The Lost Voices found purpose in tragedy.
Each of the eight members who visited University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to speak to students Thursday evening at Valhalla in the Cartwright Center shared their personal stories, speaking about how the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson changed their lives.
Dasha Jones lived down the street from where Brown was killed Aug. 9, 2014, after he was confronted by Wilson for jay-walking. She recounted her first reaction for UW-L students.
“Why would (Wilson) do that?” Jones remembered asking. “I thought police were supposed to protect us,” she said.
Jones took to the streets, where she met others who felt the same horror and anger, and demanded Wilson be held accountable for Brown’s death, arguing against the grand jury decision not to charge Wilson and put him on trial.
Members lost their jobs as they lived in tents for three months, keeping the pressure on the local government to create real change.
“I worked nine-to-fives just like they do. Now I’ve got a better nine-to-five,” said member Meldon Moffitt.
Moffitt, along with the other Lost Voices members, have spent months of protesting and demanding change that would hold police accountable for brutality, require more extensive officer training on racial bias and ensure current policies are enforced.
“Footwork and running your mouth are two different things,” Moffit said.
The group was founded in protest, but its work has gone beyond marching and chanting as Ferguson tries to recover from the tragedy. The Lost Voices founded the Center of Hope and Peace in the city to provide a safe, free place where children can go, learn and play.
“We did that, and we made that happen for free,” said Lost Voices member Myjia Smith.
In addition, they run food and clothing drives to ensure children in their neighborhood get enough to eat and warm clothes to keep them going through winter.
“We do whatever it takes to give kids a future,” Moffit said.
They’ve also traveled to speak on their experiences to try and keep the dialogue going and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
“At the end of it, I’m talking to y’all, and y’all are talking to me,” said Myjia Smith. “We all will be equal.”
When asked what keeps them going through the months of hard work, Myjia Smith was blunt.
“The killings. … It brings tears to our eyes and pain to our souls,” said Myjia Smith.
“I don’t feel like anybody’s life should be taken,” she added.
The speakers were invited to La Crosse after UW-L students Julius Starlin and Eden Klingensmith-Laplander heard them speak at the National White Privilege Conference earlier this year.
The event’s moderator, Charles Modiano, who travels with the Lost Voices to help tell their story, said they came to teach UW-L students that they can make a difference and address racial inequality in their community.
“You can do things,” said Modiano. “There are a number of organizations that are listed right here,” Modiano added, pointing to the list of the events’ sponsors, including the Black Student Unity, Department of Ethnic & Racial Studies and Office of Multicultural Student Services.
‘Black Lives Matter’
The group also took a moment to address the use of language and how it affects them — specifically why the movement is entitled “Black Lives Matter,” rather than the commonly suggested “All Lives Matter.”
Bud Smith explained that the movement’s members know that all lives matter, but so often black lives are excluded.
“’All Lives Matter’ doesn’t include us. We say that because we’re seeing it. The proof is in the pudding,” said Bud Smith.
The choice of the name acknowledges that exclusion.
“It’s not like we’re saying only black lives matter, but we’re the ones being targeted,” said Jones.
For more information, visit TheLostVoices.org.