I remember when I heard of the death of Michael Brown who was shot by a Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer exactly one year ago today. His bloody body laid in the middle of the street for four hours before receiving help. I wondered if Michael Brown would still be alive today if he hadn’t been shot and left for dead. I remember looking at my beautiful black sons that night as they slept. I wept until my knees gave way. I do not think I have stopped weeping as I continue to be imbued with reports of black and brown bodies dying at the hands of police officers month after month.
One year later, I am still grieving and praying. I am still tired. I am now joined into a call with my sisters who work alongside me in the anti-violence movement. We held each other as we listened over the phone. Then my friend Corine Reed gets our attention. She says it’s time for peace. That word, peace, was the divine pause I needed. I think it is what the world needs right now – PEACE.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my friend Corine Read of South St. Louis Missouri. She is the founding executive director of We Believe Inc. a private 501c3 foundation that supports victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence; that believes all people can live without violence. Her Christian faith was her anchor in getting through this last year as she heard God’s call for “A Day of Peace.”
QH: Tell me where you were one year ago on August 9, 2014, when you heard about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown?
CR: I was at home. My daughter came home from work and told me about Michael Brown’s death. My daughter said “Momma, did you see this on Facebook?” Then we watched the news. My feelings, as a mother – I was so distraught. My heart went out to [Michael Brown’s mother]. I felt sick. The look on my husband’s face was of disgust and anger. We have four sons and a daughter. My daughter and I were in tears. Though one of my sons was not surprised it happened. It was like something he expected to happen. Then was the riots. I was not fearful of rioters.
You could hear the frustration in the protestors’ voices demanding an answer. Their frustration was a result of being tired of police justifying what they did; tired of being accustomed to police justifying killing us. It makes us sick and numb.
QH: What changed since then?
CR: Seeing people come together of different ethnic and racial groups, demanding justice. There are some changes in the police department. As a result of the DOJ investigation, they found the police was actually targeting African Americans. Different communities came up and demanded change. Voices can be heard across this nation (Black lives matter).
QH: How far away is South St. Louis from Ferguson?
CR: About a 30 minute drive.
QH: What was going on in Ferguson and in South St. Louis where you are from?
CR: Protesters came also into South St. Louis. There was a huge police presence. You see division in the way people are treated and the way people reacted. But you know what got me? It was the monks. To see them stand up made me realize that it shouldn’t matter what your faith or religious practice is, your heart should tell you when something is wrong.
QH: How has this year been for you bearing witness to the killings of black and brown bodies?
CR: Sick. Angry. Really angry. I attended the Women of Color National Call to Action Conference this past May and I saw black and brown people of different nationalities all having the same story. I struggled with being angry, even through reading the scripture, I struggled. I want us to live in peace. But we also need justice.
QH: Do you think crime has risen? And if so, has this been due to a lack of police involvement in community or due to more police presence?
CR: Yes crime has risen, I don’t think it matters if it is a lack of police involvement or police presence; it’s how you are treated by those who are called to protect you. Over 100 people this year have been killed in the city and county of St. Louis Missouri and the number continues to rise. On a spiritual level, when people have no hope they go on a destructive path, but some of the killings have no witnesses to who is killing us. It’s easy to say black on black crime without a clue.
QH: What brought the affirmation to have a National Day of Peace?
RC: The Women of Color Network National Call to Action Conference. I saw people coming together and just care for each other. Also one of the women, Kim Dartez from Arizona, encouraged me.
QH: What is your mission with the National Day of Peace?
RC: The mission is to connect communities.
QH: Have you been in contact with the Brown family and if so how do they feel about the campaign for A Day of Peace?
RC: I have a friend who is related to the Brown family but does not speak for the mother or father. She thought it was good idea and because it is not only about Michael Brown but all that may look like him.
QH: How do you feel about calling A Day of Peace on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in the midst of so much violence still taking place in black and brown communities?
RC: Yes. I am still angry because the killing continues to happen. But God called me to do this. Matthew 5:9 came to me.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.…(Matthew 5:8-10).
I have always been a peace maker. I want to see God.
QH: How would you like others to be in solidarity with you in A Day of Peace? How can others take part?
RC: I want people to show what peace looks like to them. Use social media, twitter #ADayofPeace2015, walk in the streets and say “peace” to somebody. Peace to me is people treating each other with respect and justice.
QH: As a woman of faith, how has your faith influenced your work and A Day of Peace?
RC: I have become stronger and found my voice again. It has me stronger. I trust in God.
QH: What would you like people to know about St. Louis and Ferguson?
RC: The community is trying hard to come together. People are responding to the needs of all people of Ferguson.
QH: Thank you Corine for you strength and allowing me to interview you.
RC: Thank you.
Corine Reed would like to invite all people in A Day of Peace. Show peace in your home town, back yard, living room or place of spiritual practice. The Day of Peace is being sponsored by New Journey Baptist Church of South St. Louis Missouri. You can also join in solidarity by using the hash tag #ADayofPeace2015 or going to the face book page.
Qumyka Rasheeda Howell is a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. She is an educator, writer, documentarian, and a non-profit leader working at the intersection of art, inter-spirituality and activism in the NYC area. She is a PhD student studying at The School of Human and Organizational Development at Fielding Graduate University. She works with organizations and interfaith communities across the country that focus on social change, community empowerment , advocacy and the elimination of the sexual violence culture. She is the Founding Executive Director of Innocence Stolen Innocent Still (I.S.I.S.) Foundation, a dual sexual assault and domestic violence organization. She is also the innovator behind I.S.I.S. Foundation’s multi award winning Art eNergy Karma Healing (A.N.K.H.) programs that has empowered survivors and facilitate art and healing retreats for survivors across the country. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She is a lecturer for the City University of New York Research Foundation. Qumykas’ hope is to live in a world that no longer tolerates sexual violence. Her life’s journey is to seek opportunities to forward her mission through art, contemplative thought and social change for all of humanity. You can connect with her on twitter.