Being an activist is hard. Being a mother is harder. One Rochester resident is doing a great job bettering her community by embracing both.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a world where the “beloved community”— a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings—would ultimately prevail and serve as a basis for society throughout the world.
The recent global awakening that racism did not end once President Obama was elected is revealing the difficulties that exist for people of color. There are many young lives that are no longer with us due to unmanaged systemic racism. Minnesota has had its share of high-profile killings, such as Philando Castille, Jamar Clark, George Floyd and Daunte Wright. One Rochester resident has made it a priority to look after Black children and to ensure they are being given the childhood and education they deserve.
Meet the mom
Heidi-Mae Wilkins is a 10-year Rochester resident and activist mother to two beautiful, strong-willed children: a 16-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She has a background in hospitality, but recently, she has been making a name for herself by using her white privilege to connect the community through love, justice and equity. She and her husband, Kamau, co-founded Rochester for Justice in 2014, and she has worked as the education and outreach manager on the Diversity Council for the past three years.
After giving birth to her daughter, Wilkins had a tough time navigating her career and motherhood. It was Dee Sabol, the executive director of the Diversity Council, who saw Wilkins’ potential. However, when it was time for her interview, Wilkins had just given birth and could not leave her house. Instead, Sabol went to her house and interviewed Wilkins as she was nursing her newborn in her pajamas.
Wilkins wanted to grow and nurture her career at the Diversity Council, but she also wanted to raise her children. Before giving birth, she hadn’t thought about work and family coexisting. To her, work was at work, and family was at home. But when she talked to Sabol about this dilemma, she was surprised at how nonchalant the answer was: “Bring your kid to work, raise her there and continue to do your job.” So Wilkins did just that. She recognizes that this is not an option for most working mothers, and she is incredibly grateful to Sabol for allowing her to bring her child to work with no scrutiny or difficulty.
Working with strong women helps Wilkins as a mother and as an activist. Sabol is her boss but more importantly, her friend. Sabol’s leadership allows Wilkins’ work and home life to coexist, and Sabol has helped Wilkins build self-confidence and maintain social relationships, strengthening what community means to her. Strong women and mothers like Sabol and Wilkins are cultivating and growing a vibrant community in Rochester.
Activism and mothering
Being a mother has given Wilkins a unique perspective on the tragic police shootings in recent years. Most of the young Black people killed were under the age of 25—still children to Wilkins. She couldn’t imagine the pain and hurt the mothers of the victims experience. Because she wanted to hear from these women, she helped create a joint event with Rochester for Justice and the Diversity Council.
Justice and the Diversity Council. In November 2020, “From Grief to Action: A conversation with moms who’ve lost a son to police shootings” was a conversation with the mothers of Oscar Grant, John Crawford III, Philando Castile and Kendrick Johnson. At this event, the women talked about how the deaths of their sons affected their families and communities, what progress means to them and their thoughts on moving forward in times of civil unrest.
Wilkins asked the panelists something they don’t often hear: “Tell me about your children.” This simple and unexpected question made the mothers’ faces light up. The media had demonized their children and ultimately controlled their narratives. By asking these mothers to talk about their sons, Wilkins was able to give them the space and environment to control the narrative about their sons for the first time.
This monumental moment changed Wilkins. It reminded her about the work still left to do and how much of an impact a community can have.