Some of us went to Michael Brown’s memorial instead. It was Sunday morning and the church used as headquarters—St. John’s UCC—planned a special service to commemorate Michael’s execution. It was our last day. And though I appreciate good church, I knew I couldn’t leave Ferguson without seeing the place Michael was slain. On our way to the memorial we ran into a crew of young brothers chillin’ in what appeared to be a makeshift campsite. I saw them the day before: first at the National march, then at the rally outside the Police Department, and finally turning up at the community BBQ. I heard them tell stories about the fabric of their lives in Ferguson before their neighborhood became a media hashtag. I listened to them make connections between failing education and rising incarceration. I watched them dance, and argue about who had a better jump shot. I had only known (of) them for all but a few hours, but they already felt like family.
I rode to Ferguson with #BlackLivesMatter: a national movement that, in the words of one of its lead organizers Darnell Moore, serves as a “response to a tragic history of racial supremacy—one that renders black life valueless.” It’s this same history that claimed the lives of millions of Mike Browns—from Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin to Tarika Wilson and Renisha McBride. Indeed it is a history that haunts the very idea of a “post-racial” America. As a recent report reveals: a black person is killed by police or someone acting as such every 28 hours. In the spirit of the Freedom Riders challenging State-sanctioned segregation in the early 60s, I rode to Ferguson to challenge State-sanctioned anti-black violence today. I had seen enough pictures. I had read enough articles. I had to go, if only to bear witness, if only to hear the voices lost beneath the noise of political opportunists, concerned celebrities and outdated “race leaders.”
“I’ont got time to watch TV, we too busy watching the police,” Travis told me in his native St. Louis tongue. Travis is part of a ten-member youth-led community organization fighting police brutality and systemic racism in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area. They call themselves the Lost Voices. “It’s important for us to be out here and be a voice for the youth,” they tweeted. While the Lost Voices have received little to no mainstream media attention, they represent the heart of a burgeoning community-based movement primarily organized by youth. The group formed the night of Michael’s murder. And they’ve been camping out in a vacant parking lot ever since. When I asked why the campsite, they responded: “If we don’t fight for ourselves, no one else will.”
In addition to the camp out, Lost Voices is involved in a range of actions aimed at transforming the Ferguson Police Department, as well as eradicating the epidemics of police brutality and anti-black violence throughout the country. They’ve hosted voter registration drives. Though several of the members are too young to vote themselves, they insist that “voting is part of the solution.” They’ve met with local leaders, including Mayor James Knowles III and Chief of Police Thomas Jackson, to deliver demands and demand justice. Yet, like many black youth across the country, Lost Voices recognizes the limits of electoral politics. So they meet every night at 7pm on the corner of W. Florisant and Canfield to march. (Several members have literally marched holes in their shoes, and two have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience). They educate the community, especially local youth, about their civil rights and our political history. In the tradition of the Black Panther Party, they watch—or “police”—the police. And they do it all in khakis and white Ts: the same outfit Michael wore the day he was killed. They consider it their “uniform” and “wear it in remembrance of him.” But what’s most notable to me, amid all their courageous work, is the spirit by which they organize. These young men and women (two members are female) are radically redefining what it means to be “about that life” for a hip-hop generation disillusioned by the American dream and its colorblind discourse. They are infusing new political life into old order politics, remixing traditional organizing tactics with new visions of building beloved community.
If the modern lynching of Michael Brown wasn’t enough, then the events that followed confirmed what many black youth already knew: America is not “colorblind.” While the militarization of police was on full display, it was an older symbol of racist violence that shook me to my core. Before leaving for the memorial, one of the more outspoken members, Dante, showed me a long rope carefully tied in a manner I was familiar with only through pictures. It was a noose. He explained that he found it lying next to him when he woke up a few days before. And it was in this moment that I realized why I was there in the first place. “When your body itself is your struggle,” as the group explains, “we don’t have a choice BUT to fight!”
Of course mainstream media will not cover this story. It does not serve its interests. Airing the aftermath of an unarmed black teenager executed by a white police officer boosts ratings. Highlighting a local black youth-led community organization protesting not only the murder of Michael Brown but the entire system of white racism, does not. Why? Because it runs up against the logic of white racial supremacy that says black youth do not care about our lives—let alone our communities. The Lost Voices completely contradict this narrative. They demonstrate that black youth do care. We care about our lives, our communities and our collective future! But more than care, we are willing and ready to fight until justice rolls down like Michael’s blood did in the street. As the Lost Voices declare: “This is just the beginning. [We’re] turning this moment into a movement. We won’t stop. Our lives and children’s lives depend on it.”
You can support the Lost Voices by sending supplies (hand warmers, military tents, thermals, hats, gloves, totes, tarps, socks blankets, canope), gift cards, money and greeting cards to: Lost Voices 225 St. Louis Ave #11129 St. Louis, MO 63135 According to their twitter account: “Funds raised will be used to help sustain the movement, from day-today expenses to bail support to our educational and empowerment actions.”
Nyle Fort is an minister, community organizer, and freelance writer based in Newark, NJ. Fort is an alum of Morehouse College and Princeton Theological Seminary. He has featured articles in The Guardian, Gawker, Socialism and Democracy, Harvard’s Journal of African-American Public Policy, The Feminist Wire, and more. He is the newest member of the literary collective “Brothers Writing to Live.”