As president of the Sacramento Chapter of Black Lives Matter, Tanya Faison shut down one of Sacramento’s main highways in the wake of the police-involved shooting death of young father Stephon Clark in 2018. She also masterminded the shutdown of Golden 1 Center that got the attention of the Sacramento Kings organization and the nation. Upon learning that an officer who killed Clark was getting married, BLM crashed the party.
“It’s just being creative,” Ms. Faison said.
“We have a structure on how we do things: first it’s a vigil, then you have a protest and then when (nothing) happens, you have to escalate.”
Ms. Faison has been arrested twice for her activism work. She says she also faces the daily ire of law enforcement who don’t like her being so vocal.
“People don’t realize I’m really risking my life,” Ms. Faison said. “I have been stopped by specific officers. They come to my house. They come into my house when I’m not at home.”
She recalls a harrowing experience of being followed on Highway 99.
“It looked like the O.J. Simpson police chase,” she recalled. “They followed me all the way from 12th Avenue to Mack Road and one of them was on the side of me, staying right next to me.”
Despite the dangers, Ms. Faison remains committed to the “real work” that remains ahead, including tackling deep-seeded issues within the Black community.
“Black lives will always matter, but what’s the root of the problem? I don’t do anything unless it’s tearing away at the root of the problem,” she said. “Putting Band-Aids on things or just mourning publicly, that’s not going to fix the problem.”
Ms. Faison has been a part of the “new face of activism” — progenitors who move differently and demand differently.
“I think it’s even evolved since I started, to be honest,” she said.
“I feel like I’m not as wild as some people are right now. I think what’s going on is, the civil rights movement never ended. It’s just evolved and we’re sick of it. We’re sick of being passive. It seems like throughout history we’ve done things the way that we’re expected to or the way we’re told that we’re supposed to, but we are fighting the system that tells us how to do it. We can’t sit inside of the box that they create for us and expect change out of it.
“I don’t ever want to incite violence or do harm to anybody or their family, but I do want them to feel uncomfortable because we’re uncomfortable every single day,” she said.
The local BLM experienced some discomfort in 2019 when, in an internal rift, members accused Ms. Faison of being abrasive and publicly demanded her resignation.
“I had to learn how to just keep it moving and not be distracted by it,” she said. “I call it, ‘my Beyoncé.’ I flip my hair and keep it moving, and that’s hard for me because I’m very confrontational, but if I would have catered to the noise, I would have distracted the whole city and the city was already distracted.”
Before BLM, Ms. Faison started a local organization called Incite Insight, moved to activism by the deaths of Oscar Grant in Oakland and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“There was a void in Sacramento. Somebody would get killed and it would be in the news one day and out the next,” Ms. Faison said. “No one had seen all the names put together. Without seeing all the names put together and seeing how (awful) it really is, it goes under the radar.”
Since its inception, Sacramento BLM has worked to secure justice for 20 Black people killed by law enforcement. Supporting their mothers has been particularly poignant for Ms. Faison.
“Some of the mothers, they ‘have’ to do this,” she said. “They have to fight. That’s how they move — ‘I have to do this for my son because he’s not here anymore’ — and the need to see justice is what drives them. Some others, they don’t like how they feel so much that they don’t even want to deal with it. I remind them that they shouldn’t know what to do next and that’s what I’m here for.”
The fight for change, and for justice, can be slow and seem unfulfilled.
“People say, ‘Oh, we may not see it in our lifetime, but I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to see it in my lifetime.’ That’s my goal. Part of that change is creating the change that you want. It’s not just going to be getting the police to do what they’re supposed to do. It’s also getting people the things that they need and if we can’t get it through the ways that we’ve been told we’re supposed to get them, then we get community together and we get those things ourselves.”
Sacramento BLM, she says, recently purchased land to create a “safe house” where community resources will be harnessed to benefit the Oak Park community.
“More change is coming,” she promised.
Driving that change with her will be local people who have joined an offshoot organization, the Our Streets Coalition. Our Streets Coalition was birthed out of the intra-community violence that shook Oak Park in summer 2020.
Ms. Faison considers herself an abolitionist.
“I’m fighting White supremacy; I’m fighting for Black liberation. Part of that fight means removing the chains that are on us,” she said. “My goal is to create what we need so that we no longer have to rely on this system for anything.”
The work can mess with a person’s sanity.
“Even when you’re not doing this work, seeing all the deaths, it’s driving us all crazy,” she said. “It hurts. There’s a lot of pain in this work. We hold people’s pain and it makes you full of their pain.”
Ms. Faison has learned to embrace self-care.
“I’ve had to learn how to pace myself and not let anything overwhelm me, make boundaries with my work. I always want to be available to people when they need help, I’ve had to learn how to prioritize that.”
The coronavirus changed some of BLM’s movements in 2020. Action now, Ms. Faison says, must be purposeful, and safe.
“When someone gets killed, then we’re going to show up. People are talking about George Floyd, they’re talking about Breonna Taylor. Nobody’s talking about Carl Walker or Kershawn Geiger, or Adriene Ludd or Dazion Flenaugh,” she said.
“All these people in Sacramento who have been killed and their names are not being lifted like they should. I’m going to keep lifting those names. I’m going to keep putting their stories out there and reminding people that this happens in Sacramento, that there was someone in the jail that was saying that they couldn’t breathe and police were kneeling on him until he died and that was Marshall Miles. Those things are happening right here.”
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Sacramento OBSERVER introduces a special series, “Sistahs on the Frontlines,” acknowledging and highlighting the work that Black women are doing as “essential workers” on the frontlines, furthering the causes of the community. READ MORE