BALTIMORE, Maryland (January 30, 2016) — Sharon Cooper spoke to a packed house at Red Emma’s on Saturday evening about her sister Sandra Bland, who died in police custody last July. The event “Be a Voice, Not an Echo” was sponsored by UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Taharka Brothers Ice Cream.
The importance of everyday citizens controlling and reporting their own narratives was the major theme of the evening, as the majority of questions and answers pointed to the problem of misinformation in mainstream media. Ms. Cooper told of how reporters distorted facts about her sister, often without speaking to the family. Audience comments highlighted the glaring negativity in news stories about Black individuals and referenced the centuries-old false narrative of black criminality found in media and entertainment.
Countering the falsifications surrounding her sister’s story, Ms. Cooper presented a video made for the Sandra Bland Diversity Institute (by LeVern Danley III) that included some of Sandra Bland’s own words and images from her Sandy Speaks video series.
“We are expecting that if we are told something and if we are fed something, we are to take it as fact; and that is just not true,” said Ms. Cooper. She went on to compare mainstream media’s misrepresentations of her sister to the misleading coverage of Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. “Control the narrative,” Ms. Cooper said, “There is nobody who can speak up for you and speak in your place.”
About the moment she decided to take control of this narrative, she says, “I realized very, very quickly — because this is at the time when the social media traction started picking up — so I realized very quickly: if we are silent now, we will always be an echo and not the voice.”
Sandra Bland’s mother also attended, and her powerful words brought the program to a close. Geneva Reed-Veal spoke of the public perception of her family’s strength as they continue to grieve for her daughter and to fight for justice. Using a comparison of the five fingers on one hand to individuals each using their own means to stand against injustice, Ms. Reed-Veal stressed that change is created by all of our efforts, whether it be a letter written to officials, a poem recited, social media activism, a song, or other means. She has heard the victim-blaming declarations that her daughter would still be alive if she had behaved differently. Instead of asking why Sandy didn’t “shut up,” Ms. Reed-Veal wants us to ask, “Why don’t we wake up?” She also implores us to learn the life stories of the FIVE OTHER WOMEN BESIDES SANDRA BLAND WHO DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY, JUST IN JULY 2015.
Worth mentioning is the event’s opening poetic piece “From Sojourner, to Ida, to Sandy, We Must Speak” by a UMBC doctoral student known locally as the poet Lyrical Tay. She began, “Who would have thought that self-love was revolutionary?” and elicited positive, energetic responses from the crowd as she declared the need for Black women to be “Unapologetically Black,” as Sandra Bland revealed herself to be in the Sandy Speaks videos.
The event was led by the efforts of UMBC professor Dr. Kimberly Moffitt. Dr. Moffitt was Sharon Cooper’s very influential Africana Studies professor at DePaul University some years ago.
UMBC will host another event on its campus this Monday, February 1st, entitled “Black Lives Matter: More Than a Hashtag! It’s a Movement!” A panel and breakout discussions will feature activists Makayla Gilliam-Price, Tariq Toure’, Lady Brion (also performing), Ericka Alston, and Nicole Cousin-Gossett. The moderator will be Lisa Gray of UMBC Student Life’s Mosaic Center for Culture and Diversity, which is co-sponsoring with B’PAR (Baltimore Participatory Action Research), a UMBC graduate student organization. Flyer below. Twitter: @BPAR_UMBC