This is the fourth time I’ve tried to write this letter, since I started the first draft in 2015. Even now, it will be an imperfect version. It is not in my usual tone. There will be no witty sentences or swear-filled rants. This feels sad, and unorganized, and jumbled. But it’s time to write.
Whenever a Black person, particularly a Black woman dies, I struggle to articulate my sorrow. I want to honor the family. I don’t want to make it about me. The problem, however, is that it is about me. And her, and her, and other Black women who see the news and wonder, “could I be the next one?” When I see a Black girl murdered, my brain goes into overdrive for the next 48 hours worrying what will happen to me and other Black women I love, because in the eyes of everyone except ourselves. we are less than human. Because I am a Black woman, I see that similarity with other Black women who are killed, whether I want to or not.
And in you, I see more similarities with myself than ever.
Of course, we are not exactly the same. This year, you would have been thirty years old, and I just entered into the last year of my mid-twenties. You left Illinois for college, whereas I stayed in the state for the first 22 years of my life. During the summer of 2015, you were heading South for your new job, while I headed West for mine. You were part of the Black Lives Movement in Chicago, probably around the same time I just started to wake up. I did not know you, and I strongly doubt you knew me.
And yet. We were both born in Naperville, Illinois. Your old church is close to my house, so close, that when my dad pointed this out, I clenched my palms to keep from sobbing in front of my family. We both started our new jobs around the same time– student-centered higher education careers, jobs that, I believe, we believed could change the world. Depression is a label we knew well, along with Black, and woman, and beautiful.
Our birthdays are only one day apart.
This letter will be one of the shortest blog posts I write, not because I want to dishonor you, but because today, even two years out from your death, it still hurts to think about you. It hurts to think about how you were stopped for failing to use a turn signal (because, of course, driving while Black). It hurts me to see the courts drop the perjury charges against the state trooper who brought you to your death. It hurts me to read how the court system failed you way before, countless times. It hurts me that we didn’t have a nuanced discussion about Black women’s relationship with depression and mental health and suicide when we talked about your death. It hurts me that they killed you, and it hurts me that, even two years after your death, people will still say that the judicial system is fine, that police systems aren’t rooted in White Supremacy, that Black women deserve to be forced into the prison system. It hurts that, as the years go by, we (except for Black women) say your name less and less.
It hurts to think we could have been in the same place, at the same time. This is selfish and self-serving and doesn’t help anyone. And to me, it’s also real.
I don’t yet have the heart to watch your Sandy Speaks videos, but I want to, soon. I want to set the world on fire and challenge the system and love Black women even harder and do better. I want to be better, to take care of myself. I want to scream. I hate the phrase “die in vain,” and I refuse to use it to you, because you did not ask to die. And I won’t forget you, both your life and your death. Because it is one more name reminding me I need to do more, to do everything in my body to speak up and say we need to be treated better. And for me, it’s an important name.
Rest in power, Sandy.