Darlene Cain is always in motion. If you want to find her at one of the many summer festivals held in honor of young men killed in Baltimore, head to the dance floor. If you want to identify her in a peace march, look for the woman dancing behind the marching band. She is the embodiment of action. It’s little wonder that the organization she created in honor of her son was named Mothers on the Move, Inc (MOM).
Darlene’s son, Dale Graham, was born August 4, 1979. Darlene knew from an early age that her little boy was exceptionally bright, and Dale quickly distinguished himself as an academic once he entered school. He won a scholarship to Loyola Blakefield, a prestigious private school in Baltimore. He graduated and attended Salisbury University, continuing to excel. He was on the university’s debate club and the president of the Salisbury NAACP chapter.
Dale embraced his leadership role in the NAACP, setting a tone of inclusiveness in the organization by encouraging students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds to join. He organized one of the first parades at Salisbury University, complete with the Baltimore Westsiders Marching Band, horses to direct traffic, and multiple convertibles. Darlene remembers proudly how Dale rode in one of the cars and waved to the crowd cheering on the sidewalk.
After college, Dale worked for the local NAACP Baltimore branch and soon caught the attention of Kwiese Mfume, President of the NAACP. Darlene remembers that Mr. Mfume was “a mentor and a father figure to Dale.” Shortly before his death, Dale wrote “The NAACP Prison Project Resource Guide.” The book educated formerly incarcerated men and women on how to reinstate their voting rights. Dale also served as a field officer for John Sarbanes’s Congressional Campaign. These positions satisfied his intellectual curiosity and satiated his passion for social justice. Dale also spent ten years working as a caddy at a local country club, a job he loved. However, his dream was to become an attorney.
Dale enrolled at The University of Baltimore Law School. During the day, he worked at one of his many jobs. At night, he attended classes, joined study groups, and worked on class assignments. He clerked at The William J. Kolodnar Law Firm… he loved the law and was excited about what the future held.
His other great loves were his children. Darlene remembers, “He was a family person and loved his two little girls. Sometimes he took them to school with him when he studied. Unfortunately, he will never be able to attend their graduation or see them go to their prom.”
The details of the events on October 28, 2008 are disputed by all who were present that day. This much we know is true: the police responded to an alleged domestic dispute between Dale and his children’s mother and, in the end, Dale was shot and killed by a police officer. Darlene says, “They didn’t have to kill him. Dale’s death was deemed justified without my day in court. I want to see other mothers have their day in court. People don’t need to die for something that requires a ticket or jail time. A police officer cannot be the judge, jury and executioner.”Darlene's son was a law student and loving father until a bullet played judge, jury and executioner. Go #BehindTheStatistics Click To Tweet
Domestic violence is a serious allegation and needs to be treated carefully and considerately, never to be negated nor ignored. Darlene becomes emotional, “But his fate should have been decided by a judge or a jury, not a lone officer holding a gun. I don’t know the truth of what happened that day. But I would rather visit him in jail than at his grave.”
In spite of all the trauma, pain and hardship, Darlene remains a vibrant and active voice advocating for better police training and community policing. “We cannot allow the system to continue to go by media and police reports only,” says Darlene. “Lawmakers can’t put on blinders and deaf ears.”
Darlene is determined. Google her name and you will find articles about her trip to the White House to call upon the Obama Administration to confront and respond to a number of high profile police shootings. You’ll also find photographs of her with Reverend Al Sharpton decrying police brutality and television footage of her hanging ornaments in memory of people killed on a Christmas tree in Baltimore City Hall.
If she has to walk in every peace march, meet with every civil rights leader, travel to the White House every day, speak to every police officer in Baltimore City, attend every peace vigil, she will. This mother will do anything to make sure that no other mother has to endure the pain she has suffered.
“I am grateful that he instilled the importance of education in his children, ” Darlene says, reflecting on how deeply Dale believed in education. “They are both excelling in school.” Their daddy would be proud.
Darlene doesn’t want Dale’s message to end with just her granddaughters. She is committed to spreading Dale’s mission of pulling people out of poverty and giving them the tools to succeed. Darlene had dedicated her life to ensuring Dale’s death will not be in vain.
Dale Graham: August 4, 1979-October 28, 2008
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence