By Nehemiah D. Frank
Today marks the anniversary of Terence’s murder, September 16, 2016. And it truly has been a year from “pain to purpose.” I can honestly tell you that I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Because for the last 12 months, I have learned to experience the full weight of the black man’s burden this society places on us.
Terence’s death hit me in a different place than Tamir Rice’s, Freddie Gray’s, and Travon Martin’s. Because Terence was someone from my community; he was someone’s dad. His father knew my grandfather. His twin sister was on the same sorority line with my cousin. The reality of Terence’s death just hit too close to home for me.
I remember becoming so angry and outraged when I saw Terence murdered senselessly on the evening news. I wanted to break something but buried deep in my heart and in my thoughts were the 26 innocent little black possibilities that would sit in the classroom that very next morning for me to teach. So, I had to suck it up and toughen up and show my resilience so they could learn how to be resilient. But before that next day, I will admit, I was in pain. In fact, fountains poured from my face as I grieved in solitude for that family and for that brother.
Little did I know a few months later I’d be grieving for one of my own student’s situations. The Tulsa Police Department had caused the death of that particular student’s father; it get’s worse, a few days later my student’s mother passed from a terminal illness. Two parents gone, less than a week. It was too much. But our two schools, one sitting in the Jazz Hall of Fame and the other just across the bridge, rallied around the student and the family, and we were resilient. But resilience doesn’t take away the burden.
The most disappointing time came just a few weeks later, after attending a funeral with two caskets. On Wednesday, May 17, 2016, a cherry-picked jury was practically forced to acquit Officer Betty Shelby on all counts for the murder of Terence Crutcher. The color-line, of injustice, had never been so clear. I sat in that courtroom and re-experienced the worst kind of pain a human could feel, the pain of entire community grieving simultaneously. It was the most pain I had felt since September 11, 2001.
“Not guilty,” the judge said.
But the worst part of that day was seeing what appeared to be a brief sense of hopelessness in the eyes of those I hold in high esteem: Attorney Demario Solomon, Attorney Benjamin Crump, Bill and Kandy White, and Dr. Tiffany Crutcher.
And once again I had to face my students who had become my babies because I knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their worries and I had even attended a funeral with them. I have seen tears in all of their faces.
I feared for my boys the most. Because, the day after that not guilty verdict was the last day of school, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to protect them over the long stretch of the summer months. So, I volunteered at EduRec, a community center up north for a month. A few of my students were in attendance.
Lastly, nothing will ever compare to the sound of Dr. Tiffany Crutcher’s cries for her brother. Because in hearing her wail for her brother’s life were the millions of ancestors – black mothers and sisters – who traveled on the sound wave of her cries, and I humbly accepted their call. The call to be responsible and be brave in carrying as much of the load as possible, the load of stepping into the fire and challenging this unjust system. Upon hearing her screams, and the cries of the other black women that evening, I knew then, the full weight of a system that has failed us since 1921.
I started the Black Wall St. Times, as a means of organizing, informing, and motivating my people. As a canvas to rebrand our beloved north Tulsa. For that reason, I don’t mind telling the black man that he is beautiful, and I don’t mind reminding the black woman that she is magical – so much so, civilization could not have, ever, existed without her. We will record our history and challenge the oppressors. Terence, your family’s pain has called us all to a higher purpose. In the end, know that your life shocked the foundations of this city and America.