This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Dawn Suggs and Kenya Vaughn 

Standing before the crowd of supporters at the inaugural Michael Brown Foundation Awards Gala on Saturday, August 6, Calvina “Cal” Brown confessed that the weekend before the anniversary of her stepson’s death is always the most difficult.

But as the community prepared to commemorate eight years since he was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer, Cal Brown and her husband Mike Brown Sr. found the strength to honor those who took to the streets in the name of justice for Mike Brown.

The purpose of the gala was to raise funds for The Michael Brown Chosen For Change Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Cal and Michael Brown, Sr. which provides community support, outreach programs, and “a place for healing for fathers, youth and families that have experienced the traumatic effects of police brutality and [violence].” 

The inaugural gala – held at the Marriott St. Louis Airport –  collectively recognized members of the group commonly referred to as the Ferguson Frontline as part of the ceremonies. These committed activists galvanized on that fateful day and relentlessly protested for justice and police reform. Their response to the August 9, 2014 tragedy sparked a global conversation regarding the relationship between law enforcement and the Black community, particularly about the people of color who experienced fatal encounters with police.

Before she called them to the stage, Cal spoke of how she and her husband felt compelled to reciprocate support to the protesters as they were putting their bodies on the line in the name of Mike Brown.

“We would sneak out right before curfew and make sure that they could eat, had money and they had water,” Cal said.

I am Mike Brown. I am Mike Brown.

The group emerged and spontaneously burst into the same chants they delivered during their nearly yearlong nonstop protest throughout the streets of Ferguson – as they faced down tanks, rubber bullets and tear gas under the constant threat of arrest.

“I am Mike Brown. I am Mike Brown,” they chanted. 

“Hands up, don’t shoot.”

“When Black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up. Fight back.”

“Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

“Tell me what democracy looks like…this is what democracy looks like.”

As the honorees received their plaques from Mike Brown Sr., they talked about continuing to fight for change – and expressed their commitment to the Ferguson frontlines for life.

The 2022 Ferguson Frontline honorees included Ned Alexander, Avery, Aminah Ali, Calina and Solomon Bodie, Amir Brandy, Derk Brown, Cori Bush, Anthony Cage, Queen Daughtery, Dontay Carter, Gina Gowdy, Cheyenne Green, Fran Griffin, Dasha Jones, Melanie Marie, Meldon Moffitt, Lala Moore, Canton Rhodes, Shellie Robinson, Tory Russell, Anthony Shahid, Kyzar Sharp and Ebony Williams.  Cary On The Ball Foundation, Real STL News, The Canna Education Collective and Young Voices with Action were recognized as organizational honorees.

Former newscaster April Simpson, was the host of ceremonies and commandeered a silent auction of original artwork by Ciera Janae. Aja La’Starr Owens read a poem she wrote the day Mike Brown life was taken about how she took it personally.  Precious Berry, 17, a self-described activist and entrepreneur, spoke about her view of the uprising as a nine-year-old and the way it instilled a sense of justice in her that’s deepened with age.  

Michael Brown Sr., and Calvina “Cal” Brown on the red carpet for inaugural Michael Brown Foundation Awards Gala and fundraiser on Saturday, August 6, 2022 at The Marriott St. Louis Airport on Saturday, August 6, 2022. The Michael Brown Chosen For Change Foundation provides community support, outreach programs, and “a place for healing for fathers, youth and families that have experienced the traumatic effects of police brutality and [violence].

During the awarding of the plaques, Mike Brown Sr. said that there were individuals present among the group who stood by his family when it seemed like he couldn’t trust anyone.  He paused before recognizing Brother Anthony Shahid. He shared examples of the invaluable counsel and support the longtime activist and community leader offered him as he was going through the unimaginable horror of losing his son while the world watched – and in some cases attempted to exploit – the tragic situation as it unfolded.  

Mike Brown Sr.  revealed that early on in the movement that a popular tobacco brand offered the Browns a multi-million-dollar endorsement to use his late son’s likeness.

He said that Shahid stepped forward with insight.

“[He said] Hey man, I don’t even know you. I’m going to sit back and see what your response is,” Shahid said, according to Mike Brown Sr.  “I’m going to be honest with you Brother Mike, I ain’t [expletive] with you no more if you accept it. Cause you’d have been bought brother.”

Though Shahid’s willingness to speak up established his bond with the Brown family, Mike Brown Sr. said taking the deal was never an option for him.

“I thought it was very disrespectful,” Mike Brown Sr. said. “I would have sold out Ferguson if I had did that. That’s how I looked at it. I couldn’t walk around and see wrappers on the ground, after seeing Mike four and a half hours on the ground. Now, I got to see wrappers with his face on the ground everywhere – because who ain’t gonna want to smoke a Mike Brown blunt?”

Mike Brown Sr. went on to talk about how Brother Shahid selflessly extended himself not only to the movement, but to the Brown family as they attempted to navigate their new reality.

“This guy has always shone up, shone out,” Mike Brown Sr. said. “He picked my kids up, took them to school when we were going through all that. A lot of people don’t know we were living in a hotel when Mike got killed.”

The family was in the midst of transition due to a house fire that had taken place just two months before his son’s death.

Like many from the Ferguson frontlines, my life changed eight years ago. The police killing of Michael Brown is what propelled me and many others into lives dedicated to building a world where Mike would not have been taken from us.

Cori Bush, 2022 Ferguson Frontline honoree

“People were wondering  why we were going to a hotel when all these people … [like] Al Sharpton, was in town,” Mike Brown Sr. said. “They thought they were just keeping us all together.  No, we was actually living in the hotel, but this bruh [Shahid] made sure that my other kids got to school.”

The Browns attempted to give Shahid a monetary token of their appreciation when they received their insurance payout, but he refused.

“He wouldn’t accept it, but we made sure this this guy was respected and loved,” Mike Brown Sr. said. “This is from my family – from me, bruh. Love you, love you, love you.” 

The crowd proceeded to chant “Shahid, Shahid, Shahid” as Mike Brown Sr. handed him the plaque.

Frontline members have remained active in the community, many have started their own businesses, media outlets, become elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Cori Bush – the first Black Woman to represent the First Congressional District of Missouri – and former Councilwoman Fran Griffin, the first Black woman elected to serve in Ferguson’s 3rd Ward.  Bush was unable to attend due to political commitments. She did however release a statement in commemoration of the eighth anniversary of Mike Brown’s death.

“Like many from the Ferguson frontlines, my life changed eight years ago,” Bush said. “The police killing of Michael Brown is what propelled me and many others into lives dedicated to building a world where Mike would not have been taken from us.”

Rapper, actor and activist David Banner closed out the festivities as the evening’s keynote speaker.

He pointed out that history illuminates what African Americans are capable of.

“Many largely Black towns and municipalities, in addition to Tulsa, Oklahoma’s ‘Black Wall Street,’ prospered in spite of segregation until Black business owners and entrepreneurs were expelled, lynched, massacred and Black infrastructures were destroyed and extinguished by white supremacists,” Banner said. “This history makes evident that Black people can achieve great success when they’re not handicapped by white power structures…or themselves.”

The events of Ferguson and those who fought for social justice in our region can be counted among that history.