Monday, August 24, 2015

Lake Renewal

Water is that life force that feeds my spirit.

I am not sure if it is my Lake Michigan heritage, summers spent at the Pier, walking in the sand, looking out over the expanse of water, pondering life. It could be my time along the Gulf Coast, or simply a remnant of my heritage as a Caribbean descended woman. I'm not sure what it is, but it is life for me.

I found myself yearning for clarity and peace.  There has been so much that has happened around me, living twenty-five minutes south of Ferguson. I have been innundated in "the movement," whatever that is. My inbox, my outbox, my box was full and I needed to empty out.

Just before school started and after celebrating the birth of my first grandchild, my daughters and I did a big purge. We cleaned out four bags of items from their elementary school years and six bags of clothes. I rearranged my office to have morenatural light streaming into my townhouse office. My son's bedroom had become my beach oasis.

Yet, none of that was what my soul needed.

My commitments could not be adjusted and after several across-state-trips, I knew my bank account could not handle a quick excursion to the space where water existed.

The atmosphere was stifling for me.

I watched people puff themselves up as if they were the only voices striving for revolution and freedom. I listened to those who castigated everyone over age thirty and still others render the young ones as clueless.

In the midst of the atmosphere was a child murdered, a woman scorned, and a man shot in the back.

My resolve was starting to cripple.

As a writer, I am very observant, I notice details and exist in the space of seeing. My eye was revealing as much as my soul was uncovering.

So, my need for the water was paramount.

A dear friend showed me pictures of this majestic place, this restful place, this destination without a plane ticket.

Just twenty minutes from my home.

I found myself there on a sunny Sunday amidst the mini-united-nations. There were so many languages spoken as people sliced through the wind on skates and bikes, as conversations of twos happened in languages other than my own, as children threw rocks into the water and as dogs ran after tennis balls.

My soul exhaled and for then next two hours, just breathed.
Copyright - Tayé Foster Bradshaw

I sat on a bench and looked out over the water, looked at the sailboats, and touched my feet in the gravel. I walked along the path and made sure my steps kept me in line with the water.

Lining life path - Copyright, Tayé Foster Bradshaw, 2015
There are moments when on has to step away to find clarity and purpose, to be filled back up to make choices with assurance.

Solitude - Copyright, Tayé Foster Bradshaw
The lake is good for thinking.

Yesterday, my spirit had a moment. To just sit, and think, and write, and see.

Clarity path - copyright, Tayé Foster Bradshaw

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Clashing Through Time and Place

I, like many others in my city, woke up to what looks like a car zone.

Tear gas, rubber bullets, sound bombs, lighting to conflict with cell device camera, armored tanks, and row upon row of armored personnel.

It was not in Iraq or Afganisthan.

It was on the west side of St. Louis.

An area forgotten by the city fathers who segregated in the poorest of the poor black people. A place where time, opportunity, and escape completely forgot, a place where even a high school diploma would not result in the police killing an 18-year-old black  man.

Yesterday, on the same anniversary of the Kajeme Powell, a memorial vigil was set for 11am with an action at 12 noon. I did not attend. It was set at the St. Louis Justice Center to demand that the Circuit Attorney bring charges against the police.

At the same time, a young black man was killed by the police who said he was running from a drug house that was being served a warrant and the young man waved a gun at the police.

I wasn't there, I don't know.

What I do know is that also on yesterday in St. Charles County, two young white men were assaulting police and each managed to be arrested without bodily damage or death.

Why the disparate treatment?

I think that has been the cry and the question of the Black Lives Matter Movement for the entire year since Mike Brown, Jr. was murdered. It was the same cry on the anniversary weekend earlier this month that also found the police in Ferguson killing another unarmed black man.

What is it about the black body that so frightens white establishment.

To be sure and true, there are more young black men in college than in prison. Morehouse College welcomed over 750, the largest freshman class ever. Claflin University had their largest freshman class. There are young black men and women entering college at HBCUs and PWIs all across this country. There are younger students who are enjoying their first week of the new school year, full of the hope and promise an education is supposed to afford them.

To be sure, also, black parents want the same thing for their children as other groups. There are mothers and fathers who are walking or driving their children to school, waiting at the bus stop, and picking them up after school to ensure homework is completed and a good night rest ends their day.

The media will send a different story. It has for years. The narrative that has built careers has always been about the pathology of black people, the wantonness of black women, the danger of black men, the ignorance of black children. These images are not the true story, but what they keep feeding to incite fear in white America and to continuously give reason for the police to be present in black spaces.

Like tell me why they had armored security for a movie? Black people are not the ones who shot up the movie theatres.

Yesterday was a stark reminder that while I may have entered this world the same year as the Civil Rights Act being signed, my grandson entered the word the same year as the more black men have been killed and more black children are in segregatred schools than in 1968.

The city erupted, it wasn't Watts in the Riots or Oakland or Compton or Harlem. It was St. Louis, and innocent people were harmed. Why?

What do we make of these things? What do we say?

To my young brothers and sisters, I tell them to not give into the system that only wants to steal, kill, and destroy, that they are greater than any despair they think. They can achieve, they are somebody, they are greater. I hope they hear me.

To my white friends, I ask them to check their privilege and challenge their thinking, to not expect black people to always be available to educate them, for them to do the work and realize their part of being good people is that their tinge of fear is why the police show up at black movies.

This must change, not sure if it will happen in my lifetime. We are not a democracy, we are not a peaceful nation, not as long as the few exploit the many an use issues of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status as wedges to divide.

We must be better.

Friday, August 7, 2015

One Year, Many Stories

It would be disingenuous of me to minimize the difficulty of the last year.

The family, first and foremost, suffered the most egregious loss imaginable.

Their firstborn son was not only murdered by the Ferguson Police Department, but his body was left in the middle of the street, to bake in hot August sun, for four-and-one-half-hours.

His mother was kept from his body.

His community had to look at his body.

Mothers in the community had to answer unconsciouble questions from their own children.

There were many whys.

The hours wore on and hell was breaking loose in Canfield.

While this was happening, I was first at a funeral and repass and then a later-night-dinner, celebrating and honoring the life of one of three family elder gentleman who went from life-to-reward. We all turned our phones off to be present, to mourn together and remember together. Family pictures were taken, cousins who lived across the nation from each other were smiling behind tears.

Then, sitting at a restaurant on Lindberg in Hazelwood, I turned on my phone.

Notice after notice was popping up about a boy who had been shot in Ferguson.

My cousins and I didn't even know where that was.

We ended our repass and found ourselves greeted on Sunday morning with news of the actions of the police department. We were supposed to be celebrating the going-away-party of a  young cousin who was heading off to Stephens College.

It was at her celebration that we learned there was to be a vigil that night, Sunday, up in Ferguson.

My son was still home from college.

We decided, after the party, that we should go.

We lived in Kirkwood and didn't know where to go, so we exited at New Florissant Road and found ourselves in the middle of a very long line of cars being directed around side streets by the Ferguson Police Department. It was impossible to drive straight through, so we parked across from the Subway Lot. Little did we know then that that very lot would be part of ground zero for more protests.

I did what would become something I would do several times in the next year, gather the children. We had the adults who did not have children to surround the children and parents. We prayed. That is what we do, we prayed for protection, for understanding, for justice, for answers, for peace, for so many things on that night.

When the children and I were driving back South, we saw over a dozen police cars zooming up North. We still didn't know where West Florissant Road was. We remembered hearing about unrest on West Flo, but didn't now what that was, just talked about the news crews packing up and leaving the women and children on New Florissant Road.

The news coverage was overwhelming. My son and I were riveted between twitter and facebook and MSNBC that I watched before a later spring storm would zapp my TV.

Day after day, night after night, it was Ferguson. We drove up more times, I managed the School of Peace in the Ferguson Public Library, I gave interviews. We talked, we tried to undertand, we knew we were in the middle of something big.

Weeks kept going, groups started to form, groups like Lost Voices were camping out to call attention to what was happening.. Their story became known to many when they work up one morning to find nooses at their campsite.

Mama Cat and Charles Wade with Operation Help or Hush were feeding hundreds of people for Community Sunday Dinners on the Andy Werm parking lot. That lot had become the new community center after the Quik Trip burned down.

My daughters and I showed up one of those first Sundays and asked where we could help. I was given a pair of plastic gloves and started serving. My girls were chatting with Ashley Yates and met KB, Faces that are like family to me now, faces that are now greeted with hugs of comrardarie, were strangers back then. We were living in Kirkwood and not from the region at all, didn't know anyone.

Black trusted black and became family across miles separating the region. Stories were shared, learning took place.

The early days long before t-shirts, buttons, and gofundme accounts, long before outside funders and tourist activists, long before action councils and outside funders picking and choosing, long before meeting spaces, television interviews, twitter celebrities, viners, livestreamers, before trips abroad, panel discussions, and before commissions, before any of those things that some still question now, there were simply people standing on corners with signs demanding justice.

Months and months were met with actions of many to keep striking the alarm that things were not right in St. Louis.

I am not unlike many who have been examining the last year through multiple lenses. Even as the day anniversary (Saturday) is fastly approaching the date anniverary (Sunday, August 9, 2015), there are likely thousands of thoughts in thousands of heads.

Chief among those has to be with Mike Brown, Sr.and his wife Cal. Lezley McSpadden and her family. The cousins, siblings, and relatives on all sides, all of them lost someone they loved and cherished. I can imaging those thoughts, feelings, numbness, and sheer exhaustion of the last year.

Many are planning to descend upon Ferguson, if they are not already here. Multiple groups have organized concerts, dinners, marches, talks, and other actions to commemmorate a moment that became a worldwide movement.

I hope the family has a chance to secret away and tend to the heart.

That first year was hard.

Many mothers have lost children since August 8, 2014.

Many fathers are in a club no one wants to be a member of.

My thirteen-year-old daughter wondered aloud if anything has changed since last year.

We saw uprisings in multiple cities as more and more black lives were shown to not matter. We saw young teen girls' bodies tossed about at a swim party, young black men shot in a toy aisle, a church shooting that rocked us to the core, a brave young woman demanding that the confederate flag come down now, a young woman murdered for changing lanes. The stories became too many to keep up with and too many assaults on the emotions.

I am probably not unlike many parents who have had to pick and choose how much to expose to their young children.

Mine have been to selected marches and events, vigils and meetings, panels and discussions. I've make conscious decisions not to expose them at night when the police were most dangerous, I've had to remember the over four hundred years of history and resistance of black people in this country. We are only fifty years post Civil Rights Movement, some of the older racists are still alive, some of the newer ones, the Millennials like the Charleston church killer (I refuse to type his name) learned from the decade of hate and fear the GOP/TP has spewed to their "base."

There were and are lessons about local politics and the importance of the vote. There were ideological shifts and tugs of what was once normal. Black Lives Matter became more than a hashtag and a political demand in the recent Netroots Nation stage taking from the progressive candidates. The polite racism of the democrats was called into question at the same time that white allies demanded that their white friends do white folk work. They learned to educate themselves on subtle bias and how their privilege makes black lives dangerous.

As this anniverary approaches within hours and we wonder what has changed, we also know there are those prepared to do harm prepared to arrest, and others prepared to make it another feather in their cap. What will happen in the next  year? It is an election year, will the demand be sustaining that justice prevail like what we learned happened to the murderer of Jordan Davis. We already know the policeman, Darren Wilson, has escaped accountability and remorse, but what about the others? Some have been charged like in Baltimore after what happened to Freddie Gray and others remain uncharged like the ones who killed Sandra Bland.

We all wonder what will happen and if we can ever just catch our breath from this collective trauma.

Many have tried to go on with their normal lives

One of my sons was married just a few weeks before Mike Mike was murdered. His infant son is now two weeks old.

My baby girl and last child has purchased her last school supply and is ready for middle school.

My youngest son got a job on campus and didn't spend the summer at home, he remained in Montgomery to start his senior year and fourth term as an SGA Senator.

We've had illnesses and death, babies and birthdays, weddings and graduations. Life in the midst and against the backdrop of a moment that changed everything.

It has been one year, there are many, many stories. Some may be told this weekend, others will just be something future grandchildren will learn about when they ask parents and grandparents of what they did way back in the New Movement. Time will keep ticking as Africans in America keep demanding the right to be fully human and existent in this land none of the ancestors wanted to be home.

Stories are told to commemmorate and honor, to remember and reflect. I hope to alive to tell my grandson about The Ferguson Movement, the New Movement. I hope that the world will be different, as my daughter said when she led her children's march, "so we don't have to deal with this when we ae your age." As there is nothing new under the sun, man's inhumanity to man will continue to be a wrestling match of a new era. We just hope there won't be more Mike Mikes, but sadly, already know the epilogue of this tale.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sacred Space: "You Are A Powerful Black Woman."

When one is met with life without a mother for the majority of those years of life, one is often left wandering in a sea of uncertainty, sometimes insecurity, and always a feeling of disconnectedness.

This feeling has followed me the majority of my life because I was four when my mother died. I was seven when my father remarried and was sixteen when that eleven eyar nightmare ended wiht me moving to another state.

To be unmothered is a place that leaves one keenly observant and keenly aware of the emotional hurt and need in others.

When Mike Brown was murdered in August 2014, the eternal mother in me sprung into action. To know one needs comfort is the keen awareness of one who most needed it in herself. I recognized the need to gather the children together and make them feel safe.

It was in that safety gathering that I realized there was a piece of vulnerability in me that I protected with helping others, with writing, with nurturing, but still needing to tend to that scared nineteen  year old girl.

When one needs to come to the safety of recognition and healing, one is most exposed and in a vulnerable state that could easily tip the scale. That has been one reason I closely guarded the heart and controlled the narrative around my first born's murder.

Enter the call for sacred space.

The women clergy and friends in St. Louis recognized that there were more mothers than Lesley McSpadden mourning the unnecessary and untimely murder of their son.

These were women without hashtags, without social media posters honoring their child's life, without media attention, and without foundations to fund their travel around the world to tell of their pain.

I almost didn't attend.

There was a part of me that felt I didn't belong there, after all, my first born had been killed thirty-three years ago, I should be over that pain, right? He was a baby, so I didn't have long to have him, not like those whose children were sixteen, eighteen, and twenty when murdered.

But then something made me change my mind.

It wasn't for the women who called the event, some of them noted names in the Ferguson movement, it wasn't for them, they just used their platform to gather the space , to see the need, to honor the heart.

I registered. I found a photo of my son And I went.

My first greeting was of two women I have been in activism with who asked questioningly, "you are a mother?" One said, "oh, I didn't know." I don't think she knew how to encounter me for the remainder of the four hours that we were in that space. The other, a rabbi, said, "no wonder you are such a fierce advocate. I will keep speaking your son's name."

When I entered the room, a well known woman preacher greeted me with a hug, "Mama Tayé, Cory Mattered." She spoke his name, acknowledged his existence, and hugged my tears and felt the release of my shaking frame.

I joined a table of other "cry babies" as we called ourselves. We were in commune together, black women who had joined an unwanted sisterhood of other black women who lost their children. In sitting down and looking around the room , I realized I was in a four-hundred-year-old sisterhood of black babies being killed in America.

We were in sacred space and allowed to shed our "strong black woman" cloack to do something they said black woman couldn't do - love, nurture, and support each other to a place of healing. We knew we would never be the same since the loss of our child, but for those hours, we had solace in each other.

The journey from writing to sanding to watering to holding to crying to screaming allowed for a release of a primal call that was for all the souls lost. We wanted justice, we wanted change, we wanted life.

It was in that moment that a powerful healer surrounded me and hugged me as words were poured and thirty-three years released. She pressed on my abdomen , the center of soul and spirit, and told me to let it go, to let it go from deep within, and I roared, I screamed, and I cried. She looked me in the face and said, "You are a powerful black woman."

When the evening was over, I knew something shifted. I let that scared nineteen year old girl enter a space of womanhood and confidence. I knew in that space that I didn't have to doublecheck or reevaluate or wonder if my contribution was enough, if my credentials were enough, if my education was enough.

I walked out ready to keep going.

I lived through things that would break the spirit of many.

I was still standing.

As a powerful black woman.

And that was enough.