Black students create “Am I Next?” spoken word video in response to Ferguson

In a video posted to YouTube last week, Walter Kelly (COL ’16) and dozens of friends performed a spoken word protest, titled “Am I Next?” of the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the police response to the protests there.

The video was conceived and organized by LaDarius Torrey (COL ’16), who was tortured all summer by the events in Ferguson. “It was so bad to the point where I could hardly sleep at night,” Torrey said in an interview with Vox. Torrey found himself wondering “am I next?”

After conversations with friends at Georgetown who shared his frustration, Torrey decided to produce a statement on racial injustice and prejudice against young African-American males with the goal of furthering dialogue and awareness at Georgetown and beyond.

Torrey sought out Kelly, a member of Corpus Collective, Georgetown’s Poetry Slam Team and Spoken Word Community. The two gathered a group of students to create a video that would contribute to the ongoing conversation in the form of a spoken word poem.

“Am I Next?” questions not only the treatment of African-American men by police officers but also the underlying issues of prejudice and perceptions of aggression that have damaging and, in some cases, fatal consequences. Filmed on the steps of Healy Hall, the piece aims to remind students of the connections between life on the Hilltop and issues of national concern.

“What I hope I got across is that people who didn’t realize it before realize that what goes on to our young black men in America in different communities not only affects those specific communities but also affects the people in this community here in Georgetown,” Kelly said.

In their time as students, both Kelly and Torrey have experienced a multitude of incidents of prejudice, ranging from judgments about their qualifications to attend Georgetown to more overt experiences of profiling and mischaracterization.

“There’s times where I’ll just walk down Prospect at night and there’ll be a person who I probably had a class with and they’ll cross the street,” Kelly said. “I don’t feel like they do it on purpose, but, in those moments, I feel like a criminal. I feel guilty inside, subconsciously, and I think that’s really harmful for a young African-American male growing up.”

Both Torrey and Kelly believe that a conversation about these experiences and about the normalization of these prejudices is taking place at Georgetown, evidenced by events such as the Vigil and panel discussions held recently in response to Ferguson.

“I simply wanted with this video to draw attention,” Torrey said. “You can act how you want to towards it, or after it, I’m not asking you to change your mannerisms. What I’m asking is that you think. Just broadly think.”

Video: Am I Next Campaign via YouTube

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