Chalk figures bring attention to black shootings in America
A new group on campus, called REAL: Re-Establishing Active Liberty, initiated a campaign on Sept. 28 which included drawing chalk outlines on campus and sharing stories of black victims of violence to raise awareness. Flyers were distributed, describing shootings of black youths, with a brief synopsis of each person’s death and last words as well.
In an interview with the Justice, five of the founding members, Shemira Pennyman ’15, Malika Imhotep ’15, Aliya Nealy ’15, Jhanezia Stevens ’16 and Khadijah Lynch ‘16, discussed how the creation of REAL came about. Pennyman explained that a town hall vigil was held on Sept. 4 in memory of the lives lost to institutional racism in the United States and of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
At the vigil, based on efforts to be more proactive, attendees who were interested being a part of a new movement, calling for more action in terms of dealing with racial social injustices, were encouraged to sign up.
According to Imhotep, at their first meeting, about 20 to 26 people attended. At that meeting, REAL was founded, and they began to think of future events to further the on campus awareness of recent social injustice toward the black community.
“Talking is important, but action is ideal. Our goal in forming this group and establishing a presence on campus is to make people listen and aware and to talk about things that are uncomfortable,” Pennyman said. The mission statement reads, “We will inform, educate, and act as mediums to move from discourse to direct, feasible action. We recognize the detrimental social, political and economic ramifications of Institutionalized racism as a result of White Supremacy. We believe in the power of unity and alliance to create poignant change on our campus and the broader community.”
They explained that they compiled a list of 40 names of black men, women and children. The list was compiled by choosing stories that they thought people would respond to and best understand. They then chose to print fliers about and draw chalk outlines of 20 of those 40 victims. “Our goal is to challenge Brandeis and the campus population to take accountability. It’s less about having specific responses and more about dealing head-on with the anti-blackness on campus and the structured racism which extends from centuries of oppression,” said Imhotep.
On one of the flyers, the story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer on Jan. 1 2009, is printed. In San Francisco, Officer Johannes Mehserle was called to the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station because of a supposed fight.
When Officer Mehserle arrived on the scene, he detained several passengers including Grant. According to the flyer, Officer Mehserle claims that he meant to subdue Grant by using his Taser device but instead pulled out his service pistol and shot Grant in the back, killing him. According to the flyer, Grant’s last words were “You shot me! You shot me!”
“We want to promote an on-campus focus of what’s happening outside of campus and show that crimes have an affect on us and the entire Brandeis community,” Pennyman said.
Until this interview with the Justice, the group had chosen to remain anonymous, mainly because members did not want students to automatically categorize the issue as “black,” said Imhotep and Pennyman, both of whom are heavily involved with other black student organizations on campus. When asked about any specific racist incidents on campus, Nealy explained that no one had ever vehemently acted racist but that she felt people tended to act a certain way. She explained, “When people see TYP [Myra Kraft ’64 Transitional Year Program] or Posse, they automatically see black.”
Stevens added that “[t]here is such a lack of knowledge of black life on campus. I’ll be sitting in a sociology class, and when discussing different races, I feel as though I’m the token black person.”
“We hope to provide an outlet on campus that would help people engage in black lives, not just black culture that everyone is exposed to,” said Pennyman. “We hope to combat the global disregard for police brutality and to actively engage in blatant responses to the immense injustice that black people face today.”
The founding members of REAL said that they do not have any plans for the group to become chartered or recognized by the Student Union in the future.