News of Sandra Bland’s death left friends in the Houston area reeling with hurt and confusion. That confusion, however, quickly turned to conviction when the official story broke of how her arrest and death occurred. Conversation buzzed among sorors and friends who knew one thing: they did not know what happened to Sandra Bland, but they felt sure that it did not go down like that. Coming out to protests at the Waller County Jail on Wednesday, July 15 and Friday, July 17, conversation began to build about what to do. Prairie View alumni from around the country began to contact local alumni asking what they could do.
"Make her name trend" was the answer.
On July 19, Sandra’s sisters Sharon Cooper and Shante Needham arrived in Prairie View to a community prayer service in Sandra’s honor at Hope AME, the scene of her arrest. Sharon stood up to speak to the crowd and impressed upon them these instructions: “Keep tweeting, keep hash tagging, Say Her Name.”
Two days later on July 21, when Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, spoke at the Memorial on Prairie View A&M’s campus she reiterated the message to those gathered to honor her daughter, to make them Say Her Name. She told them to get a street named after her so every officer who pulled over a student would have to write Sandra Bland on the ticket. She told them to get a scholarship named after her; to name a dorm after her. She closed her remarks with the words “Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready… This means war.”
As she heard Ms. Geneva’s words, a moment of clarity and calling emerged for Sandra’s soror, Latoya Smith, as she sat in All Faith’s Chapel on Prairie View A&M’s campus. After more than a week of painful confusion, one thing became clear: We can do this.
The work began by pulling together the foot soldiers, those who had shown up in the trenches, who had gathered for lunch after the marches that had taken place the week previous. A vision emerged that began with a picnic on August 8th to raise funds to establish a Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship at Prairie View A&M. As the picnic began, some of those who had been holding vigil for Sandra Bland at the Waller County Jail, including the Rev. Hannah Bonner, arrived and collaboration began to build and strengthen.
At the end of the picnic, an announcement was made that they would be going after another one of Ms. Geneva’s big requests: changing the name of the street Sandra Bland was arrested on to Sandra Bland Parkway. Two weeks of tireless work later, the team was ready for the next step. On August 25, Ms. Geneva herself came down as she and her daughters joined the team in leading a march of Prairie View students to City Hall where the name change was voted upon and passed by the Prairie View City Council.
The victory further emboldened Sandra Bland supporters throughout the nation to continue to Say Her Name, while back in Waller County, Texas, the group of Sandra Bland supporters endured backlash and intimidation. Not to be deterred, however, the group continued to meet to consistently move towards their goals of maintaining the vigil, raising funds for the scholarship, and supporting the students of Prairie View with the support of Dr. Toniesha Taylor.
It is the goal of the group to shine a different light on Sandy’s name in the midst of slander. To help people see Sandra Bland as she truly was: an activist. By naming the fundraising picnic “The Sandy Speaks Awareness Picnic” the group brought attention to the series of #SandySpeaks videos that Sandra produced in the last year of her life. By sitting in front of the Waller County Jail for 80 days with a sign that said “What Happened to Sandra Bland?” those who held vigil kept the questions asked by Sandra’s family and friends constantly in people’s minds. The goal is to let people know that while Sandy is no longer here, nonetheless she has sparked a positive and powerful movement; a movement that focuses on #BlackLivesMatter, discusses difficult topics like white privilege and police brutality, and encourages people to step up and change the world.
In many ways, it is Sandra Bland’s own voice that leads this movement as those that proclaim that #sandySTILLspeaks continually lift up her words and strive to make decisions in a manner that honors her memory and legacy.
Sandy speaks on. She cannot be silenced.