I started my time at Advancement Project one year ago. My first big assignment came only three weeks after my first day: I was being sent to Ferguson, Mo. As the leader for our youth-criminalization work, I would manage the national media and communications efforts for the one-year commemoration of Mike Brown’s death.
I hadn’t even unpacked my office or learned my colleagues’ names before I was preparing contingency plans and crisis-response materials to serve a community to which I didn’t belong. Then I quickly realized, I knew the people of Ferguson. They were black folks like me and my family. Michael Brown was an 18-year-old black teenager. He belonged to his family, to his community. He was ours.
My tears, prayers, rage and grief had united with theirs for a year because where there is violence against black bodies, we are all there. Where our children are criminalized and dehumanized, where black and brown folks stand up and say, "Enough," the hearts of black people are there. The belief that “I am because we are” still dwells within the core of who we are as people of African descent, and that’s something that neither slave masters nor police officers can take away.
I remember telling my parents and friends that I was going to Ferguson. And while the uprising had simmered, they were still afraid: “Why do you have to go?” My mom’s tears and my dad’s deep sigh and pursed lips reminded me just how aware they were that I could be Mike Brown. That their “little brown baby with sparking eyes” could end up the victim of a lynching sans the rope and the swinging branch. That my life could be snatched by an officer of the law hiding hate and inferiority behind a badge.
I carried that fear they felt with me into the work, intentionally, out of respect for them. I carried it out of love for Mike Brown’s parents and all the parents, guardians and families of black young people who feel that every day.
The gospel song “This May Be My Last Time” is more than just a solemn tune we hum and sway to in church pews; it’s a reality of black life. For those like Mike Brown, who dare to attempt freedom and boldness while living in black skin, we know that each time we leave home, get in a car, go to school, walk to a convenience store, shop in a Wal-Mart or play in a park, it could be the last time. It has been two years since Mike Brown was taken, and that reality still hasn’t changed. It’s been more than 400 years since boats with shackles and people without conscious brought Africans to this nation. We were resisting and fighting for liberation then, and we continue today.
I went to Ferguson for the first time a year ago today, and met people who changed my life and heart forever. Folks like Kayla Reed, Montague Simmons, Clifton Kinney, Christine Assefa, who, on Aug. 9, 2014, the day Mike Brown was killed, took to the streets of their hometown to say, "Not one more." In that resistance, they ignited the hearts of millions tired of seeing state-sanctioned killings of black and brown people go unpunished.
Those people, my people, in Ferguson, and others who came to support in the days, weeks, months and, now, years since that tragic day, are warriors in pursuit of liberation. Just like Shango, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Harriet, Nat, Marcus, Malcolm, Ella, Martin, Fannie, Assata, they’re fueled by righteous blackness and a dutiful responsibility to never give up. The world watched them endure tear gas, billy clubs, Tasers and dogs night after night on network news. Folks sitting on couches and eating dinner watched them be brutalized. That did something to this nation. It was a reminder that we actually haven’t come that far since the days of marches in Selma and bombings in Montgomery.
They reminded us that those who stand together in what is good and right won’t be defeated in the end. They sang Ella’s words that “We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” and forced us to remember what we as black people are capable of overcoming even in the direst circumstances. And for that, we thank them. We thank the people of Ferguson and the family of Mike Brown Jr. for their courage and their indignant and unapologetic commitment to seeing an end to the siphoning of black life and humanity. For their sacrifice, for their strength and courage, we say, "Ashe."
Mike Brown, your name will never be forgotten, no matter how they might try. We speak of your beautiful hopes and dreams, complexities and purpose. We say your name today and forever, along with the countless others we’ve lost to state-sanctioned violence. We will never stop fighting for you, just as our people never stopped fighting for Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the four little girls in Birmingham; or for Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, VonDerrit Myers Jr. or Kajieme Powell.
Rest in righteous black glory, brother.
In love and service,
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Chelsea Fuller is the senior communications associate for youth criminalization at Advancement Project, a racial-justice and civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. She writes about issues of race, media, culture and the Movement for Black Lives.