When my September 2020 issue of Vanity Fair arrived, I was stunned. The cover featured a photograph of an oil-on-linen painting of Breonna Taylor by Amy Sherald. Taylor is wearing a turquoise dress and a small gold cross around her neck. Her right hand is on her hip and her facial expression seems to say, “Your turn now.”
Inside the magazine is a feature by Ta-Nehisi Coates which gives an account of Taylor’s life and death as told to the author by Taylor’s mother.
No account is ever simple, but the basics are that shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, Taylor was shot to death by police officers who entered her apartment where she and her boyfriend were sleeping.
I began asking myself: What if I or a member of my family were in such a situation? What would I do? What would you do?
There is a dispute about whether the police announced their presence, whether they knocked. The person they were seeking was already in custody. Do you believe, as do I , that body cameras should always be used in such situations and that they should always be turned on? We know that as a result of this incident, the use of no-knock warrants has been banned by Louisville’s Metro Council. Are no-knock warrants good practice for law enforcement?
Students in my creative writing class at Edison State Community College are researching the lives of the deceased and giving voice to them as did American poet Edgar Lee Masters a century ago in Spoon River Anthology. The range of subjects is broad and includes persons such as victims of school/nightclub/church/concert shootings or COVID-19. They may, for example, choose to give voice to veterans or active military who have chosen to take their own lives.
Rebecca L. Spencer of Ludlow Falls, Ohio, chose to write free verse poems about Blacks who have died at the hands of law enforcement: Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, George Floyd, Walter Scott, and Breonna Taylor. Do all the names sound familiar or only those of Floyd and Taylor? She writes:
Say My Name
I have a name.
My name is Breonna Taylor.
Do you see me? Do you know me?
I have a voice.
Do you hear me?
You see me and you see my bad choices… . I chose to love… .I loved the
wrong man. My mama loved the wrong man. I was made from bad choices.
Do not judge me by my past mistakes, and I will give you the same grace.
You have written a narrative for my life. I am not a narrative: I am real. I am
a black woman; I am not a statistic. I made a difference. I mattered. I had
goals for my life.
I worked to save people. Who was there to save me? No one! I was left on
the floor to die. No one came to help me.
Did you knock?
Before you entered my life? Before you ended my life?
In the past, I have let people in. They have made their way into my life and
changed it. Some not for the better. I have had trouble closing that door to shut
them back out.
Was I allowed to have choices? I tried to make better choices. Sometimes
boundaries are weakened, and we must build them again. I was trying to
build up those boundaries and build my life for better.
I did not give you my permission. I did not tell you to come in. I did not invite
you into my life. I did not invite you to end my life.
Now my door is closed forever.
You can knock…and knock…and knock again, but I will not answer.
The voice is yours now. Use it for me. Give me a name.
I have a name.
My name is Breonna Taylor.
Spencer’s research indicates that Taylor has not always been on the “straight and narrow.” Few have.
Does her name now fade as have the names of so many as they called for their mothers or uttered “I can’t breathe” before their hearts ceased to function? The choice is ours.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.