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#SelmaIsNow and Not Forgetting

Posted by Elizabeth Nguyen // March 13th 2015 // Issues and Trends, Mosaic, Social Justice, Stories and Voices // one comment

Called to Keep Memory Alive

Posters by the bus stop, Boston, MA. John Crawford III on the far left. Photo by Elizabeth Nguyen.

Posters by the bus stop, Boston, MA. John Crawford III on the far left. Photo by Elizabeth Nguyen.

Beavercreek, Ohio is where I learned to drive in a gold minivan with a dent in the side, learned to love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how to pass chemistry tests. It’s also the suburb where John Crawford III, a young black man, picked a toy gun off of shelf in Walmart, held it harmlessly in his hands and was shot and killed by police; it’s where those officers were cleared of any wrongdoing, where students occupied the police department in response, and where the struggle for humanity, justice, and healing is being lived out as it is all over the nation, among the landmarks of my high school years.

We know about this struggle – we’ve been writing op-eds, showing up at malls, at brunches, in police stations and on interstates since this bloody summer. We chanted and rallied and you, my fellow progressives, my dear non-black colleagues in solidarity, my people of faith, my beloved Unitarian Universalists (UU), we said that we wouldn’t forget. We wrote names on our signs, in our hearts, and we said that though this happens every day, though it wasn’t new at all, the killing of black and brown people by police, that we would fight and organize with all the newness we could find, with all the skill and fierceness and love and resilience that our ancestors and elders taught us. We said that it was different this time, different than with Trayvon or Oscar or Rodney.

When I visited Beavercreek for Christmas, I went to a vigil that’s been held every week since John Crawford III was shot in the pet aisle .36 seconds after cops asked him to drop that toy pellet gun.

I’ve learned that a complete human blink takes .3 or .4 seconds.

Blink. .36 seconds.

Imagine that you are on the phone with a loved one, in the pet aisle, distracted by weird dog toys and ads for cat food. Blink.

That December vigil was small and cold. I saw members of my childhood congregation, Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A few people honked their horns supportively. Others rolled down their windows, risking a blast of cold air to yell – “Go home!”

“I am home,” I wanted to yell back. I’m home for Christmas in a country where people are dying from racism. I’m home in this 89% white suburb where my multiracial family made our lives. Where we celebrate Tet with takeout from Little Saigon, bring plates of Christmas cookies to our neighbors. Beavercreek is where my dad plays tennis and I took ballet classes and now where my mom goes to city council meetings and protests.

The owner of a local bookstore brought by hot coffee and cider. We stamped our feet and I learned a new song, “Which side are you on, my people… Martin King was a freedom fighter and he taught us how to fight.”

This past Saturday, March 7th, we honored the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, of that Bloody Sunday. Our leaders marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge, our president called us to action; #selmanow, we said. Even as we added Tony Robinson’s name to list – the list that now includes Jessie Hernández and Darrien Hunt and…

After Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders and other movement leaders met with President Barack Obama back in December he wrote in the Guardian, “Only time will tell whether the stories of Renisha, Tamir, Mike, Eric, John, Aiyana and others will shape the course of history in policy, practice or culture.” Now is that time. Time to turn to our co-workers, our family, our friends, our communities of worship, our activist circles and the people at the park, on the corner, in the bar, and remind each other that we said we wouldn’t forget. We said this time would be different.


Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen at the Christmas Eve 2014 protest at the Beavercreek Mall. Photo credit: Gail Cyan.

On Christmas Eve, back in Beavercreek, I went to the mall across the street from the Walmart where, in the blink of his eye, John Crawford lost his life. About 70 of us gathered to sing and chant and say the names of unarmed black and brown people who have died at the hands of police. As we sang, the police arrested a dozen of us, on Christmas eve, dragging Ohio Student Association organizers on the ground and cuffing people standing in the parking lot – including a UU from my home church.

Beavercreek, you didn’t just teach me how to drive, you taught me to love justice and fight for it. You made me into a preacher, a minister, a teacher and an organizer.

And as the people of Beavercreek, and nearby Dayton, of Greene County and all of Ohio keep raising their voices, keep taking their fight to Beavercreek City Council, asking for implicit bias training, delivering hundreds of letters to U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart of the Department of Justice for the Southern District of Ohio, I’m learning a new lesson.

I know about Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I know how to pass chemistry tests. Now I’m learning how not to forget. Even when it’s freezing, even when there’s five people at the vigil, even when the news cycle has passed you by.

We said we wouldn’t forget. Remember?

About the Author

Elizabeth Nguyen is the Leadership Development Associate for Youth and Young Adults of Color at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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