Suffocating smoke fills the night sky; sonic booms shake the black concrete streets while intense screams of men, women and children echo into the air like a blockbuster flick. But this isn’t a Michael Bay film. This a Monday night, August 18th, 2014, in Ferguson, and this is real life. This is my real life. The smoke that fills the air is tear gas, the sonic booms are from armored vehicles approaching protesters and executing gas bombs. The men, women and children are my friends and neighbors, residents of Saint Louis, Missouri, all of us in the streets for over a week demanding accountability.
A deep voice echoes from the PA on top of one of the armored cars: “please go back to your homes.” But THIS IS MY HOME. This is where I was born, fished with my grandpa in January-Wabash Park as a kid, graduated from Hazelwood East, wear my St. Louis Cardinals hat proudly. So when I’m being told to go home what exactly does that mean?
When intimidation was used in the form of riot gear, and military-grade weapons pointed at non-violent protestors, I started to wonder why they didn’t want our voices to be heard. When Black people’s lives are ending at the hands of police at alarming rates, shouldn’t our voices count? Initially, I showed up on August 10th, to pay my respects and show Mike Brown’s family that we are in this together. That Sunday night opened my eyes to how the system really feels about Black lives, and to the reasons our right as human beings to peacefully protest in the streets is vital. That is why I continued to protest – because despite aggressive policing, our lives matter enough for me and others to take to the streets and say, no more, enough is enough.
When Amnesty showed up on the QuikTrip lot that protestors claimed as our hub, the gravity of the travesty of how we were being treated really struck me. That Amnesty needed to be there to observe and protect the right to peaceful protest showed me how deeply our struggle is connected to others around the world.
For over 50 years, Amnesty International has fought to make sure that every human being can enjoy their human rights and strive to be what they want, can and should be. My parents instilled in me to not only respect myself but others, respect those of every background, so I stand for the rights of all people. That’s why I’m excited to become the Young Leaders Fellow.
For over 120 days, I have been working diligently for the justice for Mike Brown and other African-American lives lost at the hands of law enforcement. What started with attending a vigil held by the family of Mike Brown, turned into tireless hours of protesting with people who have now become life-long friends, my movement family. Whether that was passing out supplies like water and food, or necessities for protection against tear gas, or standing up in the face of law enforcement for the right to peacefully raise my voice, I’ve been fueled by the injustice that has plagued Black people. I’ve continued through days when I forgot to eat, or had little to no sleep. I have to fight back, I have to raise my voice, I have to RISE UP!
In every moment, I’m aware that I’m protesting the very group of civil servants that are supposed to protect and serve, because they have failed our community. I protest because I want to see officers that identify with the communities they serve, and respect the human rights of those they are supposed to protect. The color of my skin should not be seen as a threat or justify their weapons; the blood that runs through my veins is no different than anyone else’s. Kids should be able to walk the streets or play ball in their neighborhoods without being harassed, and community voices should take precedent in how they are policed.
My personal struggle in Ferguson and the St. Louis area has ignited my passion and respect for all human life and rights. I’ve gained knowledge and skills I never knew I would need, and now I want to help inform the world about what the issues are, and what this struggle really means. As the Young Leaders Fellow, I want to support communities big and small to organize, and to push for change locally, nationally and internationally, to engage organically and make change systemically. I want people in communities whose concerns have hit deaf ears to teach me how to make sure they are being heard and seen. I want our work to matter.
I want the world to know that #BlackLivesMatter, and I want you to help raise that call. I want you to have difficult and uncomfortable discussions with your friends, your family and your community about race and human rights. I want clergy to speak to their faith communities, and teachers to engage with their students about racial profiling and police brutality. I want you to take digital action. I want you to take your righteous anger and solidarity to the streets and to the halls of power.
I want you to join me and this movement as we build towards a just and equitable world where young Black people don’t have to fear for our lives. A world where justice isn’t relegated to a sign, but infused in the lived experiences of all. I want you to rise up with me to take a stand for the human rights and dignity of all people.