The Kobe Effect: Life is Not Promised From a 40+ Mom

There is no doubt that when the tragedy of Kobe Bryant’s death along with his daughter and friends happened, parents everywhere hugged their children a little tighter. I used to worry about the fact that I had my daughter after 40. I asked myself if I was being selfish. Like…why would I take the chance of bringing a child into the world when I may not live long enough to guide her through every important milestone in her life? Or be in top physical condition during her formative and teen years?

Kobe and his daughter Gianna

Kobe’s death only amplified for me what we already know. Life is not promised to anyone. It doesn’t matter our age, race, economic status, popularity…etc. IT. DOES. NOT. MATTER. So what is our job? Control what we can control and love HARD every single day.

My daughter will always know that she is loved and that she is an amazing blessing in our lives. She often catches me staring at her with that “love look” and I remind her how long I prayed for her. There will NEVER be a doubt in her mind that she is loved.

But how are we treating people every day? Not just those in our inner circles, but strangers on the street. Being kind costs us NOTHING!!! Our simple interactions with others and how we make others feel can cause a ripple effect that can change the world. Kobe energized an entire city and professional basketball organization through his extraordinary abilities on the court. He intrigued us with his actions and good deeds off the court. He affected the lives of so many people in his short time here with us. But now in his death, he has inspired not just Lakers fans, but this entire country and even the world.

The Kobe Effect has reminded us all to take the time to really let those around us know how much we love them. His “dash” was filled with so much purpose. But….what if his true purpose was to bring us all together NOW. What if God needed to call someone whose death could make the whole world stop and realize that it’s only LOVE that truly matters?

Me with my daughter

It’s tough to find the good in tragic situations. It really is. Many lives were changed forever in the blink of an eye. But how amazing is it that going forward we can pay tribute to them all by using our simple actions of LOVE?

Take a deep breath. Now exhale. Don’t take that for granted. So what can we do NOW? How can we best honor those who have gone on???? WE LIVE….WE LAUGH…WE LOVE!!!!

Sanya Whittaker Gragg (@memorizethe5) is a Children’s Author. She resides in Tulsa, OK with her husband Derrick, and daughter Saniyah. Her third book will be released this spring and you can find more information at

This article was originally published on

A Walk With My Son

My younger son, Phillip is my early bird and wakes up around 5 o’clock every morning. In the past, this is the time he would walk our dog Cooper. But since rehoming Cooper (due to his sister’s allergies), Phillip hadn’t done his neighborhood walk at all. This morning he stated he wanted to go back to his old routine.

Pause. Ponder. The protective black momma in me was not feeling this. At all. Horrible, I know. Sad, for sure. But still, a reality. My reality. You see our neighborhood is large, quiet and spread out; but still surrounded by some hustle and bustle. Our backyard is 1/2 a block from a major street that spans the entire city. Three blocks south is a major interstate. It’s a pretty safe neighborhood with medium to very upscale homes, but there have still been break-ins. And robberies. On any given day you may see a non-resident cutting through our side streets to possibly shorten a route to their own destination. Just a year ago our back door was kicked in around 3am and thank goodness our alarm sounded scaring the intruder away. It was a very scary moment.

So when my beautiful 6’3” caramel brown baby boy innocently wants to take an early morning stroll, I tell him it’s not a good idea. Am I overly paranoid? Maybe. But…maybe not. It only takes one neighbor “fearing for her life” to call the police. It only takes one car driving by and feeling my son “doesn’t belong” in the neighborhood. It only takes one person sharing the sentiments of our very own Commander In Chief to believe my son and anyone who looks like him should just “go back to their own country”.

When my son used to walk our beautiful golden doodle, it humanized him. It softened him. It lessened the threat. There were always women jogging or moms pushing babies in strollers. They smiled. They waved. They exchanged “hellos”. He was just a boy with his dog.

Now he was a black man walking. Alone. And in the eyes of immediate threat. Please remember we live in a country where just being black can get you followed in a shopping mall, escorted from a Starbucks, and even killed while walking home eating skittles. Stand your ground laws would justify someone claiming to “protect their property” by any means necessary. Sigh.

Next week my son starts his first chapter into adulthood at Howard University. I know there will be many times he will take the opportunity to explore his new city; our nation’s capital. Of course we have had “the talk” a million times and I believe he knows how to handle himself if ever approached by police. But, this momma of two amazing, intelligent, and compassionate young adult black men still worries. Every. Single. Day. Let me repeat that. Every. Single. Day.

So I bundle up his sleeping little sister and lay her in her wagon. And this time, we walk the neighborhood… together.

Saying Goodbye to Cooper

Today I did one of hardest things I have EVER had to do in my life. I took my six year old baby to live with another family.  I never ever even considered myself a “dog person”, but the past few days I have cried sooo many tears as I knew this day was quickly approaching. 

A little over 6 years ago our family relocated to Oklahoma. Our older son was a rising junior and our baby boy was headed to 7th grade. A crucial time for both of them so as a mom I was definitely concerned about the transition. The promise of a dog seemed to give them both some excitement. I had been busy working on my 2nd Master’s degree and they were at the age where they just didn’t need me as much. A dog seemed to give them a new project and something to look forward to. 

Once we got settled in our new place, Phillip our youngest, began searching for the perfect new addition. Finally, he found 4 week old Cooper.  We would have to drive to Kansas to get him but he seemed like a perfect match. He was a Golden-doodle mix as one parent was a Golden Retriever and the other a Golden-doodle.  He was adorable. He barfed the entire ride back to Oklahoma and we all quietly wondered if this was a good decision. 

But he quickly warmed up to us and his new home. He was soooo smart and fun and exciting. He was the perfect fit to complete our family. Or so we thought. About 2 weeks after his arrival, we got some shocking news. Turns out we would be adding yet another new family member. It was totally a blessing as we had been unsuccessful at pregnancy attempts over the years and even thought seriously about adopting. Cooper became our baby throughout my entire pregnancy. After house training we allowed him to move upstairs and Phillip became his primary caretaker.  They were inseparable. 

Seventh grade I think is awkward for most of us. Phillip never loved sports like his older brother so an automatic family of teammates wasn’t the case for him at the new school.  He is an eclectic musician and totally marches to the beat of his own drum. Cooper became the ear to listen to all things happening at school. Good, bad and ugly. Cooper also got to listen to all the new lyrics and was awakened many nights at 2 and 3 am when a new melody just had to be played on the keyboard. Cooper got to see Phillip at his most vulnerable moments as he entrusted Cooper with information he wouldn’t dare tell his mother. When Phillip had those pre-teen days where I sensed uneasiness, Cooper was the reaffirming comforter that let me and Phillip both know everything would be ok. Cooper was his best friend. And for that, this mom is beyond eternally grateful. 

Years quickly came and went and the new baby was loving Cooper just as much as us. He was great with Our daughter; never getting upset when she stepped on his tail, or put her boots on his feet or was determined to ride him like a pony. Cooper was the perfect four legged friend. 

Now anyone who knows Oklahoma will tell you that allergists always have job security here. My hub started getting weekly shots and the boys’ seasonal allergies were horrible. For the first time ever I would need meds as well.  So when baby girl got stopped up and had sneezing fits we naturally assumed…grass, pollen, ragweed.  A trip to the allergist proved us wrong and gave us a huge blow. She was allergic to dogs. Wait….what??

We bought air purifiers for the house, took out all fluffy stuff that could hold pet dander and kept Coop away from her room. She had to wash her hands anytime she pet him or touched something he licked or sniffed. Coop could no longer hang out with me when I relaxed on the couch. He loved how I would rest my feet on him as he slept on the ottoman. I became more hands off with him and I know he felt the difference. I’m sure he wondered what on earth he did wrong. It was heartbreaking. But equally heartbreaking was witnessing my daughter have horrible sneezing fits or nights where she could barely breathe. Putting her on two meds a day was even harder. 

After about six months, the meds definitely helped but there were still episodes. I was frustrated because I knew there were too many restrictions for Cooper and it just wasn’t fair.  He adjusted though and never seemed bitter. Always happy to receive my affection although it had lessened tremendously. It was soooo hard. 

By now Phillip was finalizing college choices and we knew we had to consider the once unthinkable. Rehoming Cooper. Just the thought alone was painful. I put out a notice on Facebook and my husband sent an email to his staff. We got lots of inquiries but none felt right. Until we heard about “Jan”. Her dog had passed 5 years ago and since then she hadn’t brought herself to get another. Cooper’s story spoke to her and she was very interested. 

We decided to take him out to her home for a visit. She was very pleasant and a “hugger” like me so initially I felt great. She allowed Coop to come in and explore and he did that and more. Once out back he was very comfortable and looked so happy. He settled back on her deck and rested right at her feet.  They both seemed to comfort each other. She had rescued and fostered dogs and cared for her sick fur baby until he died. Phillip would be the final decision maker and I could tell he was pleased with Jan’s immediate connection with Coop. 

We talked for a bit more and decided it was time to leave. We told Jan we would be in touch. We all cried as we knew we were yet another step closer to saying goodbye. 

Later that day Jan inadvertently sent a text message to me she was trying to send to a friend. She asked the friend to pray to the dog gods that Cooper would become hers. That solidified my choice. There was no doubt Cooper would be loved and cared for in this home. 

Later that day I sent a pic with Cooper holding a note that read “Please be my new Mommy”  She responded she felt she had won the lottery. She had. 

That next day in church I am sure some thought I was having marital issues or my kids had gone astray. I cried. A lot. We pulled up old photos from when Cooper was a puppy. I shared them with Jan so she could see all the love he had received over the years. We needed her to understand our expectation was that he receive no less going forward. 

Our last night with Cooper felt like a funeral although we tried our best to keep it upbeat.  Just wishing we could explain to him what was about to happen. But we couldn’t. He had spent time in kennels when we we traveled but we always came back. Would he look for us? Would he cry for us? Would he hate us? All these thoughts bombarded our minds. Cooper watched Phillip bag up his things and seemed to sense something was about to change. 

We prayed over Cooper and asked him to understand we were giving him a great new life with lots of love. 

Jan asked me his favorite foods, snacks and toys and went on a shopping spree before we arrived. She was waiting for him. For us the drive over was gut wrenching. Again, thoughts that I was not a “dog person” were proving to be far from wrong. 

Cooper walked in as if he remembered our last visit. He noticed a new bed and checked it out before heading to the back door. We tossed the ball for a little while and gave Cooper last hugs. We then let Jan play with him so we could plan our exit. One by one we slipped out as we watched him wag his tail and love on his new mommy. 

I started the car and just as we pulled away Cooper ran to the gate. It sucked the life out of all of us. Both of my sons towering above 6 ft couldn’t contain the emotions any longer. It was just real and raw emotion expressing the love they have for our amazing Coop. 

We decided to visit a friend and swim in their pool to give us some distraction. We laughed and played and talked about our early years with Coop and how happy he seemed with Jan. When it was time to leave I noticed 2 missed texts from her.  I hoped he was ok. He was. 

She said they had already taken two walks exploring some of the 20 acres of her beautiful land. Then she sent me a picture showing that Cooper had already chosen his favorite chair. 

It made us all so happy. While we miss him already and these next few days will be incredibly tough, we definitely believe Jan is truly our blessing. We can’t wait to see him continue to thrive and enjoy life. Maybe one day we will visit. Or maybe we will just appreciate the updates and not confuse or disrupt him. Regardless, we will always, ALWAYS LOVE our sweet sweet Cooper❤️. 

To My Beautiful Black Sons: Come Home ALIVE

As the mom of two African American sons (both towering above 6 ft), “The Talk” has been given in our home multiple times over the years. In the black community, this conversation is not about the birds and the bees, but rather how to respond if approached by law enforcement. In essence, how to come home ALIVE.

Initially, it was one of the most difficult conversations my husband and I had to have with our boys; but as time went on and as we continued to be devastated by real life events, we knew we were doing the right thing.

The idea for the book, “Momma, Did You Hear the News?”, actually came to me in my prayer closet, but I was hesitant at first and didn’t tell anyone. Then, just days later, another unarmed black man was killed by police. This time in my city of residence, Tulsa, Oklahoma. I knew this event would propel many families to have this conversation with their children. And I even found myself once again having “The Talk” with our sons. It just confirmed for me, that the book must be written.

At first I really struggled with how I would take this very serious subject and make it not only easy for children to digest, but also memorable. I debated and contemplated. I wrote and rewrote. I cried at just the thought that it was truly needed.

As a mom, the theme that continued to resonate was at the end of the day I just want my boys to come home ALIVE! So I took that word (Alive) and wrote a catchy chant that parents could teach their kids. A to the L to the I-V-E….come home ALIVE…that is the key!

The text in the book reads: Each letter stands for something. Repeat them in your head. So if you get pulled over, you’ll remember what we’ve said.

A-ALWAYS Use Your Manners

L-LISTEN and Comply

I-IN Control of your Emotions

V-VISIBLE Hands Always

E-EXPLAIN any Movement

It was also very important for me to not give the impression that all police are bad. So a section of the book shows officers as family members who want to get home ALIVE as well. The reader is reminded that officers are “moms and dads too” and “we pray for those in blue”. Please understand this book is not anti-police, but it is anti-police brutality.

When sharing with groups, I am often approached by hesitant parents who feel “The Talk” is useless because we have witnessed so many tragedies where victims seemingly did everything right. To this I use my “seatbelt analogy”. Just as a seatbelt cannot guarantee your survival in a car accident, it greatly increases your chances of walking away. So while my book cannot promise a positive encounter with police, equipping your loved ones with this knowledge can definitely increase their chances of coming home ALIVE. And as a mom, I will control everything I can and that includes educating my kids to the best of my ability on tough subjects.

In a starred review, The School Library Journal says the book is, “essential both for its counsel and for its representation of a family confronting police brutality”. However, I think Kirkus Reviews described the book best as “a heartbreakingly necessary work”.