Until the Flood
Writer- performer Dael Orlandersmith’s one-woman show explores Ferguson following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. Based on extensive interviews, this theatrical event gives voice to a community grappling with injustice and yearning for change.
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Olandersmith: Louisa Hemphill, Black, early 70s,
Now that was a real nice service.
Yeah, that preacher really went at it.
He sweated, he really sweated.
Yeah, well I happen to like that, the old-school preacher.
The way he talked about that boy's death, Michael Brown,
and all that race stuff in Ferguson was a long time coming.
And back when I was a young girl,
no Black policeman, same as now.
And they would turn around and run off, tell you go --
run to you and say, "Get inside,"
if you were standing on your own property.
Cops are always doing like that.
And these boys, these insane white boys -- drunk or sober --
pulling up in cars, screaming out, "Nigger,"
looking for something to do.
they of couse the white people were protected
by the Sundown Law.
Now, in case you don't know what that is,
it's a law, awful law,
that stated if you were Jewish or of color,
you couldn't be in certain towns after dark.
We grew up seeing those signs --
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on You, Nigger."
We saw those signs, read those signs.
I saw those signs.
There was some of us who did abide by that law,
live by that law.
Those signs angered me and I talked about it,
spoke about it, sometimes yelling about it!
My family had heard me out,
but it seemed to me that they were passive racially.
Seemed to me that my father was the kind of man
that took to being in his place.
Oh, there was that kind of racism, too.
Oh, certainly there was the violence,
but there was quiet, understood racism
where everyone knew their place.
White folks stayed in West County,
then we stayed in Kinloch later first.
If we had to go shopping, say, in Normandy,
it was understood that we were there for that, only that.
White folks knew us by name. We knew them by name.
There were smiles, conversation even to be had.
Then back to Kinloch.
Back before the sun went down.
Back to our side of town, their side of town --
back to keep-in-your-place.
Well, I would not keep my place.
I graduated high school,
went to City College in New York.
By then, it was the '60s.
Oh, there were no protests or riots in St. Louis,
but I went to protests and boycotts in New York.
I read about the race riots in Chicago and Indiana.
I was on fire.
They put me on fire.
Sometimes when I came home to visit,
I would sense a certain hostility
from both white and Black people.
It's like they hated me.
I went to buy some fabric for my mother in Normandy.
And a white woman, Mrs. Weston, knew her all my life,
one of the people my family made small talk with.
By then it was 1969, 1970.
So anyway she says to me, she says,
"Oh Louisa, I haven't seen you in such a long time!"
I said, "Well, Mrs. Weston I've been living in New York
and going to City College."
And her face fell, and she said, "Another one."
And I said, "Ma'am?"
And she said, "All you colored --
oh, I should say Black
'cause all of y'all are Black now --
have gone up to Chicago and gone east to New York,
forgetting where you come from.
Maybe it's better that you do leave.
That way you won't be causing any trouble here."
And I looked at her again and I said, "Ma'am."
I said, "You know what, Mrs. Weston,
I don't want to buy anything from your store."
And I turned and walked out. Her face dropped.
But what stayed with me was the Black girl that worked for her.
As Mrs. Weston and I had this exchange
and I was telling her about my living in New York,
there was a Black girl about my age sweeping,
putting things away.
And she looked at me. She looked at me hard.
She looked at me as if saying, "You think you're better than me
'cause you went East and talk different.
You think you're better." And she looked at me saying,
without saying, "That's what you get.
That's just what you get for not keeping your place."
And I hated that Black girl, and she hated me.
I drove back home, told my family what happened,
and my father said, "You know, Louisa,
you should feel bad for her. I know her.
I know her family."
And I raved and I said,
"Dad, that girl's a Tom. She got mad at me
because I wasn't cleaning Mrs. Weston's floor!"
And then my father said to me, he said, "You know, Louisa,
you can know so much but yet so little."
And again I said, "Dad, that girl's a Tom.
You defending her makes you a Tom."
And before I could finish my sentence,
my mother pushed my father out the way.
She slapped me palm to face, backhand to face, and said,
"Don't you ever call your father a Tom!
Don't you ever!
The reason why you're alive
and have the life you have is because he's strong.
Now if you think he's a Tom you leave this house,
and don't come back!"
I tried to hold my tears, but some of them did spill.
When I looked in my father's eyes,
the hurt that was there.
It wasn't until I reached my mid- to late-30s
and came back to St. Louis, I realized, and I saw,
and I remember something my father said.
He said how racism causes self-hate.
The word that comes to mind is "legacy."
The legacy of self-hate.
The legacy of keeping your place.
The legacy of bowing and grinning.
The legacy of seeing yourself as a nigger,
being taught to see yourself as a nigger.
My God! How I hate that word.
How I hate when anybody uses it -- Black or white.
That young man, Michael Brown,
was made to see himself that way -- as a nigger.
As someone who was non-deserving.
He was set up and set himself up to fail.
To steal Tiparillos of all things!
He graduated high school,
was about to enter college in the fall!
What made him do that?
Who made him do that?
I'm angry at him.
I'm angry in general.
Olandersmith: Rusty Harden, aged 75,
white retired policeman.
I've lived in Lemay all my life.
Got three generations of family that go back that way,
and all of us can say that
because all of us are similar --
all of us are white.
Now just 'cause I'm pro-white
doesn't mean I'm anti anybody else.
My dad's family came from the North of England,
and my mother's family were Swedes.
My dad's family settled here -- I don't know the whole story,
but where they were in the North,
there were tons of farmers
and they wanted to come to a place and prosper
and not have that much competition.
Anyway, that's a story I was told.
I love, Missourah.
Can't see myself living any other place.
Oh, I've seen and visited other places,
but everything I want -- right here.
Friends, family, comforts -- right here.
I was a policeman. I retired 17 years ago
from the force there in Ferguson, yeah.
Back then it was nice, quiet,
mostly white in the '60s and '70s.
I worked the force from 1969 to 1999.
A few of the officers, they lived in Ferguson
but they worked in Kinloch.
Some moved out to Lemay, Melville,
further out to Arnold.
A few of them lived in Crestwood,
that's where Darren Wilson lives.
Now, there were no Blacks on the force.
I didn't see a problem with that.
If a person is capable of doing the job, it doesn't matter.
If a person has respect for the law, does not matter.
If the person can carry out the law, that's a good thing.
But if the person cannot carry out the law,
they got no business in this line of work.
A gun is a powerful thing. A person's life is important.
Now, the man who doesn't know that can't see past that,
that's a dangerous man, a man who can't see past that.
Well, I've had to raise my gun a few times.
I've sometimes seen the faces of the people
I've raised the gun on.
Suspect is calling you white trash, honkey.
A crowd gathers, and they all begin to chant that real loud.
And all they see is a white man with a gun,
and every racial thing that happened to them,
or they think that happened to them,
that white man's gonna be
on the receiving end of all of this.
This always happened.
And they stand there daring you to shoot,
knowing the gun is loaded.
And the look on that person, those people's faces is,
"I don't care about dying,
and I'mma take you with me."
That is the look on that person, those people's faces,
not caring, not caring about living.
I mean, they know by killing you, or trying to kill you,
they could lose their life.
It's like they want to die,
so you've got to use your gun.
When someone has nothing to lose,
you got to use your gun.
You're dealing with life within a few seconds.
You're watching how the person reaches for the gun,
if they know guns well.
How fast are they moving?
Can you talk the person down? Can you reason with the person?
You're dealing with their anger, fear.
You're dealing with your own anger, fear,
then you'd better use it. You'd better use your gun.
That is not a Black person.
That is a nigger.
Now, my son said to me, he said, "Dad, even if the person is
a bad Black person, isn't it the responsibility of the law
to use the gun as a last resort?"
I understand what he was saying,
but I got mad, mad.
See, this is an over-simplification.
Look, I could see where
there should've been some Blacks on the force,
but I still say if a cop is agood man,
what difference does the color make?
You put your life on the line for people.
You're out there. You risk your life.
I'm not gonna go against a brother.
When I say brother, I mean a cop.
Black or white, a cop is a brother.
Now, I wasn't there when Darren Wilson used his gun,
and the people that were there...
People lie, people tell the truth, combo of both.
People looking for publicity.
Oh, people can be like that.
I search my soul.
I search my soul all the time.
Sometimes I can get lost in the past.
I can drink a little bit too much whiskey,
I'm the first one to tell you that.
I want the feelings to just float away, wash away.
I do feel for Michael Brown and his family.
I feel for Darren Wilson.
My son may not believe it, but I do feel.
I wasn't there when Darren Wilson,
my brother, used his gun, felt like he had to use his gun.
I wasn't there, my son wasn't there,
neither one of us were there.
Neither one of us know.
We just don't know.
Got to go with the tide.
Got to go with the flow.
Just got to go with the flow.
Olandersmith: Hassan, Black, aged 17.
Yo, I'm a fluid nigga.
I do it fluid.
Slow, Mississippi slow flow river nigga.
like when I'm rapping to a girl. Kicking it to her,
and she's hearing my flow, pretending she don't like it,
pretending to throw me some shade,
But in the end, my flow wins 'cause I do it fluid.
Yo, my mother, my mother and th her boyfriend, they was arguing.
Shit was ugly, yo. Wanted to get out of Ferguson.
Find one of my boys. We got a car.
We see police -- all white police.
Police want to fuck with a nigga for no reason.
I'mma tell you, they fuck with you for no reason!
So we riding, you feel me? We're just riding.
Not going real fast -- a little fast.
Just riding, you feel me.
Police pulled out their guns, made us all get out the car.
Gave my boy who was driving $100 fine.
My boy said, "Officer, I wasn't going that fast!"
Police said, "Want me to add another $100 fine?"
And I told my boys, "Yo, man, don't say nothing else."
And I'm looking at this Southside-living cracker,
knowing that $100 ain't nothing to him,
but it's a lot for us. Didn't have to pull no gun.
I mean, we was going a little fast,
maybe playing music a little loud,
but he ain't have to pull no gun.
Motherfucker was hungry to shooting a nigga,
just real hungry to shoot a nigga.
And I looked at him with my eyes
saying, "Yeah, go ahead. Do it.
Do it, motherfucker."
He looked back at me, his finger on the trigger,
looking like a dawg mutt.
I bet Mike Brown seen that, too --
seeing police looking like hungry dog-mutt.
We drove over to UC, then we go to Clayton,
and then we went to Webster Grove.
We went to the St. Louis Repertory Theater.
I wanted to see that place where you was writing your play,
and I was thinking how,
you know, I've never seen a play before
and how I want to go, and how maybe, you know,
I could write a play.
Have a play being rap flow.
Then we drove over to Crestwood.
We wanted to see Crestwood.
Wanted to see where Darren Wilson lived.
Like, how does he live? What kind of hood it was.
Like, how does he live, man?
So was it clean? The street he lived on, was it clean?
I wanted to look him in his eye.
I wanted to see what he looked like up close.
Him and me.
I wanted to see if he'd shoot me,
see if I'd be scared of him.
See if I'd make the move -- front, make the move.
Front, like I got a gun.
Will he shoot me?
Then I'm thinking, why you thinking like this?
You're water, man.
You know, water. Like rhythm, man.
Coming like a river, you know.
Like, I ain't know Mike Brown. I ain't know him.
I mean we had niggas in common, but I ain't know him.
But every time -- Every day I see that shrine to him,
everyday I see it,
and I just want to cruise somewhere,
get out of here, period!
And I find myself talking to him all the time, too,
but I want to cruise, go somewhere, period.
I wonder why I keep doing that.
You know, any time we cruise,
I take in the houses,
see the nice houses in UC.
Rich white people in U City.
See the rich people of Berkeley.
Rich niggas in Berkeley thinking how lucky they is
to be rich.
And I'm thinking about my history teacher.
He's one of the few Black people that live in Clayton.
And he said to me, he said,
"Hassan, you're smart and good.
And if you apply yourself, you could go far.
I wishyou could believe that you smart and good."
I wanted to say to him...
"Take me home with you.
I want you to be my father."
And I was thinking -- I was thinking how it would be
to have him as a father, live in Clayton.
And I was thinking about kids who have both parents.
Both parents married,
loving them, caring about them.
And you know tonight, man -- You know, tonight,
I feel Kickin it! I don't care!
I don't care, and I do know right from wrong!
I do know, but I don't care because I'm angry!
My anger, man, is fluid! I do not care!
And I bet Mike Brown felt that same way.
I know you did, man!
I just feel like smashing something,
fucking it up, fucking somebody up!
And there's certain days I don't care.
Today is one of them days.
And I feel like I am on the days
'cause I know I can't make it!
I know I can't!
[ Shouts ]
And then there's a part of me that wants to go.
Thereis a part of me that wants to go.
That wants to stand in front of some redneck,
who don't care what my name is,
who don't give a shit about what my name is,
who are aiming to shoot and not miss!
I'm 17, man.
Sometimes I feel 7,
other times I feel 70, and I just want out.
Spill my blood. Go ahead.
Spill my blood. I just want out!
Go ahead, do it, man! Do it!
Do it, fluid!
[ Explosion ]
[ Indistinct shouting ]
Olandersmith: Connie Hamm, white, 35,
high school teacher.
I've been following the Michael Brown case,
even though I live and work in University City.
You see, I teach at the university.
I rarely get to Ferguson, but this lovely wine bar here...
[ Audience laughing ]
It's so great to have a wine bar here.
A place where we can tranquilize ourselves
if only for a little while.
A place to get rid of the tension,
if only for a little while.
I think the case is so tragic, and I, as a white person,
definitely can't speak to what it's like for a person of color.
In U City, we call it,
people talk about it in a very detached way.
They swallow their coffee and they say, "Oh, so sad."
Or they reach for a roll, then butter and jelly for the roll,
then they say, "Oh, too bad."
I've got a friend named Margaret
who got a job teaching in Chicago
at DePaul University.
I think that's great. It's good for her.
Margaret and I know each other
because there would be meetings with other school districts,
and we would compare notes about teaching methods,
and how to include all the kids.
Margaret and I had similar ideas
about having the classes be racially mixed,
and the program should include Black history.
We'd go out to each other's houses for dinner.
We've talked on the phone for hours,
not just about school, but about our lives.
The conversation between us flowed.
We were friends talking about each other's lives.
We sat here in this bar and drank wine
and told each other stuff.
I told her things I never told another soul
about my failed marriage, divorce.
How I left my husband because he was so abusive,
but no one would believe me
because they said he was so quiet and upstanding.
Somebody actually said that. Said, "He's white,
well-to-do, Connie. I don't believe you."
My father was also abusive to my mother.
He would just haul off and hit her.
Then he would beat me and my sister.
But of course, he was a chemical engineer.
In other words I understand violence, abuse.
The anger Michael Brown knew all his life from being abused,
and Darren Wilson -- I read about his background.
Their fear. I believe they were both afraid.
What happened to them as kids?
And I do believe that both lives are tragic, both.
And maybe I sound naive, but race affects everyone.
Margaret would look at me hard
when I talked about the Michael Brown case.
One day I was leaving the bar here in Ferguson,
and I saw some white protesters.
And the next day I saw Margaret, and I was gonna tell her
how I thought both lives were tragic,
and tell her about the white protesters.
And she cut me off, she said, "Look, Connie.
Michael Brown is dead,
Darren Wilson is alive.
That white bastard gunned down a Black child.
How is his life tragic?
My God, how I hate Liberals,
and this was an out-and-out bigot, I know where I stand."
And I said, "Look, Michael Brown should not have come
after Darren Wilson if -- if that's what happened.
And Darren Wilson should've exercised more control
in using gun if -- if he had to use it.
If he had to use it.
He did have the right to defend himself,
and I do think after seeing footage,
that he has remorse for what he's done.
That he has a hard time living with what he's done."
Margaret looked me up and down, walked away.
I called, sent cards.
None were answered.
No e-mails were answered.
I think it is great she got that job in Chicago.
She works hard.
And that job should be hers and hers alone.
I wish I could tell her that.
I wish I could tell her
that I wish her well,
that I'll miss her,
miss having wine with her.
I really wish I could tell her that.
Ooh, I really wish I could.
Olandersmith: Reuben Little, Black,
late 60s/early 70s, barber.
See the thing is, you can't go by appearances.
I deal with people's appearances all the time
working in a barber shop.
You know, it's amazing some of the things
that people tell you in barber shops, beauty parlors.
Some about affairs people had, having.
Some about the wife, kids,
drugs, liquor problem, all of it.
I wonder why that is?
When people sit in this chair they thought this way?
I guess they feel that they don't have to cover up
for the moment.
They looking, feeling relaxed.
Don't feel like they're being judged,
'cause we do judge people on appearances.
That's happened to me all my life.
And yeah, I'm talking about race.
It's a given -- talking about race.
Yeah, we all been talking about the Michael Brown case.
People sit in this chair -- been a hot topic to say the least.
You know, I care about Black folks being treated fairly.
We're treated fair.
Now, I don't want preferential treatment.
I is a hard-working man
who wants the same as my white counterpart.
That's everybody's right.
And yeah, I really would like to know the truth
in reference to the Michael Brown case.
You know, these two young girls, writers,
came down here from Northwestern
and wanted to write about the case.
One was white, one was Black, and both of them were very green
till it came to their questions. Now, one of my regulars, Sonny,
somehow met them and brought them here to me.
Now, knowing Sonny, he was, as we used to say back in the day,
trying to next to them 'cause both of them were pretty.
Well, they came in and said they wanted to write
about the horrors of poverty and racism
and how Michael Brown and his family were victims.
And the Black girl -- angry, radical -- said,
"All Black people are victims."
And I looked at her and knew that she came from
"smooth life," I call it.
She probably didn't grow up around a whole lot of Black --
well, at least poor Black folk.
And the white one, probably the only Black people
she ever came across, were the ones that clean
her family's home.
But then again, I could be wrong,
I could be wrong like anybody else.
Again, looks, appearances, I can be wrong.
But I know I'm not.
And the green Black girl and and the green white girl
tried to do that with me, Sonny, and all of the guys!
It was like they wanted us to be victims.
They were trying to save us.
I mean, they're nice girls, come on.
So they look around the shop and said, "Mr. Little,
we see it's been hard for you
to carve out a living in North City.
Things have been made hard for you."
And I said, "Well first off, call me Reuben.
Second of all, I'm doing fine.
I mean, today may be slow
but I make a living and a good one, ladies."
And the green-Black one said,
"I'm so glad that you don't let yourself
be looked down upon the way Michael Brown
and his family were looked own upon."
Then the green-white one said, "The Michael Brown shooting
and the killing of nine Black men this year, Reuben,
symbolizes the mental and emotional strife
that you and all Blacks have gone through.
I'm gonna write an article, spread it over every news,
magazine, program we can."
And I kind of looked at Sonny and the guys, right.
Then I looked at both these green women,
and I said, "First off ladies,
I'm not a victim.
The rest of the shop, shop is mine.
The building is mine.
I got tenants I rent upstairs, too.
I attended Tuskegee College.
I live here 'cause I choose to.
I cut hair because I choose to and I enjoy it.
But what bothers me is how people assume Black people
who come from a poor background
are innately intellectually inferior.
I wish people would look at the historical ramifications of race
and how that affects somebody sociologically
Being told that you're smart enough because of race,
that you are intellectually inferior because of race,
does a job on your head and your soul.
Oh, I've been called nigger and told that the only thing
I'm good for is cutting hair or some such rot,
but at least with a bigot I know where I stand.
It's the others that bother me.
The white do-gooders that come with the guise of liberalism
trying to save me,
thinking I can't stand on my own two feet!
Now here you two come doing the same thing,
and I find that highly insulting to me
and the men sitting here.
But for you, well-intention or not,
to see us as victims,
coming in with your romantic notion of trying to save me,
other Black men, the men in this shop.
For you to use the Michael Brown case in this way
means you've taken on the very bigotry you claim to despise.
Black men are not children. I'm not a child.
I don't need you to speak for me, stand for me.
There's strong blood flows in my veins.
I want my fair due.
Michael Brown should have his fair due.
Darren Wilson should have his fair due.
Don't judge me or any of us by appearances,
thinking that you know us so well.
See, the both of you know nothing.
Nothing at all."
And indeed the both of them were close to tears.
And Sonny said, "Hey, man, Reuben, give the girls a break!"
I said, "Nah, man, I'm giving them the truth.
We don't need to be infantilized man."
They got up, mumbled, "Thank you," and left.
And all the guys except for Sonny
said I was right.
See, it ain't about appearances, man.
You see Michael Brown, thug, thief,
whatever you want to call him, innocent --
it's about fairness. It's about being fair.
Not about appearances.
Not about appearances at all.
Olandersmith: Dougray Smith, white, late 30s/early 40s,
landowner and electrician.
I don't come from much,
but I made something of myself.
I live here in America, the greatest country in the world,
and I don't care what anybody says.
If you, like the song says, straighten up, fly right,
you'll do fine.
I mean, if America is so bad,
how come so many people want to come here?
If America is so racist and unjust,
how come there are so many immigrants?
Like I said, I come from nothing.
I do not come from privilege.
Contrary to popular belief,
not all white people come from privilege.
By that, what I mean is, no one gave me anything,
and the people I was born to were basically white trash.
Now I know that may sound insensitive to some people,
but it's the truth.
I was born and raised
in the rough part of Charleston, West Virginia.
That whole hillbilly moonshine thing was there, still there.
Girls getting pregnant real early,
people getting drunk, fighting.
Got heroin, now crystal meth come in.
I hated living like that. I hated it,
and my family hated me for not being like them.
I love books, still love books.
My favorite book is Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast."
I would not drop out of school to sell shine or dope.
Rarely dated -- of course got called queer.
If anybody got in my face, it was war -- total war.
My father was a brutal man, brutal.
He was a drunk.
Both he and my mother were drunks.
Could never hold down a job.
He beat me, my mother, and siblings.
But one day, I rose up.
I just rose up.
He was drunk again this one night.
We always knew he was drunk 'cause we'd listen for his walk.
If we heard him bump the stuff in the yard or on the porch,
we knew he was drunk. Well, this one night
I was sitting at the supper table reading, reading is usual.
I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's
"Tender is the Night."
And he came and snatched the book out of my hand.
"Gonna burn this book, boy!"
And he's laughing -- staggering and laughing.
And I was trying to reach for the book.
And he's a big man -- 6'4" he was.
And even though I was 17 and 5'10", I couldn't reach it.
He kept shoving me back, laughing.
"Gonna burn this book!
Queer bastard gonna burn!"
And he goes over to the stove,
turns on one of the burners,
puts the book over, book goes on fire.
I take a chair and I slam it over his head.
I just kept hitting, hitting,
and my mother and siblings were saying,
"No, Dougray, stop, no!"
I just kept hitting him.
There was a grace in the way I was hitting him.
Something clean, kind of like a purification.
Well, he passed out from the beating and booze.
I left that night, never went back,
hopped this bus, went to Jackson, Tennessee.
Lived in a shelter for a while, got a job with a plumber,
moved out of shelter, got a place in Henderson, lived.
Got my GED, went to the University of Tennessee,
studied business, got my diploma.
I did all this coming from nothing,
no one gave me anything, I did it all myself.
Bought my first house in Henderson, which I still own.
2010, I moved to St. Louis
'cause I wanted to get more real estate for cheap,
and also I ready for a change.
I live in Tower Grove South.
Met a great woman, married her, we got two great kids.
At first, Tower Grove South was mostly Black,
but now more white.
A lot of gays.
Businesses were popping up all over the place, more houses.
See a lot of people took buy-outs
'cause they didn't own their own home.
I own my own home.
Also got two houses in Ferguson --
one on Fargo Drive,
another one on West Florissant,
Black part of town.
I rent to Blacks.
They pay me on time.
Theyknow to payme on time.
[ Scoffs ]
I see a lot of Black guys getting high,
hair all wild, uncombed,
pants sagging over their butts,
saying my nigga this, my nigga that.
They get mad when the white man calls them that
but yet they call each other that.
And the rap "music" is filled with it.
You see, this'll change.
You have to be a visionary, of sorts.
Real estate is like that. These people will disappear
and be replaced by other people, white people.
I go to Ferguson all the time to check on my houses.
They know not to mess with my houses.
They know I've got friends on the force,
and they also know I don't come alone.
Oh yeah, I come packing.
And I will shoot. Shoot to kill.
It is your right to kill if someone attacks you,
and these Black bastards will do it.
Michael Brown? See, no one is talking about
how the way Darren Wilson had to defend himself.
But Darren's white, therefore, it's all his fault.
They're talking about how Darren Wilson
shot him in the back, but there is no evidence
of him being shot in the back.
They're afraid about how these Black leaders,
like that ape Al Sharpton will come down here himself.
Ferguson can be great.
And I think when all this is out of the way,
with time, it will be.
There's a great Italian restaurant there,
great wine bar there,
great soul food place owned by Blacks.
Black people own this place, work hard, prosper,
which means the rest of them can.
They don't go around screaming white man this, white man that.
Me and my oldest son, Jesse, were at the soul food place
and I was paying the check.
And I heard Jesse scream, "Stop!"
Go outside, there was a bunch of kids
a little older than Jessie -- about seven.
There was one about Jesse's age -- all Black.
They made the young one hit Jesse, and they said,
"This is for what Darren Wilson did to Michael Brown."
And another one said, "Yeah, hit him again
for what Darren Wilson did to Mike Mike."
The names they called each other -- Mike Mike.
And Jesse ran over to me,
and he threw his arms around my waist,
and they stood there laughing and pointing.
Those little black bastards
stood there pointing and laughing.
And I pushed Jesse away from me and I said,
"Jesse, you go there you hit that nigger back
and you keep punching him.
You keep punching on and on."
And he said, "No, Daddy, please!"
"Jesse, go over there and hit that nigger back now!"
And I said it loud enough for everyone to hear me.
I don't give a damn who heard me.
And Jesse said,
"Nigger? What's that? I don't even know what that is!"
And I said, "Them. Those evil, dark people.
Go over there and hit him back now!"
And his little body was shaking.
"Jesse, you will not act like some queer.
You will go over there and hit that nigger back now.
And if you don't, I'm gonna whip you
in front of all these people, I mean it.
I will beat you in front of all these people."
He let out a scream. [ Chuckles ]
Scream he let it out was terrifying.
He charged at them.
His little body shook with anger and determination.
He was 5 but in that moment, he was 35.
And he hit the little one, and some of the big ones, too,
and they were afraid.
Those Black bastards were afraid.
By now, there's a crowd.
And I stood there, holding my bag.
My bag that held my gun.
You know, as I watched the fight,
I thought about the fight that I had with my father
and how it purified me and the entire world.
Then I thought of that movie, "Schindler's List."
You know when Amon Goeth goes down the line
shooting these Jews for stealing his chicken?
He just goes down this line, shooting these kikes.
And as those niggers in Ferguson stared me down --
or rather tried to stare me down
'cause I looked right back at them --
this image came to me.
Image that came to me was me,
Amon Goeth, Darren Wilson,
lining them all up.
All those Black bastards up on the floor, the same.
We'd get our guns --
rifles, actually --
look through the rifles,
get the angles right,
and shoot and keep shooting
till all their bodies fall.
And after all their blood had been spilled,
there'll be a great storm
to wash it all away.
To make it clean.
Like Ferguson must have been once --
clean, white, pure.
Like it must've been once
and will be again.
Olandersmith: Paul, Black, aged 17,
high school student.
I'm not gonna give in to fear.
I mean, I'm just not going to give in to it.
I mean, I do get afraid because these cops around here,
they mess with you for no reason.
I live in the Canfield apartments,
but I stay to myself mostly. When I go somewhere,
I go to, like, U City, St. Louis, to visit friends.
And some of my friends are white,
and they are my friends, just like the Black ones are.
I've got one more year.
I'm gonna go to Berkeley, California,
to study art history.
You see I can't paint,
so I figure I'll study how the way it's done.
See, I like how things came to be.
I watch my friends at school, how they paint,
the way their wrists move.
It's like liquid.
It's like the way their wrists move,
their movements are like the paint itself.
Like their arms, their wrists it's like liquid.
My painting's pathetic,
so I'll study the history, which I love doing.
I love knowing how things came to be.
I'm not big into basketball. I mean, I can play ball
but I just don't care for it.
A lot of us are college-bound.
Not all of us are into getting high and stuff like that.
I mean, not all Black dudes are like that.
I mean, there are good people, bad people,
not all of us are like that. It's common sense.
And I can talk to my friends about it, both Black and white.
I didn't know Michael Brown,
or Mike Mike, as people called him.
I mean, I'd seen him around. We say, "hey," that's it.
So like I said, I live in the Canfield apartments
like Michael Brown did.
You know, when you look at low-income housing like Canfield
or housing projects,
it looks like a prison.
And it feels just like one, too.
There's something, I don't know, defeated.
It feels defeated.
When I come home from school or come from visiting friends,
I hate going back there. I just hate it.
There are good people that live there.
Hard-working people who don't have money -- working poor.
There are good hard-working Black people,
like my parents, who want the best for me,
they do the best they can. I love them for it.
And they know I want to leave. They encourage me to do so.
But there were, and are, some people that start trouble.
But the police don't want to see the difference between the two,
and I know that from personal experience.
Friend's dad gave me a ride home from school,
and I'm carrying these books -- these art books.
Elizabeth Catlett, Leonardo Di Vinci, Romare Beardn
Cop comes up -- a white cop --
and I was so scared. I was oh-so-scared,
I thought I was gonna pee myself.
And he came up to me chewing gum, smiling, laughing almost.
And he said, "Where did you get them books from, boy?"
And I said, "School. I got the books from school."
And he said, "Well, how do I know
you didn't steal them books?"
I said, "Sir, I'm not a thief, but if I were,
do you really think I would risk my life and/or jail
about a book about Leonardo Da Vinci?"
And he stood there and he fidgeted, and I could tell
he felt stupid, real stupid. And we stood there,
staring at each other, and I was so scared.
I didn't know what he was gonna do.
And he drove off.
Some dudes were hanging around. They saw what happened.
They say, "Yo, Paul! You told told cracker cop
off real good! You an alright nigga!"
And that made me cool with some people.
They even wanted to hang with me, but I keep my distance.
Every day I see that shrine they got to Michael Brown.
Every day I see it and I think,
that could've been me.
That could've been my blood flowing down this street.
That could've been me.
I got one more year to get out, just one more year.
Please, God, let me get out.
Please, God, don't let that happen to me.
Olandersmith: Edna Lewis, Black, late 50s/early 60s, minister.
I've always believed in God.
I've always wanted to be a minister and serve God.
I think He God is wonderful.
I think She God is stupendous.
[ Audience laughs ]
My thinking about God this way has got me into trouble.
I knew it had to be more than an old man with a beard in the sky,
or the man with blond hair, blue eyes, white skin.
He God is everyone. She God is everyone.
Black, white, yellow, red, brown --
love is everyone.
I questioned all this as a child.
I knew it had to be more than the Old Testament.
And how come if God called upon women,
all the ministers were men?
How come when a woman had her monthly
it was considered a curse?
How can a woman's flow, the flow of a woman, be evil?
If a woman didn't flow, there'd be no life.
Now, I would ask these questions to my parents.
They had a fit.
My mother said to me,
"Edna...you need to leave things as they are."
But I know she felt the same way.
I was born and raised in Kentucky,
but I lived in a few places.
I lived in San Francisco, Chicago, New York,
finally St. Louis.
I live in Tower Grove South,
I practice Universalist Ministry --
God Him, God Her.
Shiva, Kali, Buddha, Muhammad...
Oh, Allah, same thing.
[ Speaking indistinctly ]
Love cannot be limited, you know.
At one point I was with a woman.
My parents had a fit, and I said,
"God brought this incredible person to me,
who happens to be a woman. She, too, believes in God."
And before I could finish my sentence, my mother said to me,
"Don't you dare bring the Lord into this, don't you dare!"
We didn't talk for five years.
That was painful.
My lover, Alice, said,
"Don't give up on them.
Send cards, call, letters."
Calls weren't answered,
letters and cards were sent back.
Seven years ago, my dad passed.
My mother finally called me and I asked, I said,
"The only reason why you called me
is because you afraid of being alone."
And she said, "At first, yes,
but then I realized that you are a good person,
and you honor God in your own way."
And that me feel good, real good.
Well, three years ago, my lover, Alice, and I broke up.
I'm now with a man.
My mother was ecstatic...
[ Laughter ]
...but she wasn't at first.
My husband, Kevin, is white.
And again, I explained to her my concept of love,
and she finally came around and she loves Kevin.
And she calls him "son,"
and she's been to the church where Kevin and I preach.
And she said, "I've never seen so many different kinds
of people at church before. It's wonderful."
Living at Tower Grove South has been great.
There were more Blacks,
but now there's more gays, interracial couples, artists.
Rent is going up, gentrification...
Poor folks get pushed out, especially Blacks.
Racial tension is high.
The Michael Brown case hurts me,
wears on me.
I've been to the Canfield apartments,
I've been to the Michael Brown memorial spot,
I've prayed for Michael Brown,
I've prayed for Darren Wilson.
There was a protest at Clayton Courthouse,
and a lot of people went.
There was monumental anger.
There was predominantly Black crowd
in front of predominantly white policemen.
In the eyes of the policemen,
I saw those who wanted blood,
and those who wanted revenge.
I saw those who were afraid --
some young, very young practically choke.
And there were people from the National Guard there.
And there were people from the media there.
And in the crowd, I saw those who wanted revenge
and those who wanted peace.
I saw those who used the event
to bring attention to themselves.
People selling CDs, people selling books,
people telling the truth, people telling lies.
Now Kevin and I did not go to protest.
That's not what I wanted to do. We came with prayer.
And we went to random people and asked
did they want to pray?
And do you know, many of them did.
And I went up to a National Guardsman
and policeman standing side by side.
White policeman, National Guardsman.
And I said to both of them, "Gentle men,
and I do mean it when I call you gentle
because you were born gentle.
Would you like to pray? Not in a mushy way,
but in a human way no matter what race, religion,
for yourselves and everyone here.
And if not, would you let me pray for you?"
And the young white policeman -- about 23,
not much younger than Darren Wilson -- said,
"Ma'am, I'm can't.
[Stammering ] I'm on duty. I can't."
I said, "That's alright, that's alright, honey.
I can pray for you."
And I went to the Black National Guardsman
and asked him the same thing, and he said, "Please do, please.
Please, please pray for me."
And I did.
I prayed for both of these young men.
Some people got mad,
but that's how God speaks to me.
That's howmy God speaks to me.
You know I hate saying this,
but I've been questioning my faith,
the foundation of my faith.
A few months back, I was in Ferguson.
I was in the Schnucks.
And I heard a voice say -- woman's voice say,
"I can forgive Darren Wilson.
I hope he can forgive himself."
And I ran from my aisle to next aisle
and I saw Michael Brown Sr. with his current wife
talking to man I knew to be a protester.
The man just stood there his mouth open.
I did, too.
And Mrs. Brown, she said,
"I did not give birth to Michael,
but I would say the same thing of my natural children."
And Michael Brown Sr. said,
"Well I don't know. I ain't dead yet.
One minute I'm mad at Mike,
the next minute I'm mad at Darren Wilson.
I don't know."
And I almost went over there and said something,
but I could see they wanted to go on with their shopping.
They wanted peace.
Now, I've always considered myself
to be a God-fearing woman, but that young girl,
Mrs. Brown has got more God in her than I ever had.
In church today, I thought,
"Michael, you were so close,
so close to becoming someone.
You could've gotten out, Michael.
You were so close. You are not a nigger.
Why would you put yourself between a white man and a gun?
You could've gotten out. You could've gone up to Chicago,
gone east to New York.
You could've gone past, could've gotten out.
Why didn't you let yourself get past the river?"
And the other young man, Darren Wilson, I thought,
"Did you really have to shoot him?
Did you really?
And if so, why so many times?"
The hatred I have for him, that Darren Wilson.
And I thought -- God forgive me --
where was God?
Why, God, did you allow this to happen?
Where were you?
I'm also an educator.
I come from a family of teachers --
my mother, my father. My sister was a math teacher.
I'm a retired English teacher.
I think of the values we teach our children.
The society we've created.
What kind of family did Darren Wilson come from?
How was he raised?
How was he made to feel about himself?
Was he also afraid?
He's not much younger than Michael.
Did he just fire and not think?
And now, does he? Does he think about it?
Does it play over and over in his mind and soul?
And if he does not, if he does not care,
what created this hardness?
Who, what, made him so hard?
What ishis legacy?
And I think of Michael Brown,
whatwe were taught.
The things we're taught.
The things we remember.
The things we can't help knowing --
knowing in our bones.
[ Indistinct chanting ]
[ Chanting continues ]
I hear their voices,
see their faces.
Frightened dark boys and men.
Dark boys, white boys,
boys roaming the streets boys,
trying to get somewhere boys but don't know how
because boys are told, "Be hard, boys.
Be rough, boys. Don't cry, boys."
Black boys, backslide, back beat,
bull-whipped, tired of the bullshit.
Bebop boys, dodgy, slaps, bullets,
White boys ravaged by the waspy stinging lies.
And can you smell the blue blood curdling?
Their prowling, praying for God
or some such man,
seeming untouchable, unreachable.
Neither boy able to sleep,
rest, take care, be heard.
Neither boy able to rest.
So, silence the boy, quiet the boy,
kill the boy, punish the man.
Man, boy, man, boy.
Black, white, gun shoot.
Black boy down, white man shoot.
Both are down.
They are both down, done, gone.
They are both gone.
And has the "we shall overcome" come and gone?
Has the wake-up call been answered, deleted?
But there are some of us
who still wake up,
our arms, hands raised in the air,
saying words like, "more, more",
but soon, soon."
[ Applause ]
[ Cheers and applause ]
[ Cheering continues ]
[ Applause continues ]