“Troy sat in his cell, hunched over on his bed, waiting for the horrifying moment when the lights would flicker, indicating that a high-voltage current of electricity was coursing through Chris’s body. Every man on the row twitched in silent agony when the flickering began at 9:50pm. Troy knelt on the hard floor, gripping the steel frame of his bed tightly, and prayed for his friend…”
These words (which come from the new book I AM TROY DAVIS which I co-authored with Troy Davis’s sister Martina Davis-Correia) were read aloud on Sept 20–the eve of the 2nd anniversary of Troy’s execution–at our NYC Book Launch at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. It was not me reading this passage from the book; it was Lawrence Hayes, a death row exonoree.
Over the following days, at book launch events in Atlanta and DC, the same words were read by Kalonji Jama Changa and Freedom Koofshaw, long-time social justice activists who had worked to prevent Troy’s execution. In front of a packed audience at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company at our final launch event on Oct 2, the words were read by Jason Baldwin of the West Memphis 3.
I had anticipated that the I AM TROY DAVIS book launch would be wonderful, as Kimberly Davis (Troy’s sister) and I traveled to New York, Atlanta, Savannah, DC, Baltimore, Bellingham and Seattle…but I had not anticipated just how powerful, how deeply meaningful and moving, and the unique significance each event would hold.
Much of that power and significance came from those who read passages from the book aloud. The passage above, spoken in the voices of those who had survived death row or nearly two-decades of wrongful imprisonment (as with Lawrence Hayes and Jason Baldwin), took on additional layers of poignancy and import. This was true for all the passages; a section about Martina’s battle with terminal breast cancer was read in NYC by activist and playwright Eve Ensler, who is a survivor of stage 4 uteran cancer, and in Savannah that same passage was read jointly by Beverly Youmans, the chemo nurse who took care of Martina for ten years, and Helen, a cancer survivor whom Beverly treated alongside Martina, and who made Martina the godmother of her son. Troy’s attorneys Jay and Danielle read aloud at Busboys & Poets in Washington DC. Troy’s youngest sister Ebony read in NYC and his nephew Ron Jr. read in Atlanta. Many of the readers participated with tears in their eyes and very personal memories in their hearts. All participated with strength and grace.
Moderated discussions in each city allowed us to connect the dots between the anniversary of Troy’s execution and the ongoing struggle to end the death penalty. Thoughtful comments from Yusef Salaam of the Central Park 5 case, Mark Cook who founded the Black Panther Party in Walla Walla State Penitentiary, Shujaa Graham (a death row exonoree), activists/workers (present and former) from AIUSA, NAACP, Equal Justice USA, the National Coaltiion to Abolish the Death Penalty (and their state affiliates), and the Southern Center for Human Rights added depth, insight, and local relevance in each city. We ended each event with a call to action, during which we played an audio recording of Troy speaking in his own words–his final words–in which he asked us all to “continue to fight this fight.” (In NYC and Savannah, Troy’s 5-year old niece “Princess Kiersten” closed the event by leading the “I AM” “TROY DAVIS!” call-and-response.)
But it was not the readings and speakers only that made the events so powerful, or even listening to Troy’s last words, impactful though that was. In each city, the Davis family and I found ourselves surrounded by loving community; the very same community that had come together two years ago to rally to prevent Troy’s wrongful execution. It’s as if the book launch created a space for that community to come back together on the anniversary of this tragic injustice, to mourn together, and to re-commit to the fight to abolish the death penalty.
As Kimberly Davis wrote after our final event in Seattle, “The motto of my Church New Life Apostolic Temple, ‘We Are A Family,’ proved to be true in so many words while we were on this book tour. Thanks to everyone that joined us in each city & at each event. We love you for your continual support. Remember it’s not going to end here. We are going to continue until the Victory is WON.”
And now–after a whirlwind two-plus weeks–it is time to take a deep breath.
The deep breath is not just exhaling after the intensity of the book launch.
The deep breath is about getting re-energized and re-focused for the fight that lies ahead. The fight that Troy asked us, in his final words, to continue.
In solidarity and in struggle,
Co-Author, I Am Troy Davis
PS–Check out Kimberly Davis, Ben Jealous and me on Democracy Now!’s special focusing on the 2-year anniversary of Troy’s execution. Also, please take a moment to read the op-ed in the Guardian that Kim and I co-wrote on the anniversary.