"This is Ashley from Ferguson."
For several months, whenever someone would introduce me they would mention Ferguson. I would watch as people's eyes changed, softening and flooding with concern instantly. This was almost always followed by a "thank you", deeply rooted in sincerity. People would pull me in for second hugs, making a point to thank me, thank US -- thank Ferguson, for standing up.
It's a sentiment that's hard for me to accept, not only because I never saw another option, but also because that instinct to stand up came with an extremely heavy price. Many of us made huge sacrifices in order to maintain a presence of resistance. Some also chose to begin organizing what has since swelled into an international unrest inspired by shared struggles. People quit their jobs, postponed school and were met with opposition from family and friends. But the heaviest price came not from tough personal battles, but from the very people we were protesting against: the police.
The very first day Ferguson stood up collectively we were tear gassed. The chemical shrouds that hung over West Florissant didn't deter us or people from all over the country. We mobilized. We tweeted details of police misconduct and information about the weapons of war they were using on us. Oppressed persons from across the globe connected with us and shared survival tips as well as words of encouragement. Empowered by righteous anger and community support we went back out night after night after night. We maintained an active resistance as the police escalated, now utilizing rubber bullets, flash grenades and guerrilla tactics. As the national presence evacuated, a different attempt at suppression was mounted against those of us whose voices stood out in the cry for justice. Police began to harass us on a very personal level. They targeted people for illegal arrests, asked us detailed questions about our families and maintained a threatening physical presence in our everyday lives. When I was arrested, the Ferguson PD raised my bail to an exorbitant amount, enacted a 24 hold (normally reserved for criminals with street notoriety) and tried to deny me basic rights. It became increasingly clear that St Louis' Unified Command wanted to leave no doubt: there was a heavy price to pay for challenging the status quo and standing up for Black life.
Many of us are just beginning to understand how much being "from Ferguson" really cost us. The after effects of having my community turned into a war zone will take a lifetime of emotional unpacking. These now infamous places were once a part of my very regular life. The QT that burned down was a frequent stop of mine to buy a slushy on my way home to my parents house. The McDonald's that was a favorite after party stop for late night eats morphed overnight into a place people had to break into to get milk for tear gas victims. Streets I learned to drive on became marked by the arrests of people close to me. Ferguson was no longer Ferguson, it was a desolate place with extremely painful memories. The fear that gripped me every time I saw an officer flex his finger around a trigger is something I will never forget. The PTSD symptoms I now exhibit after the events in August are something I might wear for life. It can be crippling to consider. However, I know that no matter what I cannot stop. As I told Loki, a brilliant 16 year old protestor: "We didn't leave the house on August 9th to go back inside."
So we fight on with a movement that is growing daily.
Ferguson resonated with so many people because Ferguson really is everywhere. The economic assault via government schemes, police brutality and culpable leadership are dynamics that play out across the globe. They are seen in Chicago. And New York. And Philadelphia. And Detroit. And Palestine. And Brazil. And Hawaii. All places that expressed solidarity with Ferguson in our fight for Mike Brown. Places where people soften their eyes when they speak of Ferguson. They connected with the moral obligation to resist unjust states.
Ferguson is still here. We haven't stopped. It's been a long six months and my story of personal struggle and police harassment is sadly not unique. But through the trauma and the pain, Ferguson has grown. The numerous attempts to snuff out the fire ignited by the unjust murder of Mike Brown have failed. The events and the aftermath of August 2014 will remain with many of us for life. During what many are regarding as a historical time, it's imperative that we be intentional about our future as well. It's time for Ferguson and the communities inspired by the sacrifices of young Black leadership there to dig deep. It's time to stop thanking Ferguson with words and start nourishing the movement that blossomed from the sacrifices of community members. It's not enough to regard Ferguson with gentle words and soft eyes, we must conjure up the fighting spirit displayed on West Florissant.
There is a lot to be taken away from the events that took place and as the 'deconstruction' of Ferguson by academics begins let us not forget the spirit of resistance that got us here. The future of Ferguson lies in nurturing that seed and making Ferguson a movement the government will regret ever trying to bury.
We'll know #BlackLivesMatter when the sites of our tragedies become true places of triumph. Let Ferguson be a start.
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.
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