It was a reunion of sorts.
On August 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. That incident sparked the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” and led to nationwide demonstrations against police use of deadly force.
This year, as in every one since 2014, mourners, sympathizers, activists, clergy and many others gathered early Wednesday on the site of the shooting, Canfield Drive in Ferguson. Some said they gathered to remember Brown’s life, support his family and voice their commitment to ongoing efforts for change.
Light drizzle peppered the crowd of more than 100. Like previous years, there were stuffed animal memorials; one stacked against a dull gray lamppost, another under a “Black Lives Matter” poster flapping in the early morning wind.
A woman wearing a “Ferguson is Everywhere” T-shirt squatted, scribbling “Mike Brown Means we have to fight Back” in pink chalk on damp pavement.
When a speaker asked the crowd how many were at that location on Canfield Drive the day of-or the day after-Mike Brown’s murder, at least half raised their hands.
Faces familiar to the annual commemoration-some high-profile, most not-greeted each other with energetic full-body hugs and warm pats on the back. Many were adorned in colorful, Afrocentric T-shirts that, combined, contributed to a powerful narrative:
“Never Forget…Mike Brown… I am the storm and War on Injustice,” some read.
Even T-shirts that did not honor Brown, like “Stranger Things” and Nike’s “Just Do it” somehow spoke to the sentiments of those gathered.
Like a movie score, chants shouted by the crowd, added lyrical relevance to the day:
“When I say ‘Mike Brown’ you say (it) means…” someone shouted to the group who responded: “Fight Back, Fight Back…we got to fight back!”
Others shouted: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom; It is our duty to win; We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
The Rev. Darryl Gray, Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones, Congresswoman Cori Bush, former State Rep, Bruce Franks, and activist Anthony Shahid were also in the crowd. Both Bush and Franks-who once was a street rapper- have credited Mike Brown as the impetus for their political careers.
On the 8th anniversary of Brown’s Death, last year, Bush wrote:
“The police killing of Michael Brown is what propelled me and many others into lives dedicated to building a world where Mike would not have been taken from us.”
Speakers, some in town for the 62nd Progressive National Baptist Convention, spoke to the power of the day. Rev. WillieDwayneFrancoisIII of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pleasantville NJ, put the location of Mike Brown’s killing in historical perspective:
“The movement of liberation was sparked by this man’s life,” the pastor stated, adding: “The same way we say Montgomery (Alabama) was ground zero for the civil rights movement, this is ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Rev. Nelson B. Rivers,Director of Religious Affairs for Al Sharpton’s National Action Networks’ (NAN) congratulated young people for their sustained resilience.
“I was excited and proud that you would not be silenced and would not conform to what is acceptable,” Rivers said. “If police can do that then acceptability has to change, and you helped change it.”
The morning event was a precursor to an evening gala for “The Chosen For Change” organization founded in late 2014 by Mike Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr. and his wife Cal Brown. The ambitious goal of the gala is to raise $500,000 towards the establishment of a community Center and an annual retreat, according to a press statement.
Brown Sr. stood stoically behind speakers wearing a T-shirt with a drawing of his son’s face on it. He answered sorrowfully yet wistfully when asked what the day meant to him:
“It means a lot that people are still coming out and showing love for what they believe in,” Brown answered. “The biggest thing for me is the unity of it all…just seeing Black folk and people from all types of cultures in one little space well, it means a lot.”
Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation, stood on the outskirts of the crowd with fingers pressed hard against her cheek. When asked how long she thinks people will continue showing up in the name of ‘Mike Brown, Talve responded affirmatively:
“Until it changes. Until it changes.”
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