Mothers for Justice United was founded by Maria Hamilton, after the death of her son Dontre on April 30, 2014 by the Starbucks Coffee location at Red Arrow Park.

Maria and her family tried to make sense of the tragic circumstances which took Dontre from them at the age of 31. They waited and worked to obtain justice for their son and brother. In that process, Maria came to know the suffering that is all too familiar for black mothers of children who have been victims of police or vigilante violence.

Unarmed young black men have been essentially lynched for minor crimes, such as jaywalking, suspected theft and sale of tobacco products, or as in the cases of Trayvon Martin and Dontre Hamilton, the noncriminal acts of making white people uncomfortable and fearful in public.

Maria has worked with bereaved mothers to support each other and to advocate together for justice. On the fourth annual gathering in memory of Dontre, held in Red Arrow Park where his death occurred, Maria celebrated her son’s life on what was officially designated by the City of Milwaukee as Dontre Day.

The Milwaukee Independent attended the May 5 event, and had the chance to record some of Maria’s thoughts.

Maria Hamilton on Starbucks

When the incident happened last month with the two young men at the Starbucks in Philadelphia, I actually went into a crisis with my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). If Starbucks had kept their word and did the things that they said they were going to do, at our private meeting with Howard Schultz in 2015, we would not be in this space today.

We would have already started the conversation, they would have vetted their employees, and we wouldn’t be here. But the ‘Race Together’ campaign was a failure, and this training they are doing on May 29th is going to fail, because you cannot teach a person that has hate and racism in their heart not to be racist in four hours.

The fact not addressed by Starbucks was that Dontre was murdered when the store manager called the police on him for laying in a public park, and that is why we keep having this problem. It is a pattern, not an isolated incident. They have not acknowledged that the phone call lead to Dontre’s death. That is why we are standing in Red Arrow Park today, to celebrate his life. His blood is still on the ground right over there.

Maria Hamilton on affecting social change

I believe that change starts with the individual. Each person has to want to do what is right and just. For my family, we strive in everything to do right, to be truthful and honest with people.

I believe that I had racist tendencies before Dontre died, and I had to live with that perspective. Now that it all has come out to the forefront, I have addressed my racism and my bias towards certain people, and I’m a better person for it. We can all become better people.

Maria Hamilton on Juneteenth Day

The meaning of Juneteenth for me is a day that we had a voice. That ability, which Juneteenth gave us, wasn’t fully acted on because back then, and even now, we are still an oppressed people. The only way that the genocide of blacks, and mass criminalization of brown people and immigrants in this country, is going to end is when we can come together collectively. That is the only way our society is going to actually change.

It is my hope that with us grooming our grandkids, and other youth in this community and across the nation, that they will be able to make the change and get to benefit from what we are striving for to have a life of equality.

Maria Hamilton on her son

Dontre was born January 20, 1983, the youngest of three boys. He was very athletic, and was a great football and baseball player. Although he played multiple sports, football was the sport he succeeded in. Throughout high school, his love for football and his artistic talents made his matriculation easier to bare, until he received his diploma.

Our family was intrigued by the artistic expressions he described, such as his idea of an electronic license plate. Dontre was very caring, patient, and family oriented. No matter what the situation, Dontre was eager to help and understand the people in his life. The way he cherished and viewed life was astounding, because he always looked at the bright side of things and did not let anything bring him down.

April 30, 2014 was the day that Dontre’s life ended, however, it has brought the community together. Every year his legacy is celebrated and honored with the people that he loved dearly. Even though he is no longer here with us today, Dontre will forever be loved, appreciated, and remembered as the loving son, father, brother, and family member. He will continue to live on throughout our lives and his community.