These are just a few of the names of men and women killed during interactions with police over the last six weeks, but it all started two years ago with #MikeBrown.
On Aug. 9, two summers ago, Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by then-Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson. His body lay in the street in blood for over four hours, awakening the St. Louis community and sparking a passionate, unflinching movement, including weeks of unrest.
A lot has changed in the region over the last 24 months, and a new type of fight for black lives is emerging.
“I feel that it’s [activism in St. Louis] powerful,” Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., told The Root. “I want everyone’s voice to be heard all of the time. I don’t care if it’s good or bad; it’s just how that individual feels. You can’t knock anyone for how they feel. As long as the movement is in a positive state, I’m all for it.”
In 2014, Brown Sr. established the Michael Brown Foundation, doing business as Chosen for Change, to offer support to other families who have lost loved ones as a result of community violence or police brutality. This past weekend, Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 7, the CFC hosted its second annual Memorial Weekend in Ferguson, featuring “Youth Speak Truth,” where young people expressed themselves through art, spoken word and performance, and siblings and family members of those lost to racial violence shared their stories. There was also a walk for justice, a community day, scholarship and benefit dinner, and a prayer breakfast. The culminating event will be a prayer vigil and national moment of silence on Aug. 9.
“For almost two years, working hand in hand, the foundation and the people in the community have been utilizing their own resources to restore, strengthen and comfort grieving families,” said Brown Sr., president of the foundation.
Since Brown Jr.’s death, community organizing and activism have evolved, from marching and protesting on the front lines to working toward transforming the political and social climates.
“People have found where they fit in,” spoken-word artist Carlos Ball told The Root. Ball became an activist in 2013 when his brother, Cary Ball Jr., was shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer. “Some have found their [place] in politics, and others in mentoring. I feel like it’s changed for the better. This generation is birthing a lot of positive people.”
Several Ferguson activists and organizers decided to pursue change by seeking elected office. In the August primary election, Cori Bush, ordained pastor and co-director of the Truth Telling Project; Bruce Franks Jr.; Rasheen Aldridge with Show Me $15; and Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal were on the ballot. Bush ran a campaign for the U.S. Senate; Franks for state representative of Missouri's 78th District; Aldridge for 5th Ward committeeman; and Chappelle-Nadal for U.S. Congress. They didn’t win, but Franks and Aldridge came very close, losing their races by 84 and 52 votes (pdf), respectively. Franks has decided to challenge the count.
“When I looked at who was running, I realized that nobody was running on the federal level who carried on our issues. I felt like the next place it could evolve was moving into those places of power," Bush told The Root. "We did a lot of work, but there was no one to push through what we needed to get pushed through. [So I thought,] why not move into those positions where things can actually happen, where laws are written? This time it might have only been four of us, but the next time it could be eight, and if the next time it doubled again, then that's how we change the world.”
This defines the current phase of what many call the modern civil rights movement—fulfilling demands of the movement through political intervention.
“We have some power here; we just need to do more grassroots organizing. It is not about Bernie. It is not about Trump. It is not about Hillary,” Alisha Sonnier told The Root. The activist, president of Tribe X and St. Louis University student added: “It’s about the people in St. Louis who are born into zip codes where the expectation is that they won’t live beyond 30, or that they don’t have a real shot at graduating. It’s about Lisa, who doesn’t have grocery stores in her community and is living in a food desert.”
Young people are an integral part of organizing in the area, stepping up to help people in need. Over the summer, 17-year-old Mya Petty, who became involved in activism after Brown Jr.’s death, started a lunch program with Rodney McGruder Brown called STL Lunch. Petty set up a picnic-style lunch in Hickey Park of the Baden neighborhood, providing sandwiches, water, juice and fresh fruit.
“Instead of just sitting in a house every day during the summer, she was going out to the park, interacting with the children, providing them with activities and introducing them to new foods,” said Sonnier. “It’s just about loving and supporting each other, and empowering one another. Whenever you do something along those lines, you're doing something for the movement.”
The ultimate goal is community development from the inside out and providing people with the opportunities and resources they need to thrive.
“Black resistance is happening in St. Louis, and there is pretty much no area you can name where no one is doing work,” Sonnier added. “Whether that’s the schools, the homeless community, LGBTQ, whatever you can think of, there is somebody doing work in that area and probably doing work in multiple areas.”