Since August 9, the day Mike Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson, there have been nonstop rallies and calls for accountability on the streets of Ferguson Missouri. Just a few nights into the rallies, on the evening of August 12, gun shots injured a handful of folks gathered. One of those individuals, Mya Aaten-White, was shot in the head while standing next to her car. While police say the incident occurred as the result of a gang-committed drive by, eye witnesses tell another story. Additionally, as if being shot wasn't enough stress, Mya was hung up on by emergency services; denied an ambulance for over an hour; she then spent what little energy she had taking a selfie as a police officer climbed into the front seat of the vehicle shuttling her to the hospital so her mother would at least know she was alive. After hearing her story, it is hard not to believe that 24-year-old Mya is a fighter with an angel or two on her shoulder. I was able to talk to Mya when she visited NYC to share her work as an artist and activist based in Ferguson. What follows is an interview about her experiences.
J Mase III: From the beginning, you were one of the voices on the ground in Ferguson letting folks know what was happening during the rallies. Can you tell us who you are and why you felt personally called to speak out about Ferguson?
Mya Aaten-White: I am an artist; I am a member of the St. Louis and world community; I am an individual who believes and understands that sometimes god puts us in situations to test our beliefs; I just so happened to be chosen in this moment.
J Mase: What are the biggest misconceptions about what is happening on the ground there?
Mya: One of the biggest misconceptions about what is happening on the ground in Ferguson is that the people of Ferguson are violent and rowdy; Ferguson has been depicted by media as a zoo. I'd say that if it is a zoo, it is due to the behavior and ill morale of the police entities stationed in and around the area.
J Mase: Can you tell me about the night you were shot? Did anyone help you? Did you ever find out who it was?
Mya: The night I was shot was Tuesday, August 12, 2014. It was also one of the most peaceful and quiet nights of protesting; this was the first night we made a group decision to end protests overnight and begin again in the morning. I was walking back to my car which was parked in the residential area off of the main street (West Florissant Avenue). I heard gunshots and somewhere between maybe the 1st and 3rd shots I was struck in my forehead with a bullet. The bullet had to be surgically removed and stopped in the space of my sinus cavity, just missing entry to my brain. At the scene, a group of young men helped me; they picked me up off of the ground and carried me into a home on the street where I was shot. I have not found out who pulled the trigger.
J Mase: What do you want to come out of this situation in Ferguson? What do you want your legacy to be in all of this?
Mya: I don't want for anything -- I do know however, that there will be a change in how people conduct themselves, how officers of the law conduct themselves, how we view others in society and how we form identities in the 21st century. I also don't have any wants in terms of my legacy. Everything is just beginning; my focus is primarily on being the best me I can be in each situation I am faced with.
J Mase: What do you think folks should be doing to combat police brutality?
Mya: I think the biggest thing people can do at this point is to speak up...so many times things are allowed to happen just because nobody spoke up to say it was wrong. Police are people to and should be corrected when they are out of line.
J Mase: You speak a lot about love and how that relates to your activism. For many, especially hearing your story, it may be hard to imagine that kind of resolve. Where is love in this movement for you?
Mya: Love is the community response that followed the execution of Michael Brown, Jr. I believe that without the moments immediately following that event, the community would have truly been lost. This is a heavy moment of grief, people have been grieving for a long time -- this was the first time the entire community came together in support of a common belief, it was a bonding and healing time, it showed that there can be strides made as a unit. I believe that love is at the root of all things -- that if we take time to appreciate ourselves and what we value in our own lives, it is automatically reflected in our treatment of others. Kindness goes a very long way and [metaphorically] is the mother-ship we all have the ability to be passengers on.
J Mase: Since being shot, has your sense of urgency regarding issues of equity, police brutality and racial justice, has your urgency increased? Or has your sense of urgency around these issues stayed consistent throughout your time as an activist?
Mya: I believe that my sense of urgency is dependent on my surroundings. I do not feel any more or less strong about seeking ways to initiate change in society -- that has always been a fire in me since I was a child, I guess in part it is my nature to be who and how I am, to respond to my environment and speak up when something is not according to the Highest laws. I don't call myself an activist though, I am just a tool the universe is using to give perspective on the human condition. I'm a simple girl, I don't theorize too much about my own behaviors.
J Mase: How can folks support those still trying to get the word out? How can they contact you?
Mya: I believe that to support what people in Ferguson are doing on the ground is as simple as starting a conversation; keep people aware and alert on what is going on, on the amount of time that has passed since Mike was killed and how his killer is still paid and free, follow some of the people from Ferguson on the ground -- it's as easy as a hashtag these days, technology makes us all literally a click away -- there is no excuse for ignorance when the option is in front of us. I can be contacted via my website spkldr.com or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.