I was born and raised in St. Louis. Even when I travel out of town, I still miss home. Even with all the issues that have transpired over the years, with all the problems, I’m still happy to call it my home because I know it’s going to get better.
During Ferguson, being out there and seeing the reaction of how the police treated us, and the names that they called us… It was hurtful and it hit like a train. When I was little, I would walk up the street to the park and the police would ask my friends and I, “What are you guys doing?” I would never get the, ‘Let me see your ID’ part, but there were all these questions and comebacks. As I got older it became, “Let me see your ID. Sit on the curb,” and other things. When Ferguson happened, the feeling was:it sucks in America if you’re a Black man, and just wanting to give up. It was worse than the news comments. It was people in that community saying, “You’re doing it wrong.” It was law enforcement telling you, “You’re doing it wrong.” It was by tear gassing, by arresting, by laughing at you, by calling young people N-words. All of that hit so heavy for me. At the beginning, going out there and doing it, and trying to do it the correct way, Ferguson really just made me want to give up.
I knew that it was harder as an African-American to get the same opportunities as my Caucasian friends no matter even how harder I tried. Let’s just be honest. Race is still an issue in the United States, and I knew that. But I never tried to step up and do anything about it. So, when I did, I was stepping up because the individual that was murdered could’ve been me. Could’ve been any other young person that was around my age or that was close to me. To go out there and ask, “What happened?,” to go out to try to tell your side of why you feel this isn’t right, to go out and to peacefully do it no matter how peaceful, how polite, how non-violent – just everything that they say African-Americans couldn’t be, we did. And to be hit by the media, by police, by your own elected officials, and by the sergeants of the police department felt like we were fighting against the world. To do it for so long and to sometimes feel like it still didn’t matter? It sucked. And there were so many positive things that they said that young people couldn’t do; young African-American people couldn’t do. We proved them wrong.
I miss those initial days of so much energy, love, bonding, and having to build relationships when it felt like we were against the world. In a time when militarized gear was being used on us, and national TV had seen it, and no one did anything. Those moments of people coming together, no matter your race, no matter your gang affiliation, no matter your religion, but came together, stood side by side, united against one enemy, one target, one common force, and we kept each other safe. We took care of each other. It was just so beautiful to be able to go out in Ferguson on West Florissant to protest. And you knew, in a way, that the ones you were protesting with were going to keep you safe. We didn’t know each other from a can of paint. But if you were out there just trying to find out what was wrong, or standing in solidarity to show your support, we made sure that if you were a protester, we got you.
I was born with one leg shorter than the other. Many times in elementary school I asked, “Why me? Why am I in this situation?” My family prepped me early on for what people may say. They toughened me up a little like football players how they shake them, tackle them, and play with them to get them prepared for the real game. They would make me hop around because I had to get used to not wanting to wear the prosthetic at all times. I’ve had it all my life. It doesn’t really bother me much. I tell people it’s like a tennis shoe. When I get home, I’m just ready to take it off. I do have this funny walk, but I’m definitely blessed to be in this condition and not in a worse condition, because I get around pretty well – probably quicker than other people even though I have a disability. Having a disability has helped me in the work that I do in social justice, and especially on this commission, because not a lot of people always agree with you. You feel like you’re trying to do something positive for the right reasons. You’re stepping up for yourself, you’re stepping up for your community, and then sometimes people’s comments don’t necessarily pertain to the issue that you’re fighting for, but are personal shots at you. Being young and doing this, that can be tough to figure out.
If you had to come up with a description for what your position is on the commission, what would you say?
I would say I’m the bridge. But I’m also the individual that walks the bridge sometimes because I’m learning as well as trying to connect both sides. I’m knocking down my stereotypes to try to make this bridge a very fancy bridge that individuals will eventually be able to walk across, meet, shake hands, have dialogue, and build relationships. We know this commission is working on issues in the St. Louis region, not just Ferguson. But since Ferguson happened, it was due to the young people stepping up and saying “Hey, we’re being gunned down at a higher rate. We’re being harassed at a higher rate than others. We’re being picked on. We’re being told that our lives don’t matter.” The actions young people took to not give up and continue to go to the streets is making people who feel comfortable uncomfortable to have to discuss these issues. What’s different about this commission, and I’ve never been on any other commission, but what’s different is that other like-minded people on it understand we need dramatic, bold change, and that we must not bring weak recommendations. We must bring strong ones.
When I first heard about the commission, I thought it was a joke. I did a little research on it because some mentors rubbed off on me. So, I checked it out. Honestly, if I wasn’t on the commission and I didn’t attend the meetings, or talk to some of the commissioners, I’d probably be like the majority of the people who feel like this commission is like other commissions – to just make recommendations that sit on the bookshelf and collect dust. When I saw, for example, that Tracy Blackmon actually is about dismantling some of these municipalities because they’re not good, and Brittany Packnett is all for more trainings in areas that the police were not being trained in, such as tactical use and cultural understanding, I applied. A lot of my friends said, “You can bring that voice to the commission for what’s probably not going to be on there. You could be the guy that had struggled, the guy that had been harassed, the guy that had been a person abused by the system, and can speak up for us. We may not ever feel like we would have the voice to, but you have our values and our interests at heart.
I remember it was at the 100-day mark and the Ferguson Commission was at The History Museum. This older Caucasian lady had walked up to me and said, ‘I meant to catch you at the last meeting.’ She came up to me, held her hands out, and asked me to hold them. So, I held her hands for maybe three seconds, and she dropped them, and gave me a hug. I held her back and she said, “I’m sorry.” It was a little awkward to me, so I was just smiling and confused because I didn’t know how to respond. I said, “It’s OK. What are you sorry about?” She continued to say, “For so many years, I have used my privilege in the wrong way and I finally noticed it. I noticed it, I’ve seen it, I apologize, and I won’t do it again. I’m going to use it in the right way.” I didn’t expect anything like that, but it was that moment of – someone gets it. Someone took the opportunity to open their eyes and just ask, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” That moment felt like you touched one person. One person gets it. The things that the young people, the commission, and many other people are doing are working and changing, and people are acknowledging the different issues within themselves and in the world that they live in.
We need more dialogue. We need more communication. We need more relationship building. Because I don’t know you and you don’t know me, there’s not going to be any trust. There’s not going to be a way that I feel comfortable around you if there’s no rapport. I just look back at everything and I think we need more dialogue between – and I know this is kind of huge for me to say – but between young people and law enforcement. With more dialogue, we hold them accountable even more when we have them on record, and we have them saying this is what I want to do, or this is what I want to see implemented in the community, or this is what’s going on and my options are. Whatever it is, there just needs to be more communication.