"I have to be the leader. I have to show them, [that] by me being strong you can be strong, too." - Erica Garner
Activism is born in response to an oppressive stimulus.
To be an activist is not easy. It is emotionally draining and physically demanding. Sometimes it consists of volunteerism; providing physical support to an organization, such as a church a food pantry, a homeless shelter, or an animal shelter. This type of activism usually requires physical labor that is less emotionally invasive, such as lifting boxes, chopping vegetables, making posters, interacting directly with people. It's a type of activism that we often feel comfortable with allowing our children to participate in. It teaches them selflessness and service, gratitude and patience. With this form of activism, the emphasis is placed on bringing things to life and on cultivating growth.
But what does activism look like when it is laced with centuries-old, racially based trauma and violence? Often it looks like rallies and marches, anger, court proceedings, disappointment, substance abuse, pain, a lack of self-care, too many interviews, not enough interviews, success, many failures, and ultimately, death. Today, Saturday, December 30, 2017, we mourn the death of another activist, Erica Garner. Erica Garner’s father, Eric Garner, was murdered at the hands of the New York Police Department (NYPD) after being placed in a chokehold. Eric Garner was approached by the NYPD on suspicions that he was selling cigarettes. Police office attempted to arrest Eric Garner after he denied selling cigarettes, placing Eric Garner into a chokehold, while pushing his chest into the concrete. Throughout the incident, Eric Garner repeatedly stated, “I can’t breathe.” He was ridiculed by officers and dies soon after this attempted arrest.
The stakes are always high as a Black activist. Black activists are given the burden of mobilizing their community, caring for their families, going to work, keeping up with social media and the media outlets that consistently work to discredit their fight, all while mourning their personal loss. It is almost unimaginable that the outcome for the Black activist, the traumatized activist, can be anything but death. Racism is toxic. It invades Black families, and literally, exhausts the hearts of Black mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons.
To be a Black activist means to put yourself last, because the moment that your activism begins to dwindle, your cause can suddenly disappear. To be a Black activist means to be the pole bearer and the chant leader. You must lift as you climb, and uplift even throughout your own physical and emotional decline. This is especially true for the Black activists who weren't planning on becoming activists until their lives were devastated by some type of violence or injustice against someone they knew. Erica Garner shows us this, but Erica Garner was not the first to show us this. We see the unavoidable tragedy of being a Black activist illuminated through people such as Venida Browder, mother of Kalief Browder, the young, Black man from the Bronx who committed suicide after spending more than 3 years in Rikers Island, 800 days of which were spent in solitary confinement.
I'm trying to find light in this struggle. I don't want the death of Erica Garner to scare away the next generation of activists - we are needed, but we are needed alive.
Wishing you peace.
Black Lives Matter. Say Her Name. Erica Garner.
*Disclaimer: God's good grace brought this blog to life
Photo credits: The Visual Library of Social Justice