Imagine having an entire generation of young people, who have all loss someone close to them to a violent death. There is a collective pain that not even they understand. Most of them feel as if there is nothing they can do and as such they are simply hurting. Some will plot for revenge, but revenge will not bring back your loved one nor will help ease your pain, rather, it hardens your heart and chips away at your humanity.
As I was walking down the streets of Ferguson, where the majority are gathered in protest, my awareness of their sense of loss was very heightened. I could see and feel the pain in their spirits. I knew that almost every young person out there had experienced the death of either a friend, brother, cousin, uncle, father or perhaps a mother. And their protest was for the loved ones that they have loss or fear losing. Their protest was to restore their own humanity. It is difficult to know what life is when the fear of death is always at your door. It is difficult to know what love is, when you don’t know which one of your brothers is your enemy. But on this night, we were one. We were whole. We were a people thousands strong. And it was the most beautiful display of togetherness of all people, headed by young black people.
I watched in amazement as they chanted and marched and drove by blowing their horns and blasting Tupac. Vehicles were filled with young people inside and on top of the cars. I saw one young man standing on the roof of a truck, he took his shirt off, briefly looked at his own flesh, nodded his head in approval and hit his chest before proudly raising his head. And I knew what his actions said. He was telling the world that my body is not yours, my soul is not yours, my worth is not yours to determine. I have a voice and it will be heard. You will hear me, by peace or by force. I am here, I am alive, and I live. He was taking back his pride that 394 years of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, oppression, suppression and dehumanization had stolen from him. He was telling the world that I, we are a people and you do not get to determine when and how we live or die.
The protest of those young black youth told the world that we are not yours. There is beauty in their collective pain. Their fight for justice for Michael Brown is also a fight for their own justice and for justice of all of those who they have lost in their struggle for person-hood. Whether by their own hands or yours, our youth are hurting and this protest is the first space in which friends could peacefully gather with enemies and share in the same pain; knowing, they are not alone in their sense of loss. The loss was for their loved ones and our pride as a people, because in this space, they learned that we are all people. I saw our youth say, we love just as you do, and our love even includes you. Hence, we accept your white brothers and sisters among us without animosity. For them, it is not about race, it’s about person-hood, they are fighting to be accepted as human. We do not want to lose our own so together we stand.
From great tragedy comes great triumph. On this day, the Police completely stood back not only from protecting but serving. And so we protected and served our own. I saw black men in the middle of the streets directing traffic without a hitch, and black women picking up bags full of trash in the streets. We were one. We are not spectacles for your news crew, we are not animals or bodies to use for target practice, and we are not human game. Those young people were telling the police and the world that we are made of flesh and spirit and neither are yours to have and keep. It is ours and they were taking it back.