“It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win, we must love and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.” -Assata Shakur
DELUX Magazine sat down one-on-one with some of St. Louis’ most vigilant community organizers. Since the re-awakening of injustice within our city and across the country, there have been people who have stepped up, and spoken out.
People equipped with bold, unapologetic voices, ready to create an equal playing field for everyone who calls themselves a citizen of the United States. These people stand on the front lines, hoping to effect change today and for the future. Activism is not easy, nor is it for the faint at heart. Still, these young people grab it by the reigns and stand strong in the face of adversity.
Check out who we caught up with in our series of VOICES OF THIS GENERATION.
DELUX: Tell our readers who you are and the role you have been playing in the community organizing and protesting?
LE: My name is LaShell. I’m 27 years old and my background is in Multimedia. My role in the movement has transitioned since I began in 2014. Initially, my role was more media related. I would shoot photography and record videos during the Ferguson Uprising and post them to my social media platforms. I wanted people around the world to get a view of what was really happening from those on the ground of Ferguson and not be persuaded by the lies of mainstream media. That role has now transitioned to more organizing and livestreaming. However, I will play whatever role is necessary.
DELUX: Would you call yourself an activist?
LE: No. I do activism work, but I am not an activist. Titles typically mean you must fit into some sort of category and that’s not me. I am an upset Black woman against the systematic oppression being upheld by police and government in St. Louis. When Black women are upset, we do what we need to, to seek the changes we desire.
DELUX: What prompted you to become involved with community organizing and social justice issues?
LE: Michael Brown Jr. changed my life. I’ve been aware about the racial inequality embedded in the system since Troy Davis was executed by government in 2011, but Ferguson put me into action. My eyes opened to just how segregated St. Louis really is. The Delmar Divide, the lack of resources in Black communities, the brutalizing police tactics, cash bail, poverty, and more, the realization became overwhelming and I knew I had to do something. In 2014, I stayed behind my camera lens, I followed the leaders of Ferguson and now in 2017 I felt prompted to speak up more and begin organizing. Deep down we knew the verdict for Jason Stockley was going to be “not guilty”, and we knew action had to be taken. For the past three years I had watched leaders in Ferguson and I knew it had become my turn to help organize.
DELUX: Tell me about some of the social injustices have you witnessed here in St. Louis?
LE: Social injustice comes in various forms: policing, government investment in communities, lack of resources, education disparities, lack of jobs, community aesthetics and more. St. Louis seems to have issues in all these areas. Since 2011, St. Louis City Police, have murdered 24 people. Out of those 24, 20 where Black, not one officer has been held accountable. “Hot spot policing” where police frequent “high-crime-areas” in Black neighborhoods is utilized instead of community engagement.
No money is being put into our failing education system, but the Mayor is proposing a half-cent sales tax increase to go to police for higher pay, pensions and to hire more officers. If approved, that would equal $19.5 million dollars annually, the mayor will leave about $4 million to be split between summer jobs, recreation, social work, mental health programs, and then education. That’s injustice to me. I have watched the community be silenced in their outcries for jobs, resources and opportunities, I have seen teenagers be shot by police without repercussions, I have seen multiple people murdered at the hands of the police. St. Louis is built and sustained in injustices.
DELUX: What are your thoughts about the culture of St. Louis? The police department? City Hall?
LE: The areas that are affluent are sustained in old money. This means new opportunities, new policies, and changes are stiffened because St. Louis is afraid to be progressive. That is the culture of St. Louis. It is entrenched with its racist upbringing and refuses to let it go.
DELUX: What do you feel are some of the issues you see occurring among races here?
LE: Some of the issues I see occurring amongst races in St. Louis are lack of communication and failure to acknowledge the issues Black communities are facing. I have heard over-and-over during protests, council meetings, any places where these different sides encounter to “get jobs’, “get off welfare”, “quit killing each other”, etc. These evasive responses are only meant to belittle protesters and people of color to silence the real issues. That is a problem. Black communities, protesters, citizens of St. Louis are not making this up. The lack of effective policing, budgeting, jobs, etc. are obvious and all you need to is some brief research to see it.
DELUX: What are some things or actions you feel will need to take place here in St. Louis before real change can be seen?
LE: There is one action that is necessary, stop killing black people. At this point, several lists of demands have been given to government officials. Since 2014, the people have stated exactly what they wanted. The thing is, this government isn’t dumb. They know the officials that are not serving the people fairly. They know things like cash-bail is unjust.
They understand that placing people in jail for traffic violations are inhumane. It is up to them to want to change. It is up to these politicians and officers with power to want to be just and fair. Until then, we the people and protesters will always be present. We will always disrupt, we will continuously affect the economy. This system only seems to care when their money is being compromised. So, when they change, our tactics may change.
DELUX: We’ve heard the term “Stay Woke”. What does it mean to you?
LE: “Stay Woke” means to simply think outside of the narrative we’ve been force fed. It means stop accepting and allowing systems that we know are morally wrong to flourish because we have been taught to do so. Stay woke, means finding and being in tune with yourself, educating yourself, being mentally, physically and emotionally healthy. To become that level of healthy means doing a lot of unlearning that the society has conditioned us to accept.
DELUX: If you have one, tell DELUX what your favorite quote is?
LE: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win, we must love and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.” This quote was spoken by a beautiful, brave, black woman, by the name of Assata. This quote enables community outreach, unity and resilience. It speaks to the tone of freedom and forces you to wage what freedom is. Freedom looks and feels different for each individual, but she then calls on loving and supporting each other. Building community, allowing spaces for us all to have a voice. The last line represents liberation. It’s the undoing of the physical and mental chains America is built on.