July 6, 2019 marked 3 years since Philando Castile was murdered in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Yanez has yet to be held to account for the panicked over reaction that resulted in the death of Philando.
The city of Falcon Heights has taken steps to confront and address this problem. As their contract with St. Anthony Police ended in 2018, they chose to work with the Ramsey County Sheriff to police their city. The most recent effort by Falcon Heights city officials to recognize and atone for Castile’s murder was the Cultivating a Caring Community: Understanding and Healing Event, held on 7-6-19. It was a 2 part affair. A panel discussion early and then a sunset rally at the site of the Philando Castile Peace Garden to be built in honor of his life and how he lived it. The panel featured a stellar array of Twin Cities most outspoken and honest advocates for racial and social justice. Valerie Castile, John Thompson, and Kay Andrews; Philando’s Mother, Friend, and Advocate. Host and Moderator, Melanie Leehy from the Falcon Heights City Council, kept the conversation on point and respected the personalities and truths expressed by the speakers.
Listen!King D. Pendleton.
At the sunset gathering in the Peace Garden, Valerie Castile and John Thompson were rejoined by more community members to remember Philando in the place where he was murdered. A community member that has advocated for a Peace Garden on the site stepped up to tell the good news that the campaign has begun. Later, Valerie told us that a memorial, the Phil D. Castile Bench, will be at the State Fair beginning this year. Vigil 3 weaves together the words of Valerie and John with a couple others to honor the speakers at the candlelight vigil and focus on Philando’s legacy. The relationship between Castile and Thompson has been deepened and solidified in the wake of his murder. John often refers to Valerie as his Mother and she has adopted him into her heart. The juxtaposition of their words seems to amplify their individual stories and mutually underscore each point made.
The journey of John Thompson from surprised friend, through anger and pain, to a dedicated man working to Make A Difference on July 6, 2019 in the Peace Garden, is one of persistence, insistence, and remembrance. John has become a MAD man and we should all take his example to heart. Snippets from John punctuate the clear talk from Valerie Castile about race in America. Listen to them. Take their words into your mind and their love into your heart. Valerie began to close Vigil 3 by telling us that we inspire her to do everything she does and has done. She described a cycle; a pay-it-forward loop to encourage us all.
We followed Valerie’s advice to do what we do. These videos, this article, are how we hope to become better than we were yesterday. We have created and released pieces that might be used to amplify the messages of Valerie and John and manifest the potential for an even better tomorrow. Thing is, it don’t work without you. We need your eyes, your muscles, and your minds. Now is the time for you to do what you do. Take what we have made and use it to your own – positive – ends. There are 8 new videos linked from this post and each is ready to be shared or embedded and recast into a context of your choice. Steal these videos. Help us pay it forward by using what we have made in the way it was intended. Close the Loop and Flip the Switch. By all means available and any means necessary. X marked the spot where we now stand.
The panel discussion was moderated by Falcon Heights City Council Member Melanie Leehy. She posed a series of questions, each panelist responded, and Leehy tied the answers to the theme of the evening. Our friends at CDDF Productions have created a series of videos highlighting each question and summarizing the Peace Garden Vigil. Links to the videos are spread throughout this article and will be shared on the New Hughes Video Feed FB page. Help us realize our intention to facilitate the dispersal of the ideas embodied in the videos we have made of these powerful words.
Kay Andrews and John Thompson agreed that racial and other biases prevent the unity and relationships in which positive social change takes root. Valerie Castile was glad to be having what she called an Avoided Conversation and encouraged by the impact Philando has all around the world, if not in Minnesota or St. Anthony. Thompson talked about the relationships that Philando’s legacy has made possible and the progress realized through them by stimulating conversations that for too long had been avoided. As Valerie Castile assured us, it is happening!
One Rock at a Time underscores the sources of inspiration for each panelist to continue their work and become a person of healing and understanding. John Thompson expanded on the theme of building relationships as he cited Melanie Leehy for her prayer and absence of agenda. Thompson titled the clip when he said, God gave us the strength to move mountains, but sometimes it is one rock at time. Valerie Castile echoed Thompson with a strong message of solidarity for the people that have and will come out to support her. Kay Andrews credited her parents and their teachings of kindness toward others. Kay closed with a shout out to her children and grand kids for opening her eyes to the everyday struggle of African American and Black people in their community and neighborhood.
In The Hurdle is Doing Nothing the panelists detailed the roadblocks that stand in the way of realizing their intent and missions. Valerie Castile underscored the response of places outside Minnesota to Philando’s murder and contrasted it with the lack of action in MN. We have done nothing to honor Philando or promote his message that Black People deserve more. Valerie said it clear, there is no rug big enough to sweep Philando’s murder under. This is our reality. Then John Thompson talked about the immediate response of the White People to what they presume his message will be when he has been invited to speak. He told us of places in MN where he does not feel welcome after dark. That story must not be swept under a rug too small for the murder of Philando.
Do You Care? features John Thompson looking back to his good friend Philando Castile for an example of character traits that help to promote healing and understanding. He told us that the last words he heard from Castile were, I love everybody, and John tries to bring that sentiment to every rally, panel discussion, and seminar he makes. Valerie Castile titled the clip when she told us that sympathy and empathy, the simple act of caring, are character traits most critical to healing and understanding. Her impassioned rendition of Officer Yanez on the night he murdered her son was accurate and heartbreaking. Kay Andrews cited the ability to listen and communicate as essential character traits for healing and understanding. She went on to talk about persistence and humility.
What can we do to help cultivate a caring community and promote understanding and healing? Melanie Leehy cuts through the easy answers and asks the panelists for suggestions of how the people in the audience can begin to take steps toward cultivating a caring community in which we can begin to understand and heal. John reiterates stories of his relationship to Philando before he was murdered and his recollection of the negative characterization of his good friend afterward. Philando’s Mother puts each of us into her shoes – the shoes she never thought she would wear. What U gon do?