- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

A mother’s work is never done. Even when her children become adults and leave the nest to start families and careers of their own, that proverbial umbilical cord seemingly never frays or severs.

Just ask JacQuetta Clayton, mother of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton.

When the talented 23-year-old was selected as a first-round draft pick for the Ravens in 2005, it soon became obvious he was part of a package deal. His mother went to Baltimore, too. While her son was gaining yardage on the field, Mrs. Clayton was busy on the sidelines, huddling with other Ravens football moms, including Sandy McCrary, mother of former defensive end Michael McCrary. In September 2006, Mrs. Clayton established the Baltimore M.O.M. (Mothers on a Mission) Squad, a nonprofit organization whose mission was to provide a positive choice to at-risk children. It has disbanded.

In February 2007, Mrs. Clayton founded a second charity, aimed at supporting not only children from underprivileged communities but also those who had become celebrities. She named it the National M.O.M. Squad (www.momsquad.org).

Mrs. Clayton recruited mothers of celebrities, entertainers and professionals, including as Sheron Smith and Carolyn Smith (no relation), mothers of rapper Mos Def and actor Will Smith, respectively, to her Grand Rapids, Texas, center. Singer Patti LaBelle is an honorary member. Mrs. Clayton serves as president of the approximately 73-member group.

Though she is married now, Mrs. Clayton was previously a single parent. She will be participating in a panel discussion, Raising Him Alone, during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday.

According to its Web site, www.raisinghimalone.com, the Raising Him Alone Campaign was established by David Miller and Matt Stevens “to improve the life chances of black males.” Mr. Miller and Mr. Stevens “join forces to create an advocacy campaign that focused specifically on supporting single mothers raising boys.”

The campaign seeks to address several alarming statistics that impact black children as a whole but more disproportionately affect black males. These statistics include: A black male has a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime, compared to 1 in 17 for his white male counterpart.

“It’s a shame that [going to jail] has almost become a rite of passage for young black males,” Mr. Miller said.

In addition to Mrs Clayton, panelists include Cassandra Mack, author of “The Single Mom’s Little Book of Wisdom”; Brenda Greene, mother of rapper and MC Talib Kweli; and Sheron Smith.

Mrs. Clayton said she learned a valuable lesson when she headed the Baltimore M.O.M. The group had given away backpacks, Thanksgiving dinners and hot food during an after-school program that was the result of a survey indicating that too many children were not being fed properly or regularly. The group then sponsored a Christmas party in 2006 for 450 children and gave each a $50 gift card to “gain responsibility” by purchasing something for themselves at Wal-Mart or Target

“Instead of buying video games, CDs, DVDs or toys, the kids spent their money on detergent, bleach and other household items, which showed there was a much larger problem to be addressed,” Mrs. Clayton said.

Tackling issues such as illiteracy, health care, poverty and crime prevention has been an ongoing challenge, she added.

The National M.O.M. Squad continues to help thousands of children each year to aspire beyond their current circumstances, she said. Acting as “shepherds of the pasture,” the group practices inclusion and diversity by reaching out to children despite race or economic background.

“Serving the community comes from the heart, and that doesn’t have a color,” Mrs. Clayton said.

Many of the children served want to be famous ballplayers and rappers, she said, but may not have the necessary talent or skills.

The National M.O.M. Squad encourages them to explore other professions, noting that every athlete or celebrity needs an attorney, financial adviser, accountant and manager.

Now, aside from its notable charitable acts in underprivileged communities across the country, the National M.O.M. Squad is also a pillar of support for its members’ famous offspring, she said, and seeks to provide and maintain a positive image while keeping the general public mindful that their children are human too.

With the prevalence of misconduct and criminal behavior being reported, Mrs. Clayton said, the squad’s efforts may need to focus on educating and safeguarding athletes, celebrities and other high-profile persons from the lures and pitfalls of stardom.

Mrs. Clayton said the M.O.M. Squad accepts its members by recruitment or endorsement by a current member and has extended its membership to include wives of athletes and celebrities. The most coveted mom has yet to be added to its illustrious roster, however - first lady and mom Michelle Obama.

“Having Mrs. Obama as a member would be awesome. We would have taken parental involvement to a new height,” Mrs. Clayton said.

• Geraldine Washington is a writer living in the District.

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