The 2013 film Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler, is based on the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant III.
Grant, age 22, was fatally shot by BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle in the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, Calif. during the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009. Officers restrained him, and he was lying face down and handcuffed when shot in the back. Grant died the next morning in Highland Hospital in Oakland.
I wiped away tears as I watched the film with outstanding performances by Michael B. Jordan as Grant and Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer as his mother, Wanda Johnson.
One of the many poignant scenes is Oscar's mother showing him tough love when she visits him in prison:
When I visited Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, N.J. on July 19 and heard Johnson speak, six years after her son's death, it wasn't a dramatization of events it was real life. A mother poured her heart out to a congregation, which understood her pain.
I wanted to capture and share what Johnson had to say. I had my smartphone with me, checked the battery life, and it was good. So, with my hands a little unsteady from clapping throughout service, I recorded some of her speech.
Mothers of sons who were fatally shot also present at the church included Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; and Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell.
Johnson commented the media has a tendency to demonize the young black men who have been killed.
"Many of us believe what the media says," she said. "Then we say, well, we think that maybe that person deserved it. Well I'm standing before you today to say none of them deserved it."
Think about it. The deaths of each black male garnered national attention. And each were in some way vilified in reports for either their physical stature, past encounters with police, their demeanor, or even for wearing a hoodie.
"It's up to us to begin to shout our voices and say that we have been created equal... If we're created equal we have to stand up and say our lives matter," she said. "America does not understand, until black lives matter, this world is going to be in the condition that it is in."
Johnson said instead of solely judging young men and women who have lost their way, "We have to love them through everything that they go through to let society know that our children's lives are valuable."
In that moment, I thought of the scene I mentioned from Fruitvale Station.
When service was over, I checked social media, including the hashtags #SandraBland, #sayhername and #blacklivesmatter on Twitter, for any updates on the events surrounding the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman found dead in a Waller County jail cell in Texas on July 13. She was pulled over for a minor traffic violation and arrested on July 10.