I filed this story during my reporting internship with The New Orleans Advocate below to my editor at my reporting internship last semester on Oct. 22, 2016. When it ran I shared a byline with a fellow reporter.
Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown looked out at on a took the stage at Xavier University of Louisiana during a Black Lives Matter Symposium that focused on education.
Her son could have been in college. But instead he was dead at 18.
“His life was cut short and he will never be able to attend college, which was his dream,” she told a room packed with students, professors, New Orleans residents, and attendees from across the region at the Oct. 21 keynote for the symposium at the university.
The 2-day symposium, put on by Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies was themed “Urban Education Matters.” In featuring Brown’s mother, the organizers hoped to examine how education disparities in African American communities affect outcomes for young black people.
Brown’s death by a police officer shooting on Aug. 9, 2014 triggered protests and riots in Ferguson, Mo. and the Black Lives Matter movement stayed in the national headlines.
He stole cigarettes from a nearby store on that fateful day. But his mother still believed he had a future. Brown had just graduated from high school and was going to attend college. To this day, his mother always imagines what his life would have been like.
McSpadden said she was not prepared for that tragic day that she replays in her mind constantly.
“As I went on break at 12 o’clock to take a breath, to catch my breath, my son was taking his last breath,” she said.
When she received the phone call of that her son had been shot, her immediate response was to get to him. At the scene of the shooting,the flashing lights from the multiple police cars signaled to her that there was a long road ahead of her.
“I ran down that long road, looking for one face and I never saw it, I never saw that face again until August 25th,” McSpadden said. She never received answers on what truly happened to her ‘baby boy’ except to be quiet and to calm down from the police. “I was numb for at least two weeks, maybe two months,” she said.
The media never truly captured her son’s essence, she said. She felt the coverage was negative, even some of it false, she said. The world had just learned his name because of a fatal police shooting of a young black male, shooting, she said. But Brown had a loving family that wanted to see him succeed in this society.
“They didn’t know the sacrifices and the compromises,” she said. “As I grew up in a neighborhood filled with Crips, Bloods, gangs, drugs,” she said of her upbringing. While McSpadden’s own childhood was rough, she insisted her son was not involved with violence and crime.
“I was proud to say that my son was never in a gang, he never had a fight at school and he did graduate on time two days after he turned 18,” she said. Education in Brown’s household was important since McSpadden said she didn’t have the chance to graduate from high school.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, he didn’t have a scholarship, but he had a diploma,” she said.
With her son’s death part of a national trend, McSpadden has joined forces with other mothers whose young black sons have been shot and killed, like Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, who spoke to New Orleans high school students at an event on Xavier’s campus on September 23 “In Saint Louis, last year we had over 200 murders, so I am one that represents thousands,” McSpadden said.
She speaks at events like the Xavier symposium because she is looking for hope.. “We are all searching for that one resolution for justice so we can have some peace,” she said. “I don’t know what tomorrow may bring but I know that each night I go to sleep there’s this pain and every morning I wake up with it”
What if Brown Made it to College?
If her son made it to college, his future could have been bright. So McSpadden told the crowd what he son was really like, the stories that didn’t make it on the headlines and across the globe.
Brown was quiet, and reserved in high school. He liked computers, making rap hip-hop beats and producing music. He was a visual person that perceived images differently, she said. Brown wanted to play sports, mainly football. But he couldn’t. He suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, she said.
Brown’s grandfather, whom he lost at six-years-old, was one of his greatest role models. His grandfather had such a big influence on him. He reminded Brown to set the tone, to be a role model for his younger brother, she said.
love to see the man he would of grown into, you know how deep his voice would have gotten, he was so infatuated with growing a beard that he would put hair oils on his chin,” she jokingly said.
McSpadden said she continues to share her son’s story, because she wants real change, beyond the protests and the headlines.
She wants the protests to lead to somewhere. “It’s how much the government let’s us do and right now we only see them giving us room to protest, room to march, but sometimes that room runs out and they stop us at a certain point,” she said
Speaking to the students in the room, she admonished them: “You all are the future, you are the voices for the nation right now and people are listening to you… we don’t want you to give up.”
Ms. Xavier Jasmine Merlette was one of the students in the room and she too had participated in marches like the Million Man March where millions walk for justice. The physiology major said she felt that the black community, especially Xavier students at a historically black university, can’t sit around and wait for a change.
“We are the future which means we got to move,” she said. Many of her peers go to turn to social media and make posts with the #BlackLivesMatter, but McSpadden’s talk reminded her that after the Tweets, nothing else is done.
“It stays there, you know. We need to bring it to real life,”Merlette said.
Protesting is the first step, but as young black people, she said they can’t keep walking for those shot among them. “We need to talk and understand these laws and educate, that’s the root of it all,” Merlette said.
Even with some flaws The Blacks Live Matter Movement is making some progress said Dr. Calvin Mackie, founder of STEM NOLA, who spoke at the symposium on Oct. 21.
“The black lives matter movement is reawakening the conscience of black people and challenging the mindset of whites,” Mackie said in a interview.
Mackie said he believes race relations will improve. Society can get to that point when people begin to acknowledge that there are problems, he said. “It can’t be black people fixing white people, white people have to fix the issues within themselves,” he said.
Brown’s shooting was a surreal moment for Mackie. I thought it was tragedy, I can’t get over the fact that a body laid the streets in the United States of America for about 4 hours.”
“If they don’t respect you as a human when your alive it’s very difficult to treat you with respect when your dead”
“I had a black daddy, I got two black brothers, I got two black sons and my heart hurt and still hurts every time I think about it,” Mackie said. “It hurt because how can I explain this to my sons and how can I prepare my sons to deal with a world that sees them as less than worthy.” Mackie said it is important to uplift children early on, it is what drives his commitment to STEM NOLA.
With STEM NOLA, every Saturday he used education to change the outcomes of young black men, he said.
“There is only 260 football players that get drafted and only 60 basketball players drafted every year but there are 14 million millionaires, so why should I train my kids to be one in the 260,” he said.