Wanda Johnson Heals Through Action

Wanda Johnson eventWith 44 Days Honoring Black History in full swing on campus, the Saint Mary’s Community gathered on Wednesday, February 26, in Hagerty Lounge for “Healing Through Action,” with guest speaker Wanda Johnson. Johnson, an activist and mother of Oscar Grant, who was murdered by BART police on January 1, 2009, at Fruitvale Station, shared her personal experiences of healing from trauma caused by police violence as well as some strategies for communities to heal.

The event began by participants sharing what brought them there, with students and staff members expressing that they wanted to support the 44 Days Honoring Black History events on campus and show that they are important. Many came to support Johnson and let her know that Saint Mary’s cares about her and has not forgotten about the injustice committed against her son. While Johnson was unable to attend the event in person due to illness, she participated in the conversation through a live video call. She shared with the SMC community her experience healing from the trauma of losing her son to police violence and how she began fighting for justice for her son through ministry.

When asked by an audience member if she had been able to forgive Johannes Mehserle, the officer who shot and killed Grant, Johnson replied, “I’ve had to forgive him without seeing him.” While Johnson has not met Mehserle, she shared that she would take the opportunity to engage in restorative justice practices if it was given. “I could not walk around being angry, hating him or anybody else or the police force,” shared Johnson, “but I had to look at what happened to my son and work to help others so that it doesn’t happen to their families as well.”

In another round of audience questions, graduate student of KSOE counseling program Haley Arterberry asked Johnson, “How do black folks heal with all the ongoing trauma of police brutality? As a mother who has survived 11 years, what would you recommend us doing to keep positivity going within the political climate that we’re in?” Johnson shared that first, people of color must learn to love and support each other, and especially support their youth who witness daily traumatic events. For Johnson, communal support looks like letting people in the community know, “It’s OK to see a counselor; it’s OK to see a psychiatrist; it’s OK to go and talk with someone or your pastor to share what you’re feeling.”

Johnson added that it took her about a year to be able to talk publicly about the loss of her son, but as she eventually began talking, she was not only able to help herself heal but also help other families heal from the loss of their children who were killed by police violence. In this way, Johnson’s message for the Saint Mary’s community was that talking about what we are going through helps us heal and ultimately helps people in our communities that are going through the same thing heal. Overall, Johnson’s wisdom on how to heal from trauma through activism has brought endless support and healing to communities around her. The impact of Johnson’s activism toward healing can be summarized by her own words: “Even though Oscar is not here, his life is still making a difference today in society.”