His nickname was Mike-Mike and his favorite color was blue.
The morning workshop portion on the first day of the gathering was over, and the afternoon plenary was the first time that many of the attendees had come together in the same room. Some were weary from driving halfway across the country to get to Cleveland. Some were distracted by the scarcity of conference housing. The workshop offerings, totaling almost 100, left others unclear about how to navigate this overwhelming weekend.
But as a procession of relatives of black people killed by state-sanctioned violence walked across the Cleveland State University stage, there was no doubt what this weekend was about: the defense of black bodies, the celebration of black collective resiliency, and the building of a movement the likes of which has never been seen. One by one, starting with the relatives of Emmett Till, each family member shared poignant memories of their murdered loved ones. We learned their favorite colors, their favorite sports teams, their nickames. Mike Brown Sr. told the audience that his son’s nickname was Mike-Mike and his favorite color was blue. Each family member concluded with the refrain, “This is why we fight.”
It was a devastatingly effective orchestration of humanity and loss, but not the day’s final word. As the session ended, audience members in the packed auditorium leapt out of their seats in delirium as Kendrick Lamar’s voice erupted through the sound system:
When you know, we been hurt, been down before, nigga
When our pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, “where do we go, nigga?”
And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga
I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright
The Movement for Black Lives had a soundtrack. Some of the songs may have been chosen from the playlists of the conference organizers and played during the plenaries, but most were improvised by the activists in attendance from all across the country. At any given moment during this three-day weekend, a dance, chant, protest song, or drumming session would spontaneously break out, with people asserting and luxuriating in their blackness.
Ever since Trayvon Martin’s slaying in 2012 and the subsequent acquittal of his neighborhood-watch killer, George Zimmerman, America has been reawakened to the daily terror faced by black people at the hands of law enforcement, vigilantism, and the justice system.