Starting Your Dreams Later In Life and Embracing the Detour

Jenee Darden speaking at Creative Mornings I know it's been a while since I've posted anything but that's because of my job. I'm working as a reporter covering Oakland and I host an arts segment on the radio where I get to interview amazing artists from around the Bay Area. Plus I'm publicizing my book  and building my speaking career!  You know what's funny? I thought this would all happen by the time I was 27-30.  Nope. That wasn't God's plan for me. I'm finally beginning to do the things I've wanted to do and I'm almost 40 years old. Some people reading this who are 40 will say 40 is still young. But some younger people reading may think 40 is nearly ancient. But I'm writing this post for those who like me, thought their career and personal dreams would come true much early in life. I'm here to tell you not to give up.  You know, death inspires life. A number of my relatives and friends have passed away, ranging in

How Sandra Bland’s Death Woke People Up to Black Women and Police Brutality

Sandra Bland
My mother and I had the talk. The same talk that African-American parents have with their sons about police brutality. My mom and I have had the talk before. It mostly entailed making sure I have my insurance and registration in my car at all times.  Be friendly with the cops when they pull me over so that things will go smoothly. The unjust death of Sandra Bland, 28, took the conversation deeper.

“Your goal when getting pulled over by the police, is to leave the situation alive, “ my mother said to me during our discussion about Sandy’s death.  I’m not sure if most Black women have had the talk about how to interact with the police, because the conversation on police brutality and race is focused on Black men.  The same goes for the Black Lives Matter movement. Although it was started by Black queer women from Oakland, the community made it Black-male centered.  This is one of the reasons why the #SayHerName, #BlackWomenMatter protests and hashtags were formed.  

About a month prior to Sandra’s death, a cop in Texas slammed 15-year-old Dajerria Becton to the ground while she was in a bikini. Initially there was outrage, then people got distracted with Rachel Dolezal’s crazy, passing as Black woman story. We should not have shifted our attention away from Dajerria Becton.  But Sandra Bland’s death is waking people up. I think her death will cause the Black Lives Matter movement to be more inclusive of addressing both Black men and women.

After the video of Sandy’s arrest was released, what I heard from Black women in person and on social media was, “She could’ve been me.”  I didn’t notice this reaction from Black women when people like Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray were killed.  The reaction I heard was, “That could’ve been my son, my husband, my father, my brother.”

I cried as I watched the video of Sandy’s arrest. Watching her being arrested because Officer Brian Encinia wanted her to put out her cigarette, and then lie that she resisted arrest broke my heart. Some people have called her arrogant. But if she was a white man, they would’ve called her a strong and confident civilian who knew his rights. Sandy wasn’t arrested for a cigarette or arrogance (and since when is arrogance illegal?).  Sandy died because the officer had a small ego. And God forbid an intelligent, confident Black woman who knew her rights would challenge him. So add racism and sexism to the mix of reasons why she was arrested. If only he had swallowed his pride, kept his prejudices off the job and just gave her the ticket.

 I cannot imagine the shit police have to deal with.  I have family members who work/have worked in law enforcement so I’ve heard some stories.  Yet with all of the criminals on the loose, Officer Encinia arrested an unarmed, young woman in a summer dress and sandals. All of the criminals on the loose, and he pulled her over for changing lanes without a signal. She was a threat because she was Black, and she stood up for herself because she knew he had no valid reason to arrest her.  

All I could think while watching the video was, “She died for nothing. NOTHING.”  But I was wrong. Sandra Bland died over nothing, but her death was not in vain.  The video and her story hit the hearts of people worldwide. Since Sandra’s death, more stories about Black women dying in police custody have been on my newsfeeds. Finally! The conversation around Black women being victims of police misconduct has increased.  For example, the case of former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Ken Holtzclaw, who has been charged with sexually assaulting at least seven women, is receiving growing attention. I  read the victims were all Black women raging in age from 17 to 58.

Ironically, Daniel Holtzclaw, lost his badge and is on house arrest, because of these rape allegations. But Marissa Alexander initially got 20 years, and is on house arrest for firing a warning shot in the air to scare off her abusive husband. Sigh.

Then there’s 18-year-old Kindra Chapman who allegedly died by suicide in an Alabama jail the day after Sandra Bland. Most recently Ralkina Jones, 37 died in a Cleveland Heights jail. Then there are past cases like Mitrice Richardson, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Alesia Thomas, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and more.

It’s crushing just to list the names. Sandra Bland’s death may have saved some Black women’s lives now that we’re more aware. There is no doubt, that Black men have it hard. But Black women don’t have it easy either. Just as there’s been a push to save our sons, we need to save our daughters. We need to save each other.

Sandra Bland was a daughter, a sister, a friend. Sandra Bland was my Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Sister. Sandra Bland wanted equality. Sandra Bland’s life and death will always matter.

And by the way, GOD FORBID, if I’m ever arrested, I didn’t resist. I kept my cool, because that’s how I am. I was respectful because I don’t like conflict. I don’t do drugs.  And I damn sure didn’t kill myself. Even with all of these years of living with depression I’ve never attempted suicide. It’s a shame that we live in a world where I have to say this publicly.

I pray for peace, healing and equality. I pray for better relations between the police and Black people. I pray these killings stop. I pray for Sandra Bland's family. I pray for peace.