WHY I’M ADDING FORMATION TO MY
BLACK POWER MIXTAPE
By Tami Sawyer
I love music. That’s not a revolutionary statement but a simple fact. My life is a soundtrack of musical memories. My participation in the movement for Black Lives Matter has its own soundtrack, a personal Black Power Mixtape, if you will. It’s a deep and varied playlist and as of last Thursday it includes Beyoncé’s new single, Formation. Here’s how my inner soundtrack has evolved to include this latest addition.
On an 80 degree day this summer, I pulled up in front of my friend’s house to pick her up. We were headed to a rally for Darrius Stewart, the 19-year-old black male who was murdered by a white police officer this past July in Memphis, TN. I sat outside Lesley’s house in a black dress, windows down in my jeep, and sunglasses on my face. Notorious B.I.G blared on her tree-lined street in Midtown as I tapped my steering wheel along to Who Shot Ya. Lesley was used to me blasting my radio outside her house and as she hopped in the car, she laughed and said, “Good choice.” We drove the 20 minutes to a part of the city known as Hickory Hill with Biggie’s greatest hits on shuffle. It was the perfect soundtrack to the day as the first people to greet me were a pair of officers I would come to know well. One polite, one not. Both were there to let me know the rules of the city, slave codes as I call them. No more than 25 people. No blocking the intersections. Home by dark. I kept calm as I looked up at the towering camera there to watch our little gathering, running Biggie lyrics defiantly through my head, my sunglasses never betraying my anger.
A week later, I traveled in silence from Greenwood, MS in the passenger seat of my friend’s truck. We were headed back home after burying Darrius in the self-dubbed “cotton Capitol of the world.” We buried him in a small graveyard backed against acres of sun-dried corn stalks. I’d just spoken over his body about black lives and how they matter. I looked his friends and mother in the eyes and hoped my words gave them something. I wiped sweat from my forehead in the airless sanctuary . I later stood beneath a tree to attempt to escape the country heat while the Fruit of Islam carried Darrius’ body to his final resting place. I hummed the lyrics to Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit. I was still humming when I laid down to sleep that night.
Just before Christmas, I visited Ferguson, MO, home of Mike Brown, site of his death, and the heart of the resurgence of the movement for Black Lives Matter. I stood in the rain on an empty street over a memorial plaque and filled the sidewalk with the images I had absorbed from the days when there was no silence on this block. I was weary. The year was coming to a close, and I didn’t know up from down. Here I was at the marker remembering the black body that had propelled my own into action. I was jarred by the silence and poured my year of fighting onto the concrete with the rain. Eventually, I returned to my car in the apartment parking lot and watched as a woman walked down the sidewalk with groceries. As she approached Mike Brown’s marker, she didn’t slow, she didn’t hesitate. She continued to walk, head held high over the brass plate as if it were another slab of concrete. The world keeps spinning. I returned to Memphis that evening and the last song I heard before I parked near historic Soulsville to speak on a Black Lives Matter panel was Donnie’s Cloud Nine (The Colored Section). “Happy to be nappy. I’m black and I’m proud that I have been chosen to wear the conscious cloud. And I’m fine under cloud Nine.” I felt so renewed in that moment. As Donnie called for it to rain and let it pour, I was renewed and ready to let my world keep spinning and my will to fight continue.
The past few weeks I’ve been meditating on next steps for myself and the movement in Memphis. A movement that is on the defense from city leadership, MPD top brass, the media & even the people it’s meant to serve. After a week that started with the Commercial Appeal newspaper printing a grossly misleading front page article titled “Murder & Death” and Memphis’ interim police director saying we need to ride or die for the force, then Deray McKesson dropped the mic Wednesday night and announced his candidacy for mayor of Baltimore. This announcement validated decisions I had personally faced and in less than 24 hours, Beyoncé provided a soundtrack to this moment. Formation not only gave oral support to the movement but visual. I could watch Beyoncé sink a police car on mute 100 times. Not because I’m anti-police but because it’s time for the system to drown. I could listen to her sing about Afros and negro noses over and over again because I’m tired of the beauty of blackness being second guessed. Her mantra “I dream it/I work hard/till I own it” rings over and over as I’m choosing to say yes to those things I want to be/do/say. I co-sign her singing about Cuervo with no chaser as she sits in a parlor dressed in antebellum fresh. Because there’s no such thing as a one-dimensional person. You can lead protests and go to happy hour with friends. You can fight against police brutality while working to stem the effects of systematic oppression in communities. You can enter the political arena and still keep it 100 for the people. You can be Single Ladies Beyoncé and Formation Beyoncé. And at the end of the day, you can have the courage to say BLACK LIVES MATTER unapologetically and make the moves you need to make to have that be true. All while Formation plays in the background. Swag.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Tami Sawyer is an activist living in Memphis, TN. She has organized numerous rallies/protests calling for law enforcement accountability and justice for slain black youth. She is also a proponent of supporting black businesses and the founder of the Black Power Box, which lists hundreds of products by African Americans. Learn more at www.ourpowerbox.com.