Remember the “Hero Mom of Baltimore” who smacked down her son on the evening news and dragged him out of the Baltimore Riots? (Ed had the video of the interview with her and some early observations on how this wasn’t going to be a panacea for all of society.) It’s been six months since all of that madness unfolded and the Washington Post got to wondering what ever happened to the lady. She seemed to be all over the cable dial for a short while after her fifteen seconds of fame, but then… nothing. She was supposed to be in line for all sorts of media opportunities and I recall talk about her writing a book. What happened?
Well, as it turns out, she got herself a promoter who didn’t really deliver on any of her promises and she’s pretty much back where she started.
People told her she was going to be a star. They told her she was going to get a job. She was going to anchor a reality TV show. She was going to write a book. She was going to meet Michelle Obama. And Graham believed it. Her life of struggle was over. She was Baltimore’s Mom.
Graham now sits alone at the wheel of a Ford van. She just dropped off 12 addicts at a treatment center on Broadway. She feels unmoored. So much has happened in her life, but so little has changed. She still can’t pay her bills. She still can’t escape the circumstances into which she was born…
Then, just as quickly as they started, the calls stopped as the national focus swiveled away from Baltimore. The media requests slowed to a trickle. The promised scholarships never materialized. None of the job offers Graham said she fielded led to employment. Under Armour and St. Joseph’s Hospital didn’t return requests for comment. A BET spokesperson said, “We do not have a relationship with her.”
This was possibly one of the fastest rises and falls for a new media celebrity on record. Reading through the history at the WaPo it certainly did look for a little while like she had landed a hot ticket out of the poverty and violence of the place where she grew up. An online funding campaign raised a little over $10K for her and Oprah herself wrote her a check for $15K. She paid off all of her debts and got a car. As noted above, she had three different outfits tell her that job offers were on the way.
But none of that happened. It’s unclear why she didn’t get any of those jobs or a book deal. And as most of you who live in the real world probably know, a sudden infusion of $25K is a really nice thing but it doesn’t suddenly put you on easy street. Today Ms. Graham says she once again has eviction notices on her apartment and her van driving job doesn’t pay much. She’s pretty much back where she was when the world discovered and then forgot about her. That “publicist” who contacted her hasn’t landed her much beyond a couple of paid interviews with cable TV shows.
I kept coming back to this story all week because Toya Graham might be more of a cautionary tale than a cultural icon. It’s clearly admirable that she ran out there and tried to pull her son out of trouble, but as the original reporting indicated, a large segment of the rioters came “straight out of the local high school” which emptied as the riots began. There’s temptation all around her son and it’s probably not easy to keep any kid on the straight and narrow under those circumstances. But when the smoke cleared, what did we expect would happen to Toya? Was there really any reason that she would suddenly be the host of her own television show or a successful author? It’s possible, but in the end success comes to those who court it… assuming it ever comes at all. I suppose there was a possibility that an avenue of opportunity existed for her but it was never going to be easy. And in the end it didn’t happen.
So now she’s back to a part time job driving addicts to and from social services appointments and falling further into poverty. There is, surprisingly, little mention made of how her son is doing. I suppose my point here is that we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised. Toya Graham became an internet sensation for a few weeks but nothing developed which was going to sustain that fame. That’s harsh, but it’s probably also just reality, and by that I don’t mean reality TV.
For a trip down memory lane, here’s Graham’s interview on CBS back when it all happened.