It’s hard to believe that in a little over 2 months, it will be the one-year anniversary of the passing of Sandra Bland. On July 13th, 2015, Sandra Bland, a college educated, confident woman and member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., who used her social media platforms to spread unity and knowledge, became another victim of police brutality. Like many other victims of police brutality, the media and social media users have tried to justify her death, even starting a obnoxious rumor that Sandra took her own life. Activists, black-owned news outlet and of course black twitter took a stand and defended Sandra’s honor, question the justice system, and many have started a campaign seeking justice for Sandra. Sandra’s family, of course was at the forefront of seeking justice for Sandra.
As a millennial who has lived through 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Jena 6, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, and countless acts of violence in Chicago, my emotions when news first broke about Sandra Bland were numbs. My initial response wasn’t of sadness, but more of anger, questioning, and answer seeking. The first details and report of the case didn’t add up, so I knew this was another case of discrimination. I knew the families of these people deserved justice and the world deserves to know the truth. When I found out Sandra’s family is from Chicago (and is still located here), it really hit home for me; the same way Rekia Boyd’s death struck a nerve with me. While I did get a chance to see the parents and families of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown when I attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, in Washington, D.C., I never met any family members of Sandra Bland, and I vaguely saw them in the media. That changed, thankfully, earlier this year.
On February 5th, 2016, I had the opportunity to hear Sharon Cooper, Sandra Bland’s sister, speak at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about the case and what the family plans to do in the future. Cooper also spoke about the media manipulates and twist stories, and what people can do to fight against injustice. This was a night I wouldn’t forget; it’s one thing hear about victims of police brutality and racial profiling and their families, but to see the family members in person, and to hear what they have to say, it made Sandra’s story more relatable, and it made me see that these are lives being taken away, these aren’t just people you can put in the headline of your story.
That night, after Sharon Cooper spoke, I got a chance to not only meet Sharon, but I also had the opportunity speak with Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing to make it seem like I was making her out to be a celebrity, but I was so interested to hear what she had to say. It’s not everyday you get to hear the family’s side of the story. My mother, being the strong, black, and sassy black women she is, approached Ms. Reed-Veal, and just started talking to her. What I thought would be a short conversation, ended up lasting for about 20 to 30 minutes, maybe more. The more my mom talked to her, the more I realized Sandra’s mother and sisters are truly down-to-earth. When my mom introduced me to Ms. Reed-Veal, I was still a little nervous, I’ll admit, but when I went in for a handshake, she went in for hug. Hugging her, was like hugging my mom, or hugging a family member. Then, when she started asking me questions, I wasn’t ready (haha), but somewhere I lost my nerves. I felt this new mission was set upon me. I felt the definition of strength. I felt Sandra’s spirit.
Fast forward to April. I was at the Black Women’s Expo, helping my mother and her friend with their booth. I was passing around flyers, and networking, when a man stopped me.
“Hey, what you got there? You can’t be passing out flyers and not give us one,” he chuckled. I turned around, laughed, and walked over to the table to hand him and a woman a flyer.
‘Hey baby how you doing?” a woman said cheerfully. I looked up, and before I could even say hello I realized, it was Sandra’s mother. I was astonished that she remembered me. I was not expecting her to recognize me at all. We started to talk again, and catch up, and she told me about the booth she had, and that she was speaking later on about the case and what we can do to seek justice. I was so proud of her. I went to the booth, took a picture of it, told me mother that Ms. Reed-Veal was here, and I went to her seminar. She wasn’t shy about answering any questions (unless it was legal then she tried to answer it the best she could). She told us details that the media didn’t tell us (not that I expected them to). She shared laughs, was serving attitude, and poured her heart out. Some members of the audience even shared their thoughts and views of the case, even those who knew or have worked with Sandra. The seminar ended in prayer, which is exactly what we needed after hearing how much the family had been through. We gathered in a circle, and prayed. Everyone was struck with emotion. I’m not so much of a religious person, and I can count on my hands how many times I’ve cried in the past six years, but even during that prayer circle, something came over me. I got struck with emotion a little (I had to keep myself together because I was working the event). Once again, I felt Sandra’s spirit. She was there. After the prayer circle, we went to the conference. When I walked out the room, I couldn’t be happier to see black mothers with their children.
Meeting Geneva Reed-Veal and hearing her talk about the Sandra Bland, taught me so much. Ms. Reed-Veal taught me to wake up, smile, and stay strong, even when it feels like the world is against you. Ms. Reed-Veal taught me to use negativity and pain to build a platform so others don’t have to struggle the way you did. Ms. Reed-Veal is the best example of a black woman’s strength, a mother’s love, and of course #BlackGirlMagic.
Geneva Reed-Veal, Happy Mother’s Day.