“There is something very big that’s been weighing on my mind,” Sandra Bland said in a soft voice, looking into the camera with curlers in her hair.
“A seed that I feel like God has truly planted in my life. Work that He has set for me to do, a message that He wants me to get out.”
It was her first video posted to Facebook, and one of the longest. Bland’s video dispatches—29 in all, from January to April—provide us with her thoughts, concerns, fears and joys. Her words have been drowned out in the tidal wave of coverage and activism surrounding her apparent suicide in a Texas jail cell this week. (The FBI said it is investigating.) But back in January, the 28-year-old Chicagoan had decided to speak out online for the first time.
In her first video, she spoke in peaceful tones, expressing her hope that the dispatches would inspire others to openly discuss with their children what has become a national conversation—the death of African-Americans at the hands of police.
“Now would be the perfect time,” she said. “Why not educate them on the people who are really important to our survival?”
If nothing else, Bland’s videos provide a snapshot into one woman’s thoughts during a period of American history where discussions of race are at the fore. She talked about Selma being snubbed at the Oscars, the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, the Chicago mayoral election, the controversial Indiana religious freedom law, education, parenting, faith, and family.
Sometimes, she was downright angry.
“We’re doing as much as we can,” she said in early April. “And we can’t help but get pissed off when we see situations where it’s clear that the black life doesn’t matter. Show me in American history where all lives have mattered. Show me liberty and justice for all like that fucking Pledge of Allegiance we love to say.”
“Excuse my French,” she added, a phrase she used after swearing, usually followed by a smile.
In one video, she said she suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder—dual burdens that she blamed for causing a brief lapse in the production of her videos. As with most things, Bland credited her strong Christian faith for helping her get through the rough patch.
“You’re going to hear about God in Sandy Speaks,” she once said, beaming. In March she attended an “inspiring” speaking engagement featuring the rapper Common. The event was held at the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s St. Sabina’s, a Catholic church on Chicago’s South Side. Pfleger is an outspoken advocate for the city’s African-American community, his efforts hindered not in the slightest by his white skin.
Bland was with a group from the church the following month, on a trip to the DuSable Museum of African-American history. She was bursting with positivity and hope after the trip, saying the next day that it helped her to realize how much can be done with the right attitude.
“The only thing that’s going to save us is us,” she said.
In addition to her musings on race, society and police, Bland found time to take up a cause, one she shared with Pfleger, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and many in Chicago’s black community. In a series of videos, Bland discussed her frustration at the treatment of the boys playing for the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, which had their title stripped from them after a cheating scandal. In March, she went to a suburban mall armed with a petition to have the title reinstated.
Bland saw herself as actively battling racism, and that day she said she felt let down by the lack of support from her fellow African-Americans.
“I find it interesting that a lot of the people who are coming up and signing the petition are people that don’t look like me,” she said. “The people that look like me are reading it, and walking by.”
Eventually she was asked to leave, which Bland documented. A security guard told her the mall didn’t allow solicitors. A young man working at the mall came to Bland’s defense and was asked to leave work earlier than he was scheduled, another upsetting moment that day.
Bland didn’t have children herself, but she cared deeply for her two nephews, she said. In fact, she was concerned about all children.
“I am very serious about this,” she said on her birthday, February 7. “I feel that my job is saving the youth.”
For some reason, the videos stopped in April. In one of her last dispatches, Bland shows the aftermath of a harrowing car wreck. Distraught and crying, she points the camera at her car where a motorcycle had slammed into the rear end and landed upside down on the trunk. The driver flipped over her car but lived.
“God is good!” she proclaimed. “Y’all can’t tell me God ain’t good!”
In her last video, Bland sat in her car and discussed the purpose of her videos, and what had become her purpose in life.
She wanted to inspire people.
“Just be great. Go out there and be the greatest that you can and I guarantee you, it will turn your life around.”