Before Camille Okonkwo heard Sandra Bland’s story, she didn’t think she’d ought to speak with her mother about potential interactions with the police. She was merely concered about her younger brothers’ safety.
“When Sandra Bland happened, it turned out the primary, more prominent cases of a black woman who has been killed in the encounter with police,” she said. “I realized it could actually happen to me too.”
When Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper, and Michael Brown Sr., Michael Brown’s father, arrived at the University of Florida to show their stories, Okonkwo joined about 70 other students to concentrate. Bland is discovered hanged from a Texas jail cell in July 2015. Brown was fatally shot by an officer after allegedly robbing a convenience store, and his death sparked protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
As a part of Black History Month, the University of Florida Black Student Union brought Cooper and Brown to campus to lead a discussion about their family, police brutality and criminal justice reform. Ashley Aristide, BSU president, said after months of coordinating schedules, she was glad to have two prominent speakers who could spark a major conversation.
“A wide range of events have happened to people in our community that are not necessarily just,” she said.
The talk was led by Gwendolyn Simmons, a UF assistant professor of religion and faculty member from the women’s studies department.
Brown said since his son’s death in 2014, day-to-day is a huge struggle.
“I just drop to my knees and order some help to receive through my day,” he explained.
Over two years later, he was quoted saying he along with his family are still fighting civil legal battles for justice for his son. “Money’s not gonna bring Mike back,” he said.
Brown had two suggestion for kids who wants to see improvement in the criminal justice system: “Stand up.”
Students snapped their fingers in agreement.
“We have nobody backing us,” he was quoted saying. “So we must back ourselves.”
Cooper said these times of year is specially difficult because Bland’s birthday is within February. She would have just turned 30.
“Sandy perished on July 13. The previous day, July 12, I had been a regular, old person,” she said.
To honor her sister’s life, Cooper speaks at universities five to Ten times each year.
“The reason we must speak out is simply because immediately, when something happens to a black or brown person i am instantaneously criminalized,” she said. “And the question becomes what did he or she do to cause their own individual demise.”
Before her sister’s death, she said she viewed police brutality as being a black male issue. ?When a touch cam video showed her sister’s encounter, she learned it may occur to women too.
“In accessory saying what they are we hear sometimes, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, there are here her name also,” she said. She didn’t mean just her sister’s name, which has been widely sought out on social media after her death.
“There can also be ladies who, basically said their names several of chances are you’ll know them, but some of you might not exactly,” she said.
Cooper encouraged UF students to live informed and stay active in eliminating for causes they care about.
“The fight, as it works with but not only police brutality but social justice specially, is gonna[sic] be fought for the grassroots level,” she told the competition. “You are designed for so much more than you understand.”
In an interview with WUFT News following the event, Cooper said she would like individuals to are aware that her sister is a lot more than just a hashtag.
“Sandy had been a beloved daughter, cherished sister and friend whose charisma, tenacity and unapologetic confidence thrives on while in the hearts of people who miss her dearly,” she wrote within a email.
Through self-care, storytelling and devoting herself to social change, she said my wife managed to transform her pain into purpose.
“I encourage students to learn the why behind what keeps the citizens with their community up [at] night and search tirelessly for ways to get familiar with change, regardless of if the efforts are small or big.”