Last week, Tyrone Phillips and Evan Linder both took time to detail the experience of their day trip to Byhalia, MS on December 23rd.
Evan’s story is here in Part One.
Part Two is Tyrone’s story:
The Journey to Byhalia, Mississippi: Part Two
by Tyrone Phillips
January 6th, 2016Is this how my life will come to an end?
That was one of the many thoughts that raced through my head as I stood about five feet away from a police officer’s SUV on December 23, 2015. I was stopped with playwright/actor Evan Linder and Memphis journalist Wendi Thomas after being out of the car for less than five minutes. What were we doing? We were on a day trip taking pictures as part of research for a play I was directing in Chicago. Apparently, we were being suspicious. I had traveled 564 miles away from home, not only to do research, but to rehearse an actress that would be coming up to Chicago a week later to play a leading role in our world premiere production.
As a 25-year-old black male with a height of 6’ 2’’ I don’t think I have to explain why I was terrified to be in any kind of dialogue with a police officer in Byhalia, Mississippi (or anywhere for that matter). I could easily imagine how my interaction with this officer could quickly escalate to the result of my death with no effort from me. That is my reality. The only thing that escalated was my heart beat while my exterior seemed calm, cool, and collected as Evan talked to the officer and gave him the right credentials to make us unsuspicious. I won’t spend more time going into details about this incident but I will say I am glad that I was not alone and that officer did not have the opportunity to find me reaching for an invisible gun.
I won’t give you the synopsis of the play because you can find that on your own. But honestly, I think you will gain so much from buying your ticket and coming to the theater that night. It’s a great story and getting you there is half the battle. Once you’re there I’m sure we can enlist you in our Army for Change. This play forces people to admit, confront and speak the truth. It is a concept that America hasn’t gotten behind for a very long time.
If you visit the current history section on the Byhalia Chamber of Commerce website, you will find no information on Skip Robinson, Butler Young Jr. or the boycotts in Byhalia led by the United League of Marshall County. Once again, America is ignoring its history. I am more than fed up with the recent and reoccurring executions of black males on the streets of Chicago and across the United States. Our history is in the air and part of the problem is that being a black male has some how translated to monster in the eyes of too many.
What can I do to make sure that this stops happening?
“Tell the truth” is a line you will hear in Byhalia, Mississippi and I hope it will stick with you. The only way America can move forward and become great is by owning our history and learning from it. Jim and Laurel are forced to own up to the things they have done in the past. After the truth is confessed and some time and space is given for healing, they are able to truly forgive each other and start another journey to change how their home will function in the future. They will stand up to their community and ensure that change happens in Byhalia, Mississippi.
The exposure of truth and the redemptive storyline parallels the trajectory I hope, pray, and weep for in our society at large. The next time I think, “Is this how my life will come to an end?” it will not be because I have been pulled over by someone who has sworn to serve and protect me. I believe the world around me will be a better place. This play is a microcosm of what is happening all over the country, and if we continue to silence voices and refuse to listen to one another, history will continue to repeat itself. We cannot simply have a conversation. The Conversation needs to be followed by action. Let’s make a change and let’s make it NOW.
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