As an organizer and activist in the Ferguson/Greater St. Louis community, I often wonder if we’re making an impact on this country or even if we are impacting the Black and Brown communities that we are attempting to move towards freedom.
Are we changing the minds and hearts of society?
Are we humanizing ourselves to those who only see us not by individual human beings coming together for a common goal but a banner only spoken about as the “Ferguson protests?”
Does America realize that we as a nation are on the brink thanks to the failed and halted works of the Civil Rights Movement, and those who work diligently to undue the work of our elders who fought that fight?
Can people who see the youth in Ferguson take to the streets nightly on their television screens see that we are being left no other option but to impede traffic and shut down malls as modern day methods of non-violent civil disobedience? That we have created a movement that even President Obama can't ignore?Or do they only see us as a hashtag to forgotten about when their favorite reality show comes on?
What makes Ferguson special to me is the fact that a small suburb has become an epicenter for change for a entire country, and that youth that were discarded by America’s institutions of education and economics are leading that charge. In a era where many young people rather stand in line for Jordans, we have youth here in Ferguson and St. Louis standing in line to speak at city council meetings. Even with our alleged short attention spans, we have managed to keep young people tweeting and posting about social justice issues daily for one hundred plus days with an insight and wit that could only be compared to late night political shows or high-profile political debates. The ingenuity of these modern day freedom fighters is remixing sit-ins to die-ins, going from marches to parades and substituting old gospel hymns for political chants with thirteen year old drummers putting our grievances to a hip hop beat.
Since August 9th, I have seen youth leadership emerge from tear-gassed streets and town hall discussions. One of those young people is Joshua Williams. I have seen him stand up in the face of adversity and galvanize crowds in a way that makes me wonder what was Huey Newton like at 18. While most high school and college-aged kids are going on dates and partying, he chooses to study our elected officials and go to non violent actions in his leisure time. At an action at a Rams game action–in the midst of us chanting and marching–Josh asked me a question that most of us struggle with daily: “Do you think they can hear us all the way down there?” All I could say was ”Maybe if we shout louder, they can."
I wanted him to believe our cries would no go unanswered. I wanted to believe that myself.
Early in this fight, I was guilty of not seeing young Josh for what he is: a passionate, energetic, overly-trusting teenager with a enough heart to inspire others to join this movement with him. And now, I miss him.
You see, Josh is currently sitting in Clayton County jail on number of very serious charges, charges to which he has pled not-guilty. The press and some in the community are taking his character to the slaughter house and have decided that his fate is sealed. The same press and community that told us to wait for all the evidence in the killing of Michael Brown and told us that they had to stay objective as possible, has already decided how to view Josh. Berkley Mayor Theodore Hoskins went so far as to mention Josh’s charges during a press conference about the killing of Antonio Martin and cite them as an example of the work we have to do for equality in our community. Yet, that Josh has emerged as an activist and has committed his life to fighting for freedom seems to have been lost on him.
I will not say too much in this space about the things being said about Josh, but I will say that that I find these charges hard to believe. But more troubling than the charges themselves is the fact that young people live in a world that they are so unheard, so undervalued and so neglected that destroying property may feel like the best way to finally have a voice at all, to force those who'd rather ignore you to listen up and listen now. But I don't believe that is what happened here. We have learned not to trust local law enforcement when it comes to officer-involved shootings, so why should we be so easy to accept what we are being told now?
Tory Russell is the Co-Founder of Hands Up United