Unapologetic & Undeterred: Brittany Ferrell Speaks Her Piece

The right to remain silent may be a constitutional protection afforded to all, but activist and freedom fighter Brittany Ferrell would rather speak her piece. And the relentless St. Louis resident is not stopping until she’s fully heard.

Since the death of Mike Brown last August, Ferrell has been on the front lines of one of the most direct actions against racial injustice seen in recent times. All throughout the country protests and demonstrations—reminiscent of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement—have formed to shed light on the extrajudicial killings of black citizens at the hands of police officers. The continuous oversight and lack of accountability displayed has hit a major nerve amongst thousands who say enough is enough.

“It truly is a movement,” says Ferrell. “People are fed up and they’re tired.”

Being on the ground in Ferguson, Ferrell can sense that better than anyone. When initial protests began it was her own exasperation that moved her to take a semester off from school. “Something was triggered inside of me,” says the senior nursing student. “I was going to class, and I couldn’t focus. I felt really disconnected because my mind wasn’t there, it was in the community. Seeing the people on my Twitter feed and in the streets, I couldn’t think straight.”

Ferrell made sure to make the most of her time away. Her advocacy work has included everything from participating in rallies, to attending city council meetings, to engaging the public through social media and other outlets.

In January, Ferrell returned to her studies at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, and plans to graduate at the end of the year. She says that even though her education is now back in top priority, her role and commitment to organizing has not lessened. “I’m still very present,” she says. “I’m just super busy.”

Brittany Ferrell

Busy may be an understatement. Between being a mother, wife, student and co-founder of Millennial Activists United (MAU), Ferrell has her hands full.

MAU, a grassroots collective Ferrell started with a small group of fellow protesters, aims to rebuild the community through cultivating young people for action against racism. The organization was formed out of a puzzling dynamic observed when members first took to the streets: although a large number of women and LGBTQ individuals were immersed in the cause, they were often missing in positions of visibility and leadership.

“We kept seeing some of the same folk day after day,” she says. “[But] these are the same people that you did not see when it was time to get on the microphone, or you did not see in the boardroom. So a [group] of like-minded people that had the same end goal came together [with] this idea to advocate for people who are often marginalized doing this kind of activism work.”

Ferrell says even though MAU has gone on to gain nationwide support, the group regularly receives criticism for encroaching on territory that is typically reserved for heterosexual males. “It’s a lot of sexism and homophobia,” she says. “They don’t see how they’re upholding the very thing we’re fighting against.”

But despite pushback, Ferrell is determined to see MAU accomplish its mission.

“We are very necessary,” she says. “There were no voices that were representative of LGBTQ people, of women, and of young people at table until we really started pushing for it. We began asking why are we not here, and we began demanding we be present, and we carved out a space for ourselves. Oftentimes it can be mistaken that if you’re not a straight black man, you’re not subjected to police brutality. If we’re [going to] scream black lives matter, we have to encompass all black life, and not just the black life that’s been deemed acceptable by the majority.”

MAU is currently in the process of expanding locally, and hopes to soon charter chapters all throughout the country. The group has begun hosting monthly meetings called Black Girl Magic for women and those who identify as such. Ferrell says the gatherings are meant to provide fellowship and to help create a support system for empowerment and sustainability. MAU is also planning an upcoming radicalization workshop to prepare residents for work this spring and summer.

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While the struggle for justice and equality can be trying, Ferrell is happy to share the journey with her wife Alexis Templeton, a MAU co-founder as well. The two met while demonstrating and eventually formed a relationship that culminated in matrimony last December. The union made national news receiving attention from media outlets such as BuzzFeedHuffington Post and Cosmopolitan. Many well-wishers offered their congratulations, but negative feedback once again pointed to the obstruction that often comes from the very people she’s laboring to protect.

“A lot of the stuff is very hurtful,” she says. “While we’re out here fighting for black life, you have black people saying things like, we’re an example of what’s destroying the black family, and we’re pushing the gay agenda, and we’re doing all this other crazy stuff. I just try my best not to internalize that because to me this is part of the fight— waking up black folks to let them know that my sexuality is not destroying your family. My sexuality is not going to make everybody in this movement gay or a lesbian. My sexuality has nothing to do with you and how you receive it. Just as I respect you for who you are, I need you to respect me as I am, and not expect me to separate myself from my sexuality.”

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“If we’re going to make real change, the white people need to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says. “They need to get comfortable having these conversations with other white people. The most important part that white people can play in this movement is talking to other white people and helping them confront their racism and white privilege and their racial bias.”

Ferrell hopes that by challenging these views her daughter, and other children coming up, will one day be able to live in a country where less judgment and more acceptance is the norm. She believes the insults thrown at her and MAU are only a distraction from the greater issue at hand which is racism.

“Take a look at our society,” she says. “Take a look at the SAE video. Take a look at Tamir Rice and people saying he caused his own death. Take a look at how ridiculous it is when they talk about the loss of black life, and when they talk about racism, and how they want to act like it’s not that big of a deal, or we create this to be a problem for ourselves. No matter how you look at it, this is something that has been occurring for centuries. It needs to be condemned and it needs to be spoken out against, and enough is not being done. There’s nowhere near enough being done.”

And for Ferrell who draws inspiration from historical figures like Bayard RustinAssata Shakur, and Angela Davis, enough won’t be done until everyone realizes their role in the fight for social justice and begin to act accordingly.

“If we’re going to make real change, the white people need to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says. “They need to get comfortable having these conversations with other white people. The most important part that white people can play in this movement is talking to other white people and helping them confront their racism and white privilege and their racial bias.”

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https://www.facebook.com/Blynnferrell?fref=ts 

by Deon Newsom

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