For five minutes audience members at Greater St. Mark’s Church in Ferguson stood up one by one to speak the names of people of color killed by police or community violence.
Among the crowd were the family members of six of those whose names were called out, including their younger brothers and sisters.
The siblings and children of victims are not often in the limelight. But on Friday night, the stories and experiences of those young family members had the floor.
Youth Speak Truth brought together the narratives of people who have lost a loved one to what they see as racialized violence. The event was organized by the Truth Telling Project and Michael Brown's family foundation, Chosen for Change. It opened a four-day weekend designed to celebrate Brown's life. Aug. 9 will mark two years since the 18-year-old was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
All the speakers on Friday night were under 22, including emcee Mya Petty. Among them were:
- Trinity, Trinita and Triniya Walker, sisters of Michael Brown Jr.
- Carlos Ball, brother of Cary Ball Jr.
- Quontell Bolden, brother of Jamyla Bolden
- Deja Joseph, sister of Andrew Joseph
- Tavon Rice, brother of Tamir Rice
- Marlon Brown Jr. and Armani Brown, children of Marlon Brown Sr.
On the day of the event, co-founder of Truth-Telling Project Cori Bush was joined by Petty, Carlos Ball, and StoryCorps Justice Project Manager, Tanya Linn Albrigtsen-Frable, on a FB-Live video hosted by NPR that you can watch here.
David Ragland, co-director of the Truth Telling Project, says the event is designed to create a safe space for young people impacted by structural and race-based violence. There, they can take back the narratives so often created in headlines or courtrooms.
Ahead of the event, participating families collaborated with StoryCorps Justice Project at the St. Louis Photo Authority. Justin Williams and Francesco De Salvatore, facilitators from StoryCorps Chicago Booth, lead the families in a storytelling and remembrance workshop to prepare for Friday night. They also recorded intimate reflections on losing their sibling or child that will be archived in the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Deja Joseph is 12-years-old. She lost her brother, Andrew Joseph, two years ago, and acknowledged that speaking to anyone about him, much less a crowd, can be emotionally taxing.
Deanna Joseph is Andrew Joseph's mother. She believes that losing a son or a brother in her daughter's case, changes the entire dynamic of family life. For her it hits siblings and parents just as hard.
Carlos Ball remembers his older brother Cary Ball Jr. as a good student, role model and protector.
He and his mother Toni Taylor say media reports cast Cary as an ex-convict. They knew him to be a straight-A college student studying social work. Carlos says he hopes audiences will look deeper into the stories of victims.
Tavon Rice remembers his younger brother Tamir as honest to a fault and, he says, a momma’s boy. The two spent a lot of time playing together in the Cleveland park where Tamir was shot by a police officer while carrying a toy gun.
Tamir’s mom Samaria wants America to know that at 12, her son was still a child who liked watching Clifford the Big Red Dog and playing with LEGOs.
James Bolden holds his 10-month-old daughter Hope throughout interviews. He recalls his favorite memory of his daughter Jamyla being the first and last time they danced to songs by Al Green.
His 11-year-old son Kyndal was planning to participate in Youth Speak Truth, but in the end the event proved too much. It's a stark reminder how difficult it can be to speak about trauma to large audience.
Several family members said they had a feeling of solidarity in the church that night. Heads nodded when Armani Brown, daughter of Marlon Brown Sr. said, "Every time someone dies, it feels like it happens all over again."