiness. However, fear, hunger, shame and worry often overshadowed that happiness.

When I first posted this topic to my Facebook page, I was surprised to find how many people subscribed to the concept that time is more important than money. While I don’t disagree with this idea completely, faced with the prospect of a child going to bed hungry, it would seem to me that if it HAD to be a choice between time or money, time would have to temporarily (hopefully) take a back seat. It also made me realize that in this opulent society that we live in, so many of us are so far removed from the reality of poverty in America that it doesn’t occur to us that it doesn’t always come down to a simple choice of time or money. Oftentimes, an extra job or several hours of overtime can make the difference between eating and not eating, homelessness or a place to lay their head(s) for the night. While we spend money protecting dogs, cats, endangered birds and a multitude of countries, each and every day countless children right here, in these United States, go to bed hungry.

When it comes to children and financial security, can it always be as simplistic as “time is more important than money, or do desperate financial circumstances trump the desire to spend “quality” time?