Iyanala Goes to Ferguson
Iyanla Vanzant announced she was going to Ferguson to promote healing after the murder of Michael Brown, and the backlash was immediate. She was called an opportunist and her motives were questioned, and her critics were all in an uproar based on what they thought she was going to do despite her not having a history of being an exploiter. Furthermore, Iyanla is a lawyer, minister, life coach and a full human being with the right to express herself. I am not even going to give those negative Nancys any more attention because now that the show has aired, you can judge for yourself whether the visit was effective. The 90-minute special “Iyanla Fix My Life -Special Report: Healing in Ferguson” aired on August 26, 2014 more than two weeks after the unarmed 18-year old was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.
“I’ve Come to Interrupt the Pattern”
In the weeks since the shooting, the streets of Ferguson have been chaotic. The police are in tanks hurling tear gas with snipers trained on the crowds of protesters and even some reporters have been threatened and arrested. Violence and bad feelings abound. These horrible images were being broadcast all over the world every day to the point where people from Palestine have been tweeting tips to the protesters in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas using the tags #Ferguson and #Palestine.
This is the environment that Iyanla was walking into to try to offer some much-needed healing and interrupt the patterns that lead to this tragic situation. She thanked the community for allowing her to visit and upon being embraced by an older woman, she told the woman that as an elder in the community she needs a voice: “We cannot be silent any longer. We cannot!”
Iyanla showed up with a camera crew ready to have some tough conversations with the interested parties including Police Chief Thomas Jackson and Pastor Charles Ewing, Mr. Brown’s Granduncle. I give the Chief credit for showing up even if he did seem to dodge the questions about the poor optics of having a militarized police force squashing peaceful demonstrations. She allowed Pastor Ewing to speak from the family’s perspective about the desire for justice, and the Chief expressed his sympathy for the loss of life that happened on his watch. The Chief said that the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and that he needs at least 14 days of peace to wrap things up, and Pastor Ewing agreed to that. Now they just needed to convince the protesters to remain peaceful despite the high tensions.
An Elder’s Apology
Next Iyanla met with a group of clergy, protesters and concerned citizens to find out what they hoped to accomplish by demonstrating every day. The protesters are very angry not just about this particular shooting but about the ongoing issues of racial profiling and discrimination that they have been dealing with for years. She tried to get to the root of the problem and let them know that the Chief requested 14 days of peace and gets them to agree to enforce this moratorium on violence.
The next meeting with a group of protesters, including some gang members, was the part of this episode that stayed with me long after the show was finished. Iyanla apologized to the young men for failing them as an elder by not showing them the way and let them know that continuing down that path that they have chosen is very dangerous since they have no real plan of action, and the police were prepared for brutal retaliation. One young man had on a shirt that said “No Justice No Peace” which was a familiar rallying cry, but as she pointed out “Now you don’t have justice, and you don’t have peace.” They are understandably angry, but that alone won’t change anything. After a long discussion about their fears and expectations, there were promises to do better and hugs. You can tell when someone is just returning a hug to be polite, but these young men fell into Iyanla’s embrace and were clinging to her like she was a lifesaver.
In asking the young men to commit to enforcing the peace, Iyanla asked them to do three things:
- Pause – to get clarity
- Plan – have some goals in mind
- Participate – show up and be counted
After that, they headed out to march and were immediately confronted by police officers and National Guard members who asked them for their passes – reminiscent of what happened in Johannesburg under Apartheid – and then herded them over to an approved assembly area.
Iyanla’s visit started some necessary conversations and could lead to real changes down the road. The protesters needed to know that violence begets violence and as she put it “someone is benefiting from you staying disorganized.” She stated more than once that she was an outsider and was not there to tell them how to handle their business, but as a coach, she did make some good suggestions. She also promised to return to Ferguson in the future without cameras. For all the advance criticism, she was received with open arms and those young men seemed to genuinely appreciate her love and guidance. And I liked that she made the point about how some people are so busy clutching their pearls and being afraid of these young men that they cannot even see how they have failed them.