Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Ferguson Effect: Two Activists Recall The Day They Were Changed Forever

Tef Poe

*Last year the nation erupted in upheaval over the failure of a Ferguson Grand Jury to indict Darren Wilson for gunning down 18-year-old Mike Brown, Jr. on August 9, 2014.

For many who were already familiar with the realities of white supremacy the grand jury’s decision didn’t come as a surprise, this writer included in that number. However, despite television images of burning buildings and police in military gear patrolling the streets of an American town, there were a great deal of positives that came out of that day.

Those interested in knowing were finally given an idea of what institutionalized racism looked like when the Department of Justice investigation that stemmed from this shameful affair revealed generational policing practices aimed at Ferguson’s poor Black residents; from the greater likelihood of being stopped by police, to the higher probability of having one’s vehicle searched during a traffic stop, to a greater likelihood of an officer using excessive force, to the racist de facto debtors prison that poor Black residents are ultimately thrown in for failure to pay petty fines like jaywalking-which were also disproportionately given to Black residents.

Verily, the sun did shine the light of truth on dark deeds that day.

But the only people who were enlightened were those who cared to look into the light.  Ferguson residents Tef Poe and Kayla Reed were looking on that day.  Each was living their respective lives as most young people in America do. And one would hardly be able to blame them if they continued living their lives in such a manner.

After all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are indicative of a certain amount of selfishness inherent in the very fabric of the American experiment. However, August 9, 2014 saw Mike Brown, Jr. gunned down at the hands of a callous police officer. That day sparked a dormant hunger in the hearts and minds of many. A hunger for change, a hunger for justice and a hunger for respect.

Kayla Reed
Kayla Reed

Since then Ms. Reed has become an integral field organizer for the Organization for Black Struggle-a community-based group active in St. Louis for 35 years. Since the death of Mike Brown, Jr and the manner in which the Ferguson municipality and the state of Missouri mobilized against the protesters, Reed stepped up her efforts to include “Occupy SLU” and “Think It’s a Game.”

Recently I was invited to a round table of journalists moderated by Raqiyah Mays of WBLS FM to discuss how both Tef Poe and Kayla have been impacted by their yearlong sojourn into community activism and organization. These videos capture the intimate discussion I had with both Tef and Kayla following the round table.

Tef Poe went through a similar awakening as Kayla Reed. The hip-hop artist turned political activist was on tour at the time of the shooting death of Mike Brown. He immediately returned home and hit the streets of Ferguson. Though he may not have considered a life in activism that day, his actions were those of a man with great love for his community and great disdain for the status quo. He co-founded the community organization Hands Up United and diligently works with Books and Breakfast and a myriad of other community organizations.

Since his political awakening Tef Poe has traveled internationally to share the story of Ferguson and was a part of the Ferguson to Geneva delegation that went to the UN to testify about Ferguson’s human rights violations.

From August 7-10th, Ferguson will remember and reaffirm their mission.

Over the last year, the movement has made it clear that Ferguson is not unique. The struggle is not only national but international as well.

This weekend activists will invite you to Ferguson not only to remember Mike Brown, but also Sandra Bland, Cary Ball, Yvette Smith, Kajieme Powell,  Dontre Hamilton, Taneisha Anderson, Vonderrit Myers, those who answered the call to activism and others slain by police under questionable circumstances from across the nation. The full itinerary is below.


Ricardo A. Hazell began his career in journalism in 1996 as a Research Intern for the prestigious Editor & Publisher Co. His byline has appeared in The Root, Washington Post, Black Enterprise and he helped define culture within the African Diaspora as Senior Cultural Contributor at The Shadow League. Currently working on the semi-autobiographical novel "Remorse".



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