As part of the Pain Into Power symposium presentation at Rhodes College, Andrew Joseph Jr. takes a turn at the podium. Other participants included (l-r) Mike Brown Sr., Veda Washington-Abusaleh, Kimberly Davis and John Crawford Jr. (Photos: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“From the trauma, anger and stress I felt after losing my son, I would have just took (sic) myself out if I didn’t change my focus.”

Mike Brown Sr. said he’s still grieving six years after losing his 18-year-old-son, Mike Brown Jr. The unarmed teen was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Last Friday, the grieving father joined several other family members who have lost loved ones in officer-involved shootings or accidents to speak at the “Pain into Power” Empowerment Symposium. The two-day event is focused on advancing the dialogue of racial injustices in the judiciary system.

Among those in attendance included the aunt of Alton Sterling, the man who was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge in 2016; and family members of Oscar Grant, who was killed by a transit officer in Oakland, California in 2009. The 2013 movie, “Fruitvale Station,” was based on his death.

“Power into Pain” started Friday afternoon with a press conference and symposium at Rhodes College. Later that night, a panel-discussion was held at the National Civil Rights Museum.

The event was organized by Dr. Stephanie Cage, associate director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes, and B.L.I.N.D a local grassroots organization founded by Jennifer Cain.

John Crawford Jr. prepares to exit the Rhodes College gathering with relatives of Justus Howell, who was fatally shot by an Illinois police office in 2015. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“We wanted to bring families together to discuss how they can turn their pain to power and what we in the community can do to come together and to bring awareness about the injustices in the criminal justice system,” Cain said.

In the U.S., African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, according to a recent report from Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice. Families at the symposium said they’ve come together to spread awareness around these sobering statistics, in hopes of implementing change. They’re starting by shifting the narratives surrounding their loved ones.

Kimberly Davis’ son, Kimoni Davis, died during a high-speed chase with police in Ohio in 2015. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“When you first hear-if you hear of our children you hear the narrative from the police and most times our children will be criminalized. When we talk we can bring out the human side – the true side of our children,” said Kimberly Davis. Her son, Kimoni Davis, died in a car crash during a high-speed chase with police officers in Ohio in 2015.

“It’s sickening we can’t do what most people have a normal ability to do because of our race. Justice was never meant for us. And until we strip it, we won’t see change,” she said.

Cephus Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant has made it his mission to fight for tougher legislation surrounding police accountability.

“When I first saw the video of Oscar being killed I passed out because I was literally so angry and filled with rage; but somehow God changed that,” Johnson said. “I realized that now it’s about construction and not destruction. And now I’m on a mission to forever speak about Oscar, fight to get laws changed, and to embrace every possible family that God can allow me to touch – to help them walk through that path.”

LaToya Howell’s son, 17-year-old Justus Howell was shot and killed by a police officer Illinois in 2015. She shared Johnson’s sentiments, noting that she is on a similar mission.

“None of us wanted to be in it – in this situation, but we are here, and we continue to fight.”

While spreading awareness is a step in the right direction, families said they’re looking to see change in the judicial system move at a faster pace.

“We know what the problem is. It’s racism” said John Crawford Jr., father of John Crawford III who was killed by police in an Ohio Walmart in 2014 while holding a BB gun. “In order to see change we have to start with the law. We have to change laws because that’s where the injustice started.”

Other families at the event included, Andrew Joseph Jr., the father of Andrew Joseph III. His 14-year-old son was killed as he attempted to cross a busy interstate after being dropped off by police; Yolanda McNair, the mother of Adaisha Miller, who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer at a party; and Tyann Salgardo, whose son Derek Brown, was killed during a high-speed chase with Tennessee Highway Patrol Troopers in 2013.

Mike Brown Sr., whose son’s death resulted in months of nation-wide protests, said despite his pain, he’s finally settling into his purpose.

“I’m glad that I’m now able to follow my mission. This what we were put into this to do – to find a solution to move forward. I now understand my work and what I need to do for our community.”

The event concluded with the “As I See You: A Tribute to Mike Brown Jr.” exhibit at Orange Mound Gallery.