In August, police officer Darren Wilson, a white man, shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, sparking protests and debates across the nation about race relations. The Spectator interviewed Tyrone Brown, administrative coordinator for Seattle University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, about his recent experience in Ferguson, Missouri, and his plans for a new campus program called Moral Mondays.
This interview has been edited for length.
LB: Can you DESCRIBE your experience in Ferguson?
TB: I went to the Weekend of Resistance, which was basically October 10-12. I stayed maybe a few miles from Ferguson, near the airport, and the first thing I did when I flew in that Thursday evening was to go visit the actual memorial in the evening over on Canfield Drive. And it was maybe ten o’clock at night, very few people around and kind of surreal. [I saw] the area where, of course, [Brown’s] body had been, and also the makeshift memorials that had been set up.
Then the next day was the first march, and that was basically centering around trying to get the, I think it was the district attorney, to recuse himself from the case.
I thought something that was unique was they had police officers lined up out front and some kind of barrier and tape, but people were allowed to come up and kind of just speak to the officers. And some of it was politically incorrect, and harsh. Another person was praying. And I even had a chance to speakm and I thought, “Wow, this is important. People able to say what’s on their minds even if we don’t agree.”
LB: Tell me about Moral Mondays.
TB: The name is something that I did not make up, it actually comes out of North Carolina, is my understanding, from maybe earlier this year from issues that they’ve been dealing with.
That said, I think people have kind of taken that and seen it as an opportunity to really organize around it and to interpret it however they want, and I felt it was an appropriate name and way to bring about some type of campaign on campus.
I am calling it Moral Mondays at SU. It is a series of events between Oct. 20 and Dec. 8 for now. Every Monday, some type of event that is Ferguson- or Michael Brown-related will happen on campus.
LB: Why is what happened in Ferguson relevant to Seattle University students?
TB: I’ll give you two reasons. One is—and this is something that I feel really, really strongly about—that we all here at Seattle University, in the city of Seattle, across the country, need to be reminded that Michael Brown was a human being. He was a citizen of the state of Missouri, and of the United States of America. He was a teenager, and he was a child of God, worthy of mercy and grace. That has to be put into the narrative because he’s being dehumanized.
The second thing, too is, in our own way—even though it’s different—we are dealing with our own Ferguson-like reality here in Seattle. Now granted, it’s not what’s going on there, or as volatile, but we have some of the same issues currently, and [we’ve had them] in the past and probably [will have them] in the future.
I’ve said to people, I’m far from Michael Brown’s experience. I was born in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve got my Bachelor’s and my MFA, I’m 44 years old and I am a homosexual, okay? But I also understand if I found myself in the situation for whatever reason, where I was killed by a police officer who was white, the same narrative could be used against me—where suddenly you’d see an image of me that was really aggressive, and I could be called a thug, or someone who was up to no good. Why? Because I live in a country where [for] black males, that narrative especially, can be automatically put on us. And so that’s part of it, too: In terms of being in the fight that I can fight, I can fight the narrative.
LB: Art seems to be VERY RELATED to YOUR PROCESSING OF THIS EVENT. could YOU build on that a little?
TB: I think we see plenty, we know plenty of examples of the way amazing art comes even out of trauma. Whether it’s comedy or a painting, dance, or what have you. And right now there’s a lot of trauma going on in Ferguson.
[Activists] talked about the importance that music played in the struggle. That’s why you either had someone with drums or a trumpet player. You might have thought you were in Mardi Gras, but that was moving people along in that march to keep them motivated. And then you would go to the Hip Hop & Resistance event, and it was hip hop music, and those youth, and the language they were using, it was angry—but it was such a positive way of expressing that anger, and they reminded us members specifically the importance of dancing.
The art is a conduit. It’s not art for art’s sake. It’s about Michael Brown, Ferguson, and the larger issues, and giving students, and faculty and staff on SU’s campus opportunity to express things that they’ve been thinking, and maybe be inspired to also join in the conversation in relation to what they’re doing here on campus.
Lena can be reached at [email protected]