Youth Imagine Their Lives Ended By Police Violence In 'Black Obituary Project'

By Annika Cline, Steve Goldstein
Published: Monday, October 3, 2016 - 5:36pm
Updated: Monday, October 3, 2016 - 7:02pm
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The Black Obituary Project is a growing collection of obituaries about people who are still alive.

Since its launch last week it’s received more than 100 submissions, which are posted on its website along with photos of the writers. And each author frames their obituary as though they had been shot and killed by a police officer.

Phoenix residents Malcolm Brinkley, Demetrius Burns and Rashaad Thomas contributed their obituaries for the project.

"Malcolm Alexander Brinkley, 23, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.
Brinkley, a passionate and solution-seeking creative, sought spreading love and awareness as the answer to life’s problems..."

"...Burns was an eccentric, scattershot display of coordinated miscalculations and quicksilver grace. Blackness was elusive to his bifurcated, biracial soul. But he still chased it."

"Thomas dedicated his life to leading the Black Arts through Black Consciousness’ for Black Liberation with Black, Brown, and Indigenous Solidarity.  As a poet, educator, mentor, and community member he enjoyed life eating fried chicken, watermelon, and listening to everything Hip-Hop on porches on the Southside.
Rashaad Thomas was once a man upon this Earth, yet he is no longer."

Ja’han Jones is the founder of the Black Obituary Project, and joined The Show to talk about its origins and his goals.

Selected quotes

"The project served two different purposes. For one, it's to show how easily Black people can conceive of their own death in this country by the hands of the police. These instances happen to African Americans disproportionately. So when people show off and talk about the 'talk' black parents have with their children where they're instructing them on the ways to avoid fatal conflict with the police.

"I wanted to show that does have a tremendous psychological impact. Also, what I find is that so often when African Americans are killed by police their pictures are posted about, but their stories are not. So often here are discussions about the physical presence of these black people, how large the man was, how boisterous the women was being, things like this that I feel are  kind of dehumanizing so these allotted black people an opportunity to  tell their own stories from their own perspectives.

"Of course should these obituaries need to be used, that would bring about an entirely different sort of tragedy. "

Do people you know think about being shot by police?

"Absolutely... Just as I was speaking of the 'talk' African American parents have with their children where they are instructing them if you meet an officer make sure you're polite, make sure you have your hands up at all times, make sure you're walking upright, make sure your pants are pulled up. You know that instills a certain psychological trauma in black youth because what you're doing is essentially telling them that they are inherently threatening and that they need to do a number of things to prevent themselves from succumbing to fatal force from the police."

What did it feel like to write your own obituary?

"In writing my own obituary, I didn't find it especially difficult because again, these are things I believe black people are thinking about constantly. The idea that we walk this earth with the understanding that our lives could be taken at any moment for any reason leads us to a certain level of introspection that I think may not be occurring among other people groups.

A selection from the Black Obituary Project via Instagram:

"Yasir Ali Salih, 24, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers. Yasir, a quickly assisting and accommodating man - both his greatest quality and biggest downfall. Still calibrating his compass away from his juvenile flaws to a life tailored to his goals and beliefs.

"From an early age, Yasir was gripped in following the footsteps of his father and other philanthropic men in their mission of further developing their home country of Sudan. Though quickly comprehending the prodigiousness in this task, never steered or startled Yasir off of his self-motivated duty. Yasir, persevered from his youthful mistakes to find pleasure and comfort in faith and triumph; ultimately leading him to a life of service.

"Robbed by a bullet, Yasir’s lasting legacy was stolen. An invested and industrious student, forced Yasir to place his aspirations on hold. Yasir’s untapped potential is being buried today along with his body and soul.

"Yasir Ali Salih was once a man upon this Earth, yet he is no longer. Yasir Ali is survived by his mother, Kholoud Salih; his father, Dr. Ali Salih; and his brothers, Mohammed, Mustafa, and Mazen Salih."

"Amber May, 23, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.

"Amber, a digital media professional, was known for her passion, positive energy, and work ethic. She worked hard, loved harder, and always took her work more seriously than she took herself. Laughter was her only drug of choice. Amber was solicitous about humankind and the evolving definition of what it meant to be a woman. She governed herself on two core values: “Ubuntu,” a philosophy based on human kindness, and “sankofa,” which stresses the importance of learning from the past. As the daughter of two teachers, Amber loved learning and valued education. She was a graduate of the University of Maryland (a proud Terp) and was pursuing her master’s in business administration. Amber had barely scratched the surface of what she hoped to accomplish during her lifetime. She dreamed of owning her own business, opening her own restaurant, traveling the world, getting married and being a mom. If you remember nothing else about Amber, remember that she loved her life and everyone in it. Loved.

"Amber Mayfield was once a woman upon this Earth, yet she is no longer. Amber is survived by her two loving parents, Spencer and Theaudry, and a brother, Spencer IV."

"Tyler Samuel Cole, 24, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.

"Cole, a heartfelt, fun loving man, was a diligent worker and for many a smile on a rainy day. He found pleasure in many of the little things of this world, inspiring to make others happy. In his younger years, Cole, became infatuated in the music shown to him by his father and brother. Finding his soul in the notes and heartbeat guided by bass; his passion grew into commitment. He saw the joy music brought, and as a teenager he matured his love for music into obsession for bringing people happiness through it. Becoming handy with a turntable pushed him into a place of unapologetic creative space. With the mixture of all genres of music, it allowed him to effectively move the room with grace and a smile on his face, reflecting the smiles in the crowd. 

"Tyler Cole was once a man upon this Earth, yet he is no longer. Tyler Cole is survived by his mother, Dr. Michelle Cole; his father, Calvin Cole; his brother Geoffrey Cole and his sister Olivia Cole."

"Arianna Jones, 24, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.

"Her passing adds to the countless number of lives demolished by badges. Her melanin was just enough to be accepted by society and dark enough to be hated in the same. She lived unapologetically; fierce and unafraid of 'the man.' Often outspoken and remorselessly honest. Her joys were found in poetry, art, and loving those even if they didn't deserve it. She thought she could change the world even if her cape was a dollar and a dream; even if she wasted her money on degrees; she pressed on religiously.

"Although she is no longer a part of the flesh, she will continue to live on in memories. Arianna Jones was once a woman upon this Earth, yet she is no longer. Arianna is survived by her mother Angela, her brother Justin and sister Candace."

"Brandon Keith Reed, also known as Habit Blcx, 28, was unarmed when shot and killed in conflict with local police officers.

"The artist, the inspirational speaker, the charismatic social butterfly, with an infectious zest for life, was loved by many near and far.

"A believer in human potential, a believer in the process and not the product, are sentiments he held dearly, as exhibited in the work he did, and art he created. No stranger to the nuances of Black identity and its relationship to America, he spoke truth, and inspired others to speak their truth, like so many before him did.

"And like so many like him who spoke and lived their truth, his life was cut short.

"May the power of our ancestors be wth us; are the words tattooed along his torso, are a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also a reminder of how much further we have to go."

The Show