Detroit to Ferguson: Part 2
Social Activism and Healing Justice
By Violeta Donawa
Just several weeks ago, about a dozen Detroiters met at Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe to discuss the tragedy of the Mike Brown case. Mike Brown was an 18 year old Black youth from a small city called Ferguson outside of St. Louis, Missouri—a place that, honestly, many of us hadn’t heard of prior to Brown’s murder. We weren’t long lost extended relatives that moved North or family friends. We had no direct connection to this case outside of unjust Black death at the hands of systemic oppression being all too familiar. As such, a group of working class educators, healers, graduate students, alternative media makers, and former Quicken Loan employees fundraised and left on short notice to ensure that Brown’s loss wouldn’t only be a moment, but would help spark a movement.
The killing of Mike Brown reminded us Detroiters about the killings of our slain who made headlines like Renisha McBride & Aiyana Jones, and those who didn’t. Black solidarity meant that we saw ourselves in the families and friends of those who not only loss Mike Brown, but also Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, and countless others. Black solidarity meant coming together against state violence, systemic racism, and other forms of racialized oppression.
Although many expressed interest in the trip, just eight of us made it due to time constraints and limited resources. We figured out our living arrangements while on the road, half of us staying in a shared hotel with a friend of a friend and the other half staying with local activist, Reverend Osagyefo Sekou.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Ride (August 29th – September 1st) was organized by Patrice Cullors and Darnell Moore, two young, Black, and queer activists who ensured that all those coming from outside of Ferguson had relevant skills to assist the community, not to lead it. Also, they set the tone that this movement would be a safe space for ALL Black people. This meant that homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, classism, and other forms of marginalization would not be accepted in this space. To fight with Ferguson fully and healthily meant challenging our assumptions about acceptance, activism, and radical love of not just some Black people, but all of us. This entire initial conversation happened at St. John’s United Church of Christ when again upon short notice, Reverend Starsky Wilson opened his church doors for the Black Lives Matter riders. And here we had another element of diversity, interfaith-based social activism. The tone was truly set to activate all of the senses: intertwining social justice, human rights, & spirituality.
Community members, like the artist Tef Poe, informed us about the ways that liberal and conservative media had distorted narratives around Mike Brown and how the community responded to his killing. News media didn’t acknowledge the widespread civil disobedience and peaceful protests that existed since the first day. They didn’t mention how rival gangs called a truce to keep killer cops out of their neighborhoods. During Tef Poe’s account of police aggression against protesters, he explained to us the logistics of protecting ourselves from tear gas. So, we Detroiters eventually found a local store to purchase gear in case we were met with military force during the weekend.
Volunteers came from all US regions, as well as Africa. There was collective, intergenerational armor against state violence, advocating for the recognition of Black humanity, and calling for the indictment of Mike Brown’s murderer – Officer Darren Wilson.
Volunteers were separated by skill set, which meant I would spend a lot of my time away from the Detroit crew. As a healer & crisis counselor, I joined the group of doctors, mental health therapists, and spiritual workers. We were responsible for ensuring that those who marched, stayed as healthy as possible. From a healing justice framework, we understood that our passion to march and organize through changing weather conditions meant that our stress levels would rise, our immune systems were at risk of weakening, and that self-care needed to be thoroughly integrated into the movement. With this goal, we built a healing justice clinic inside of St. John’s Church. The clinic was headed up and inspired by SoularBliss’s “Harriet’s Apothecary” out of Brooklyn, NY.
The Black Lives Matters Healing Justice clinic was housed within the basement of St. John’s Church. We provided a venue to cradle and transmute our collective rage. It included stations for a variety of free services: counseling, massage therapy, homemade teas for sickness, essential oils for relaxation, dream pillow materials, and tarot readings. Although services were extremely important, so was the environment’s setting. Candles, incense, and sage filled the room. ‘Florida Water’ was sprinkled for cleansing and inviting our ancestors – African and Indigenous. It was beautiful. People came in for healing towards the end of the weekend to recharge and return to their homes. Like many other volunteers, the Detroiters returned with the intent of maintaining contact with Ferguson networks while also centering pressing issues in Detroit.
Black Lives Matter-Detroit has had three meetings thus far and plan to continue. Information on meetings can be found within our Facebook group called, “Black Lives Matter-Detroit” and on our Twitter page: @blmdet. We wish to continue creating inclusive environments that combat inequality while valuing our mental and emotional health in the process.
Some will attend the Ferguson October weekend and those who cannot, will support in other ways.