The first time I ever saw white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, I was nine years old.
The white supremacists were the people who’d taken over the University of Virginia, the city where I was raised, the place where I’d grown up.
The first white supremacist rally had happened at the state capitol, in front of the old UVA campus, and a few months later the governor had declared martial law.
That night, when the first white nationalist march ended in chaos, my mother was in her office, and I was watching as she and her husband drove out of town.
I was there when Charlottesville was razed to the ground.
The people who marched there were people I’d never met, and they weren’t white supremacists.
They were the first people I knew of who’d marched on my school’s campus, on my own city’s college campus, in a city whose name was synonymous with racism, bigotry, and hatred.
They wore masks, had swastikas on their chests, and carried torches.
They weren’t Nazis, and, though they were marching, they weren: They were students of Color, activists of Color.
As a student of Color at the University, I’d been fighting to dismantle the racist institutions that fueled the war in my city, from school board meetings to university presidents.
I’d also been trying to end the violence and racism that made my city a place of exclusion and violence for black people and other people of Color and immigrants.
But as a white student, my activism didn’t fit into the larger picture.
The students of color who took part in Charlottesville had no clear goals, no clear agenda.
It was the first time in my life that I’d ever been forced to see a movement that seemed so clear-cut: a white supremacist march, and it was the only time in a long time that I had any inkling of the group’s intentions.
I had a very brief moment of clarity that Saturday night, and then, the next day, I went back to school, where I had no time to prepare.
I did, however, learn a few lessons from Charlottesville.
A year later, I attended the same college as the Charlottesville students.
In the fall of 2018, when I was in graduate school, my professor asked me if I wanted to study a topic related to the Charlottesville riots.
“I just don’t think that’s what you want to do,” he said.
He told me I should apply for a PhD in sociology.
The professor told me it was okay to think that way, but I wasn’t sure if that meant I should even apply.
I wanted a job, I wanted the money, I just wanted a degree.
So I applied.
In February 2019, I started work at a law firm in New York.
I spent the next year studying the history of American policing, focusing on the police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Ferguson protests were a huge wake-up call to the police in New England.
They’d spent the previous year dismantling the black community, killing and imprisoning thousands of people, and creating a culture of fear that seemed to spread throughout the entire region.
But the protests in New Jersey, where the protests started, had also begun to create a sense of panic and alienation among the black communities of New Jersey and across the country.
For many of those people, the protests were both a threat to their livelihoods and their ability to participate in everyday life.
I worked for the law firm where a couple of my law students had started their PhD program.
One of the students, Adrienne Pardo, was a doctoral candidate who’d recently been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her work on the criminal justice system in the United States.
I liked her a lot, but she had this really tough personality.
When she was talking about the riots, she didn’t want to be a victim.
She was like, “I want to tell you about my life.”
And I thought, This is a very different person than you.
She told me about her parents and the trauma they’d experienced in their lives, about the struggles they’d had growing up.
But she didn, at that point, know what to do.
In September, the year after the Ferguson riots, the federal government had just issued a $40 billion package to rebuild the nation’s prisons, and the president of the United State had said that we had to be vigilant in our response.
At the time, I wasn’ t even sure if I was ready for that kind of change.
But after I went through a couple months of graduate school and worked in a legal practice, I thought about what my job would look like if I were a Black woman working in a law office.
At first, I didn’t feel like a law student.
In fact, I felt like a member of a gang, the black students of