Op-EdOpinion

FLOWERS: We’ll Never Know What Heights Little Nyiah Could Have Reached … We Should All Be Sad

Nyiah Courtney, a 6-year-old who was killed at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Malcolm X Avenues, SE last week, joined Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Taylor and other latter day Black martyrs. She will receive more news and attention in death than she received living her life. Since Sister Nyiah didn’t get a chance at life, we will never know.

Her death took me back nearly three decades to 1992 when the words of rap artist Sister Souljah were used by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton and caused her to suffer the equivalent of what today is described as canceled because the media values the lens and framework of what the white mainstream says and does.

Specifically, she said: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? . . . So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?”

Presidential candidate and then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton, in a June 13 appearance at  Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push convention, admonished Sister Souljah and brought attention to the issue of crimes that Black people inflict on each other.  

The issue at hand today is still the same. As much as we rally and march when white people touch, arrest or kill one of our own, we don’t express the same collective outrage when self-loathing, despair or external rage causes us to kill someone who looks like us. Witnesses will not even report what they see. Hopefully, the murder of Sister Nyiah Courtney will be different. 

At a rally on July 24, 2021, on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, my heart broke again on so many levels just knowing that a child took her last breath on that corner. 

The organizer of that rally, ANC Commissioner Salim Adofo, attendees to the streets in the impacted area to share resources for jobs, rental support and other human service benefits that could be helpful in the aftermath of COVID. This is the kind of leadership that is required. I should add that the NAACP, the NOI, the police, other ANC Commissioners, Nation of Islam and community leaders were on call for support for the outreach effort from beginning until end. The community came together. This is what it will take. We should all be prepared to move beyond the rally and fear (of being canceled) and meet people where they are.

Like most urban spaces Southeast D.C. is a collection of neighborhoods, communities and cuts. Every so often there are tragedies and twists that bring us together and remind us what the words “neighbor” and “community” really mean. The statement made at the rally is as old as time itself. We are supposed to protect children and support our elders. This is the essence of the African tradition that brought us this far in the American story.

I take back my statement about young Sister Nyiah not being recognized in life as she will be in death. Because of the many influencers from neglected corners of the world we have no idea of the impact she may have had. The only difference between Sister Nyiah and voices like Sister Souljah is the chance of life.

Rest in paradise, Sister Nyiah. You are a seed.

Willie Flowers is the president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference and a former Commissioner of ANC 4C-06 in Ward 4.

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