When Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014, I was still in journalism school at Arizona State University, learning more about the effective use of social media and blogs and the impact they can have on social movements. I was not aware of how important that information was going to become for me until months later, when the movement to save black lives came to the forefront of our collective social conscience.
Those first few days after the shooting are still a confusing blur. So much information was coming out at once, from so many different sources, and it became hard to tell what was truth and what was fiction. It was even harder to determine whom to trust.
There were people tweeting live from on the ground in Ferguson, St. Louis and the surrounding areas, sharing videos, sending pictures and making us aware of what was happening with eyewitness accounts.
It was in those moments that I realized how important my journalism education and my newly chosen career path were going to be, both in the immediate present and in the distant future, when it came to making sure the true stories get told. Journalists and the stories they report are considered primary sources of history. How could I make sure that not only was the truth of what happened to us told, but also that it represented our stories accurately and with the proper nuance that would deliver our narrative and also represent the impact the events had on us as a people?
It is important for us to tell the stories of what happens to us in this time and to be the primary sources that define how these stories are told throughout history.
There is an old saying that goes, “History is written by the victors.” I always tie that saying to one attributed to Napoleon that goes, “History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon.”
We have already seen evidence of history being rewritten in the form of a Texas high school history book that referred to slaves as “workers” in a section on immigration that seemed intent on erasing the violent history of chattel slavery in this country.
Even during Ferguson, there were active misinformation attacks being carried out in the form of misleading news stories that painted peaceful protests as “riots” and characterized as thugs people who were just asking for the acknowledgment that black lives do, in fact, matter.
If we are not actively involved in the storytelling that keeps time and records of what happens to us now and in the future, who will? Are we going to allow ourselves and our struggle to be erased when America decides that it wants to wipe its slate clean and pretend it has not been the unwelcoming, slaveholding, thieving, capitalist whore that it is?
I think not. As a journalist, I see it as my sworn duty to make sure that our stories are told on a daily basis, not sugarcoated, and with a determined accuracy that comes only from wanting the truth to be chiseled into this country’s history. They already have their own mechanisms for misinformation; I don’t want to be a part of that.
With the amount of misinformation that is passed around, it is important to me that I be a reliable source of credible information that my people can look to and rely on when they want to know something.
Accuracy and reliability are even more important now in the face of a Trump presidency, when our country is divided internally, and the other side exists in a media bubble that constantly feeds them lies that are never disputed and keeps them carefully shielded from the truth.
I see it as my duty not to allow my people to fall victim to misinformation. In the age of social media, a lie travels around the world twice before the truth can even really get going. It is my job to counteract that, address the misinformation and provide the facts so that people are able to form their own informed opinions. It is the only way we will be able to formulate plans to take positive action.
Good information is the foundation of any good plan.
I am also a firm believer in the idea that representation matters, and our stories need to be told by us. No other person or group is going to be able to tell the stories about what happened to us and include the nuance that is specific to us and our experiences. These stories are not generic. They cannot be whitewashed with white heroes and white saviors appearing in place of the black bodies that actually did the work.
Because we are always doing the work, on a daily basis. Erasure comes in many forms; the media is just one.
As long as I have fingers to type, a platform on which to share and a constant, daily source of stories to tell, our history will be well-written. Our history will be represented. Our history will matter.
Mike Brown still matters. Ferguson still matters.
Black lives will always matter.