When New Bedford Light reporter Anastasia E. Lennon learned that the New Bedford Police Department kept an active database of boys and young men who were believed to be “gang affiliated” and that they shared it with the city’s social services agencies and organizations, she decided to attend an NAACP meeting, which resulted in this story. At the meeting, a lawyer spoke about people’s rights when interacting with law enforcement. Then the floor was open to people to share their own stories.

One speaker was the mother of a young man who had graduated from New Bedford High School in 2017 and had been accepted by two colleges. He was one of 30 recipients of the Superintendent’s Success Award for “determination in overcoming life challenges, persevering in their goals to graduate.” Mother and son were stunned to learn that police considered him “gang affiliated.”

“She was speaking as a mom and sharing her son’s experience with the police. It was a very personal story. I wanted to tell that story,” Lennon said.

Anastasia spoke with the mother in late 2021 and learned she was part of a newly formed group of mothers that called itself “Voices of the Unheard.” Each member had teenage sons who had been identified in the database by the New Bedford Police.

“I wanted to build their trust. From the get go. I made it clear they could share whatever they wanted to share,” Lennon said. The first conversation happened over a group Zoom meeting. “They were seeing my face for the first time. They were opening up to a complete stranger. The conversation just sort of flowed and expanded. They really had a lot to share, and they wanted to make sure that I understood their perspective.

Their feelings are factual; it is their lived experiences. They feel traumatized and have gone through a lot raising their sons.”

Readers responded to this very human story, making it one of the most read and most shared stories The Light has published. Revisit the story here.