In February of this year, we set out to record the experiences of those who struggle within the criminal justice system in this country. We put out a Craigslist ad looking for people on probation or parole who were willing to share their story on camera in Atlanta or DC.
We received hundreds of responses, performed Skype pre-interviews with dozens of people, and headed down to Atlanta to film a handful of interviews. One of those interviews was with Rayshard Brooks. Stephen Quirk recorded these videos, and he’s written about his time with Rayshard.
Fast forward to today, and we’re living in a different world. We’re trying to figure out how to live and operate with COVID-19, millions of Americans are out of work, and the country has erupted in outrage that catalyzed when video of George Floyd’s murder went public.
When we learned that Rayshard was killed by the Atlanta Police, we were in shock. This man came to us with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, jumping at the chance to tell us about his experience with the justice system. This man recognized the ways that the system had created barriers for him, but was trying to figure out how to move through those barriers. This man talked about how he was working to earn back the trust of his little girls after he’d spent a year away from them, locked in jail. This man talked about the imperfection of the human condition and had the persistence to keep going, to keep trying to walk down the right path and do the right things.
As we watched back over his interview, it became clear how badly he wanted to be heard. To have an impact on the world. To have an impact on the system that he and so many other Americans— and specifically Black Americans— struggle within. We hope that by sharing his words, his legacy can be a sea change in the systems that have created a social pandemic in our communities of color for hundreds of years.
“We can’t get the time back … but we can make up for it.”
As a privileged white man, it didn’t feel right for me to make the decisions about how and where to share this footage and start this conversation. Thank you to Ché Alexander, Van Jones, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, and Andi Lichtenfeld for helping us navigate this sensitive topic and communicate with the Brooks family. I’d especially like to thank Atiim Boykin. Atiim is a musician, a therapist, a thinker, and someone who creates the change that he wants to see in the world, and we’re lucky to have him on our team at Reconnect. You can find Atiim’s thoughts on the moment here.
And, above all, thank you Rayshard for sharing your words with us. Black lives matter. They always have, and they always will.
Founder and CEO, Reconnect