There is a long pause near the end of Sandra Bland’s first #SandySpeaks video, made in January of 2015. It lasts almost five seconds, and in that pause my calling resides. There is no other moment I identify with more solidly.
Near the end to her video, Sandy says, “It’s time for me to do God’s work…”
Then the pause comes, with a sigh in the middle.
Then, “I know everybody don’t believe in God, which is fine. But I want you to know that on Sandy Speaks, I’m gong to talk about God, because for me [God] has truly opened my eyes and shown me that there is something out there we can do.”
Sandra Bland would make 28 more videos over the next six months, the majority of them delving into the difficulty Americans are having in facing racial injustice. Her courage and creativity in engaging those difficult questions was boundless. In one video, she sits in a Starbucks with a sign that says, “All white people are not against us.” In another video, she explains the necessity of the words: “Black. Lives. Matter. They matter.” She articulated powerfully the importance of what is happening in our nation, and she did it through a lens of love.
She also did it through a lens of faith, creating the pause in which our lives so often reside. Working to speak truth to power, dismantle white supremacy, and eradicate racism and misogyny, we come face to face with the reality that the Christian community itself has been a part of establishing the very systems we now seek to dismantle. From using preaching to support colonization, slavery, and segregation, to theology that attempted to silence women, the Christian community has often erred.
As people of faith who seek to end injustice, we live in that pause. We live in that constant discernment about how to articulate our faith in a manner that is authentic without imitating the forceful and exclusionary rhetoric that has led many in my generation to be wary of Christian community.
That is why when I saw Sandra pause and then continue forward — saying that God is the one who called her to work to end injustice — I felt convicted. She was a woman who was as unapologetic about her faith as she was about her love for herself and others. She chose to intertwine the articulation of her faith into her pursuit of justice, because it was her faith that had led her into action.
On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia near the gates of Prairie View A&M University where she was about to begin a new job. Shortly before leaving Chicago to start that job in Texas, she had returned from a road trip with her mother, worshipped one last time at her African Methodist Episcopal Church, and hugged her four sisters goodbye.
The last video we have of Sandra Bland is not her smiling face in a #SandySpeaks video, but instead her body on the ground with Trooper Brian Encinia’s knee in her back, after he had threatened her with his Taser in order to get her to leave her vehicle and step outside of the range of his dash cam. His scream — “I will light you up!” — as he stuck his Taser in her face still rang in the air, as Sandra looked to the left, in the direction of the African Methodist Episcopal Church where she had been pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, and upon whose doorstep she would breath her last free breaths.
Sandra Bland would never again make a #SandySpeaks video, never again say “Good morning my kings and queens,” never again say, “God loves you.”
On July 13, 2015, she would be found dead in her jail cell, under circumstances still hotly discussed and debated, after Trooper Brian Encinia brutally arrested her following a ticket for failing to signal a lane change.
She left us with these words from her first video:
“I need you. I need y’all’s help. I can’t do this by myself. I need you.”
She does, now more than ever. Yet it is not only Sandra Bland that is calling us to take action. It is also our God, who says, “Loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke.”
This work will be uncomfortable. Committing our lives to dismantling racism will be as uncomfortable as spending our lives in that five second pause of Sandra’s, knowing that the same injustice we work to undo is injustice we sometimes had a hand in creating. Yet, like Sandra, we must push through that pause so that not another generation will have to live in a world where lives and rights are not valued on an equal scale.