By Jasmine Hubara
When I heard that the late Sandra Bland’s sister was coming to speak at Red Emma’s in downtown Baltimore, I felt like I needed to attend. Sharon Cooper planned to talk about her sister and how to be an advocate in today’s society. I needed to hear her words, not just for myself, but for my city, which has been scarred by racism throughout history.
I was on a family vacation when we’d gotten the news that there had been a shooting at one of the churches fifteen minutes from my house. When I returned home a week later, I visited the Emanuel AME Church as soon as I could, once the media calmeddown. The sidewalk was covered with flowers and posters, and the only sound was people wiping their tears and police walkie-talkies going off. “Hatred is a virus where love is the only cure,” one sign read. But, hatred still creeps into people’s lives, like it did on June 17 during Bible study, and on July 10, when Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas.
On January 30, Red Emma’s, the radical bookstore was packed with people, but Cooper wasn’t intimidated. She said she felt honored that so many people came to hear her story. Her talk would be more of an open dialogue, Cooper explained, and it felt like she was having a personal conversation with everyone in that room. Her answers to questions from the audience were frank, touching on various topics, including police brutality, what it means to be black in America, and how to be a successful advocate. (Read: never back down.)
The most impactful part of Cooper’s story was when she described the time after her sister’s death, when the media came to her family for a firsthand statement of facts. Cooper asked the reporter if the story would suffer from her not giving a statement, and the reporter answered that the story had already been written. Cooper explained that the media didn’t care about her family—it was the most impersonal experience. The media will show you want they want you to see, she’d said, but you have to be the one to make your voice heard.
After the event, I spoke one-on-one with Cooper, who said she was completely touched that a college student would take time out of her schedule to come hear her. When I told her why I was there, about the tragedy that struck my hometown over the summer, she instantly understood. We talked about the ongoing racism in this country and cried over the blessing of having a sister. Cooper and her family have strength I cannot understand, but we can all learn from them about the power to speak up and fight for justice.
(Photo:Jasmine Hubara with Sharon Cooper, Sandra Bland’s sister. Photo by Jasmine Hubara)