Honoring Sandra Bland: “Someone Will Fight For Me”
By Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner
If I could point to one moment in this journey of justice for Sandra Bland that showed me how far we have come and how far we have left to go, I would show you an image of a group of young women fresh from a #SayHerName rally, crowded into a booth at Mr. Catfish’s in Austin, Texas. It was Thursday night, which meant Neo-Soul poetry had taken over, and poets were lined up to speak.
Crammed into the booth, and half-way through a plate of fried fish and hush puppies, I realized a stranger was calling out to me from the microphone.
“Before I start, I just want to thank that lady at the back of the room. It’s because of her that I can walk across my campus and know that if something happens to me, at least someone will fight for me.”
The poet on the mic, like the women at my booth, was a student at Prairie View A&M University, where Sandra Bland was tailed off campus by ex-officer Encinia and arrested outside the gates in front of Hope AME.
In a journey where we labor daily in the slow and dangerous work of truth telling and trust building, I was touched by her words. Yet, at the same time I also could not help but wince.
Those words hit me nearly as hard as Sandra Bland’s words had when I watched her #SandySpeaks videos on the first of what would become 80 days sitting in front of the Waller County Jail. In Sandra Bland’s first video, she concludes with these words: “I need y’all’s help. I need you. I can’t do this by myself. I need you.” Little did she know how those words would echo through the years to come. Little did she know that six months after she recorded them, those words would reach my ears when she was no longer alive to speak them and compel a commitment of solidarity from a woman she would never meet.
The officer who pulled Sandra from her car tried to silence her; yet, like an echo that shakes the ground beneath our feet even after its final ripples of sound are no longer audible to our ears: she still speaks.
She speaks in her own voice, in her videos that we turn to consistently for guidance in pursuing justice in a manner that would honor her own approach. She speaks through thousands of women around the country who say, “that could have been me”; while white women like myself know in our hearts that it never would be us. She speaks through dozens of young women at Prairie View A&M University who are determined to rise above the trauma outside their gates and be glorious advocates for justice.
And that night at Mr. Catfish’s, her voice echoed in a room full of poets and activists through a young woman who stood at the mic and said these words: “…if something happens to me, at least someone will fight for me.”
Her love and sincerity towards me was cool salve to my weary soul, but it also fanned back into flame the inextinguishable fire in my belly. I wanted her to be safe! I could not bear it that she would have to sooth her own weary soul with the knowledge that if she was lost she would not be forgotten. That cannot be the most that the young women who walk that campus can hope to feel. The weight they carry is something most of us cannot begin to imagine.
Every week, I replace the roses at the memorial where Sandra Bland was arrested so that those who drive by will know that we still care and we are still watching and we are still fighting. Yet, the other side of that reality is that every day young women drive by who have to bear witness once again to how long, and slow, and out of reach justice and safety feels.
Sandra was not arrested on an isolated back road in Texas as many believe. She was arrested before the very threshold of a church in her own denomination, Hope AME, within blocks of her alma mater. That context matters. No one can drive down Sandra Bland Parkway and enter that campus without driving past that spot, without seeing her face posted up on that tree, without seeing the yellow roses that cry out for justice.
The last thing Sandra saw when she was being walked in handcuffs to Officer Goode’s car was the steeple of Hope AME and the gates of Prairie View A&M University. The last words she says are: “Thank you for recording.” Every day I pray that she knew we would hear her; every day I pray that she knew we would come.
Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner is the curator of The Shout, a spoken-word poetry focused artivism movement based in Houston, Texas. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, Hannah is the author of a small group curriculum intended to facilitate justice dialogue and action entitled, “The Shout: Finding the Prophetic Voice In Unexpected Places.”