The Value of A Black Woman


On November 23rd of 2010, the husband of my best friend was killed was while riding his scooter to work. Actually to say that he was the “husband of my best friend” is a misnomer. He was my friend as well. More like a brother to be truthful. I’d known her for several years before he came into her life, but I subsequently became close friends with him, seeing and talking with him more than her. Since his death, she has spoken with an attorney who told her to that she would need to gather evidence to demonstrate the “value of his life” to strengthen her case of manslaughter against the suspect in civil court.


In many ways, his “value” cannot be measured in dollars and cents. He was a good man who loved his family dearly. He just loved people. The funeral home and church where his visitation and funeral were held were spilling over with family and friends mourning his death. So many people spoke about what a good person he was, how much they loved him and how much they would miss him. An attorney requested that his wife gather pictures of him with his family and loved ones. She was to have his family, friends, co-workers and schoolmates express, in writing, what he meant to them. He was in school pursuing a degree in audio engineering. Music was his passion and he aspired to become a record producer. The salary that he would have potentially made over his lifetime once he obtained his degree would be calculated to quantitatively determine his worth as a contributing member of this society.


This was a great man who meant a lot to many people and eight months later, we all still feel a void because he is not here with us.


During the Spring, I was employed by the U.S. Census Bureau. On May 29th, while conducting an interview for the Census Bureau with the pastor of New Freedom Temple Church on the corner of Gay and Tillery Streets, I stepped into an unmarked hole in the street. The unmarked hole was covered with a dirt/concrete mixture. I was submerged knee-deep into this dirt/concrete mixture. The street was wet. A single orange cone sat approximately a foot away from the area, close to the curbing. Any reasonable person would have done the same thing that I did. Step onto the unmarked area, thinking that the street was wet and no danger lie ahead except at the curb.


I sank down into the street up to my knees like Tom Hanks sank into the floor of the second story of his house in the movie, “The Money Pit”. Had I been a small child who stepped onto this unmarked area, I may have suffocated. Had I driven my car onto this area, the car would have been totaled. Had I been riding a bicycle or motorcycle, the car and or motorcycle as well would have been damaged. The value of a car or motorcycle could readily be determined, but what is the value of the life of a Black woman in this society? Apparently nothing.


I have since filed a claim with the Property/Risk Management Department of the city of Rocky Mount. Doug Isbell, a city employee, who describes himself as an “independent, objective, unbiased, impartial party” has determined the street was properly marked and the city has no liability for my injuries. I am to pursue this matter with my insurance company. Hello! I have no insurance company. I am now unemployed. What part about being unemployed, not working, on-call (but not being called), laid off does Mr. Isbell not get?


It seems that this lone, orange cone which sat, not on top of the dirt/concrete-filled, unmarked hole, may have been moved by a passerby or possibly floated a few inches away from the area after a rainstorm. So the city workers intended to mark the area with the orange cone. (I intended to pay my utility bill. Does my good intention exonerate me from disconnection?) Is it reasonable to mark an area of potential danger with something that can so easily be moved away?


Furthermore, I may not be the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but isn’t it a bit suspect that someone who receives his paycheck from the city of Rocky Mount is the person determining whether or not the city is liable?


I was helped from the dirt/concrete-mixture, unmarked hole by three of about two hundred or more witnesses to this incident. I felt no immediate pain. Initially my pride was bruised and I laughed it off. This is normal with this type of injury. Later that day, and ever since, my entire body has been wracked with pain. On a subsequent visit to the emergency room, the physician diagnosed “deep muscle tissue contusions”. I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug and ibuprofen which I ingest frequently to relieve the pain.


The police were called. As I stood in my Black skin, denim skirt, red camisole top, and wig, wearing an official U.S. Census Bureau lanyard around my neck, armed with U.S. Census Bureau paraphernalia, with my legs and shoes covered in dried mud, the Caucasian police officer asked me what I was doing in the area. I told him that I was working.


Just to be clear, I emphasized to this young, Caucasian officer that even though I am a Black woman wearing a wig, dressed in a red camisole top and denim skirt, and walking in this neighborhood, ("The Hill” as it is more commonly referred) of questionable reputation, I was working for the U.S. Census Bureau and I was not a prostitute.


However, I, a human being, who had just stepped into a dirt/concrete-mixture-filled, unmarked hole and had been submerged in a dirt/concrete mixture, unmarked hole up to my knees. (It has since been suggested that this mixture may not have been dirt/concrete because the water and sewer department may have been doing work on Gay Street. Alrighty then!) Didn’t this situation alone merit that the officer exercise due diligence on my behalf? Was I simply to be dismissed because I am a Black woman? Or does this have more to do with socio-economics than race?


Naturally, if Heather Lynn with a Greystone address (one of the premiere communities in Rocky Mount, NC) clad in business attire and displaying her U.S. Census Bureau credentials, had stepped into this dirt/concrete mixture filled, unmarked hole and was submerged up to her knees, there would have been no question as to why she was in the area or if she were injured after just stepping into a dirt/concrete mixture filled, unmarked hole in the street. Perhaps one would have said, “Heather, let’s make sure you’re okay. Are you lost? You shouldn’t be over here in this neighborhood!”


There would be no question that the city of Rocky Mount would have determined that Heather’s life has value. The color of Heather’s skin and her address would assure that. Just by virtue of the fact that I am a human being who stepped into an unmarked dirt/concrete mixture-filled, unmarked hole and was injured dictates that my life does indeed have value as well. I have a mother, daughter, son, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, former work colleagues, classmates, neighbors, associates, fellow church members, and enemies. (Yes, my life has value even to my enemies. Who would my enemies expend their energy hating if I had no value? I’m just saying.)


Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, Yolanda Lancaster, Taraha Nicholson, Christine Marie Boone, Joyce Renee Durham, Elizabeth Smallwood, Ernestine Battle, Jackie Thorpe, Melody Wiggins, Denise Williams, and Travis Raregus Harrison have families and friends just as I do – just as Heather Lynn does. Their loved ones feel a void in their lives because these people, may God rest their souls, are no longer with them. (I should not have to re-acquaint anyone with the aforementioned names) The lives of these murdered and missing humans had value. The life of a Black woman, any Black woman, and any human being for that matter, does indeed, have value.


I have been quite saddened by remarks I’ve read in the online comments section of this newspaper about the lives of these women and the one transgendered young man. These individuals may have chosen a different path in life due to a set of circumstances that any of us could have easily fallen prey. In this current economic climate, many of us may find ourselves choosing paths that we had never imagined. If you’ve been unemployed for several months and your unemployment benefits are cut off, your rent/mortgage is due, your utility bill is due (that’s another story altogether), your children are hungry, and you need your medication, what the hell are you going to do without money? Before passing judgment on anyone or on the lifestyle of anyone, we should all pause for a moment and reflect, “but for the grace of God…”


The young police officer did call the city streets department who came out later the same afternoon and cordoned off the entire corner with the barricades, clearly indicating the potentially dangerous area of the street. Can we say reactive? Whatever happened to being proactive? Does it take a debilitating injury or a life being lost for our city government to begin being proactive? That is why it is so very important that we all register to vote and use that right and privilege to vote for those folk that will be responsive to our needs and concerns. After we elect these folks into office, we need to make sure they stay on the job and do what they say they going to do. We need to hold them accountable. Had someone on Gay Street called their city councilman or called the street department, this incident may not have occurred. I’m definitely not blaming the residents of the Gay and Tillery Street area, but our democratic/republican form of government means that these elected officials should represent our interests and needs. They can only do that when we the people let them know what our interests and needs are.

When I see something wrong in my neighborhood, I will call or e-mail Councilman LeMont Wiggins and the matter is taken care of in a timely and appropriate manner. Can we all say that our local, state and federal representatives are that responsive?


I would hope that the citizens of Rocky Mount hold the city accountable when they are working on the streets and encourage our city government and city departments to be proactive. Work areas should be clearly marked with unmovable equipment so that incidents such as the one I have experienced will not happen again. This could have easily been your child, your vehicle or it could have been you submerged in an unmarked dirt/concrete (and/or sewage ) mixture-filled, unmarked hole.


Please let's all register to vote and get out and vote on election day .

Registering to vote and voting is not difficult. Vote for those people who have your best interests at heart and let us all stop passing judgment.

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Update - Please register and vote in the general election on November 6th!

Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota require photo identification when appearing at the polls to cast your vote.

Georgia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania have strict voter identification laws when appearing at the polls to cast your vote.

The following states require identification to be presented, however the identification does not have to include a photograph ie an official voter registration card, current utility bill, bank statement, current paycheck stub, social security card, etc.

Visit the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures to find detailed information on voting in your state. Don't wait until last minute. Let's do this today!


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Karen Russell 4 years ago

Interesting read, my condolenses for your loss and your accident, I hope you recovered and will be compensated for your loss of job, medical expenses and emotional hardship, be blessed...

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