She died in the shadow of a tragedy. At the age of 27, Erica Garner succumbed to a heart attack and the ensuing complications that induced severe brain damage. She fought gallantly and clung to life for more than six days before she took her last breath and transitioned to the next phase of her journey. Erica became a household name in many quarters after she took on the mantle of social justice upon her father’s inhumane death at the hands of a group of NYPD officers.
Erica became a lightening rod in a political atmosphere where society has been conditioned to see culture and politics through the prism of ideology. Even as her family mourns her death, too many are using her passing as a bludgeon to prove points. What is lost in the conversation is that Erica was a daughter, mother and a sister to many. At her age, the last thing on my mind was equality and justice as I was too busy partying and chasing the excesses of desire. Erica chose a different path; she decided to speak up for others. Through her activism, she amplified the voice of her father Eric Garner whose last words were “I can’t breath”.
It is getting harder and harder to see each other as fellow humans; our differences are glossing over our common struggles. We are so entrenched in our defensive postures that we only grieve when people who are in our camp suffer. Mourning is becoming situational where we only feel empathy for others if they resemble our thinking or our identity. If we only learned to understand each other through our commonality of pains instead of seeing each other through the lens of tribalism, we would realize that we are all in this together.
Erica chose a life of activism because she lost her father in the most gruesome way possible. The scars she carried was ripped open each time the story of her father was aired on television or posted on social media. Not only did Erica bear her father Eric Garner’s name, she also bore the burden of his death. She tried to keep him alive by speaking out for others. Even if I don’t agree with every facet of her approach, I nevertheless understand her struggle. She was a young woman who was dealing with having her father’s life taken away before he could see his daughter’s first child. I don’t write this to vilify all police officers nor do I present this article to paint with a broad brush and assign collective guilt. If there is redemption in this tragic death, let us use this occasion to discuss the issues that Erica stood for not through dissension but through the knowledge that suffering is a universal condition.
I pray for Erica’s family and for her children to know that they were born from a womb of a fierce sister. Let us rededicate ourselves to having conversations about these most complex social issues without running to our defensive positions. Don’t use her death to assign blame but to have dialogues with others even if they don’t think as you do. Humanize the trials she went through and connect it to the travails of others who know how it feels to be repressed by injustice. Don’t monopolize the struggle—make it universal. Rest in peace Erica Garner. #CommonalityOfPains
“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” ~ Aeschylus
In this Ghion Cast below, I discuss how we could make advancements as a society and bend the arc of history towards justice if we only learned to listen to each other and shared each other’s stories.
Below is an interview that Erica Garner conducted on the Breakfast Club about the intersection of culture and politics.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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