By: Jasmen Rogers
[Pictured: Folks listening to opening speeches and safety announcements before the action.]
About a month ago, I found myself feeling extremely despondent about our local and national “movement” for Black lives. I felt like we were putting in countless, unpaid hours and not really reaping any significant changes for our local communities. That feeling amplified when my father had an accident and had to have emergency brain surgery. Nothing else mattered at that time. I swore off movement until he got better and until I could figure out where I could best contribute my time toward tangible change.
At 6:30am on July 6th, a friend of mine sent me a text about the brutal shooting death of Alton Sterling. She told me about the graphic video and how he died, defenseless, at the hands of multiple officers. I refused to watch the video for the sake of my own sanity, but quickly looked at the hashtag (#AltonSterling) and came across a picture of him with three of his kids. He looked happy. Smiling. And at that moment, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said out loud “it’s too early for this shit” and ran to hide my tears in the shower. I was devastated over the death of a man that was a stranger to me and millions of others, but when I looked at his picture, I saw my father; I saw my partner’s father; I saw my future with my partner. I saw that being black, we’re all so dangerously close to death by cops.
That day, I cried more than I have in a long time. And I just couldn’t stop tears from flowing. I couldn’t stop being scared for everyone I knew in my life. I kept asking myself “how are we supposed to live like this,” and “why won’t they stop killing us,” and of course another level of trauma in it all is, no one has the answers. No one really knew how we were supposed to crawl out of our beds and head to corporate jobs filled with white folks that live in an alternate reality. No one really knew how we would console each other or other strangers that we could see were feeling what we felt. I didn’t know what to do when Black mothers were calling, wailing, and asking me what they were supposed to tell their children. I didn’t know what to say to the mother of Michael Wilson Jr (whose son was just murdered by Hallandale Police Department one month ago) when she kept saying “I just don’t understand, why does this keep happening.” But we all just, somehow, pulled ourselves together enough to make it through that day.
The next day we woke up to the news and video of the execution of Philando Castile. Again, I refused to watch the savage killing of another black man at the hands of police. My soul couldn’t take it anymore. And once again, it was “too early for this shit.”
It was then that calls, texts, and messages started pouring in to several of us. “What are we gonna do.” “When are we marching.” “Do you all have anything planned.” It’s safe to say we were all hesitant. What was ANOTHER march going to accomplish in Broward County, where police just killed Michael Eugene Wilson Jr, a black man, just over a month ago. What good would it do to shut down streets for a few hours and then go back to a sham of a life the next day.
Then Tifanny Burks, fellow comrade, sent me an email with her reflection on her feelings after watching Alton and Philando die on camera. She knew she had to do something. We knew we couldn’t do nothing. So, we made a Facebook event page, called an emergency meeting, and the rest has become Broward County history.
We anticipated a turnout of about 200 angry and anxious people, a heavy police presence, and very little idea of what this would accomplish. But what we got far exceeded our expectations. People arrived en masse with water, coolers, and ice. Children and adults were busying themselves with making signs, decrying the current state of policing in this country. Old friends reunited and new friendships were formed. That day, over 600 people of all races, ages, religions, sexualities, heritages, and genders made a decision to stand together against police violence in our community.
We stopped by the Broward County Jail, standing in solidarity with our comrades inside. Letting them know they are not invisible and they are not alone. We had the power in front of that jail. We felt invincible, and the folks inside heard our cries for justice. They began banging on windows and waving at the crowd, causing so many to become emotional.
[Pictured: Us outside of the Jail standing on solidarity as they heard us chanting for them.]
It was in those moments that I remember why we march. It may not end all of our problems in this “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal” society, but right then, we were all we had. We were there to support each other. We stood together. And it’s in times like these, as unfortunate as they may be, that we build community. People see the power of people working in unison, and feel empowered to do more.
One march changed my life. In December 2014, in the way of the murder of Mike Brown, I was driving to South Florida from Sarasota as I had done many other times before. While en route, I got stuck in horrendous traffic near my parents’ house, which was abnormal. It was only when I got to their house and saw the news, that I realized that a group of people took over a major highway in Miami, demanding an end to state-sanctioned violence. In that moment, I felt more than inspired. I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever that was.
The next day, I went to a march in Ft. Lauderdale, and the next day I was at a march in Miami. Then two weeks later, I found myself arrested at another march in Ft. Lauderdale. I found myself quickly enmeshed in the growing movement in Broward County that was being led by the Dream Defenders.
That first march, that led to many more marches, and so many new friends, prompted my move back to South Florida (despite every feeling that I had that I would never move back home); it was what gained me employment organizing other marginalized groups of people; it was what brought me and my partner together, and has kept us together; it inspired my sister to be involved and take more interest in her own blackness;, and it has made me feel at home. One march literally changed the entire trajectory of my life.
This is why we march. We do it for the community. Because if we can change a few lives by just showing up and refusing to stay silent, while also building and growing in our neighborhoods, one day, Broward County will never be the same. We will hold the power and influence over what happens in our community.
As I looked across the bridge filled with people bubbling over with righteous anger, it was then I knew, in the words our illustrious, Kendrick Lamar, “we gon’ be alright.”