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Faces of Black men, women, children whose lives came to a violent end are the heart of memorial

In normal times, 38-year-old Joy Proctor is a wedding planner. She’s a Black woman who ives in Portland, Oregon. After participating in many of the Black Lives Matter protests, she came up with the idea back in June of a quiet way to remember Black men, women and children who have lost their lives at the hands of police or as a result of racially motivated violence. She and her sister and a small team of friends printed out the photos of these individuals and displayed them as a memorial.

Since then, Joy and her sister, Elise Proctor, have founded a nonprofit called Say Their Names Memorial.

The nonprofit is creating a searchable database of these photographs and stories of Black people whose lives came to a violent end. One of the goals of the project is to enable people and other organizations to print the photos and set up their own exhibits. 

Photos from the memorial are currently on display at six places of worship in Kirkland. Below is a transcript of a conversation between KNKX’s Jennifer Wing and Joy Proctor. It's been lightly edited. 

Jennifer Wing, KNKX: What is the difference in your mind between saying someone's name, having names on cardboard signs and actually seeing the face of that person in in kind of a quiet space?

Joy Proctor, executive director of Say Their Names Memorial: I think it's important to look at a picture of someone because it humanizes them. I've spent time protesting. There's that call and response that happens where they ask you to say someone's name, and I think that's so powerful. And I feel like the way to move forward from that is that you have to know more than just their name. You need to know their story. And so for us it was important to print the pictures because we wanted people to look in the eyes of their fellow citizens, you know, and really understand them as human beings. Of course, when you do that with one picture, it's emotional. But if you multiply that by 300 pictures, it's devastating.

KNKX: Where did you where did you source her images?

Proctor: So we give ourselves a deadline when we came up with this idea. We said we want to do it on Juneteenth. Immediately, we did a Google search and just assumed that there would be some sort of database online of Black lives lost to racial injustice and systemic racism, not only police brutality, because we wanted to really, really show the effect of systemic racism on the Black community. And so when we started looking for that, we realized there was no such database. And we looked at newspaper articles. We looked at stats on police brutality, all sorts of places. I think our first list was about 175 people. But now, fast forward as a result of the website that we started, where we take submissions of stories we don't know. Our list has grown to about 300 people total. It’s sadly still climbing.

KNKX: It's been in Texas and Portland. Is there another location that I am not aware of?

Proctor: Yeah, it's actually been in about 30 locations nationwide. There have been a number in Texas as a result of some really awesome women there who have painted Texas with the memorial, basically. But it's been in New York. It's been in New Jersey. It's been in Georgia. Let's see, Wisconsin, California, Utah. Lots of different places across the country.

KNKX: Do you have any anecdotes of responses that you witnessed?

Proctor: I found that as the memorial travels, different communities are affected differently by it. I was in Texas a couple of weeks ago for the Houston memorial and a couple weeks before that to the Dallas Memorial. The Black community came out in in tremendous numbers. It was emotional. I met the mother of Che Taylor, who was a man who lost his life in Seattle. She lived in Seattle for a long time, and she now lives in in Dallas. I met her. You know, when I think for people like Che Taylor, who perhaps in Seattle, you know, his story is well known, but throughout the country, he's not one of the names that people are saying. I think the fact that these stories are being told across the country of people's loved ones is really important to the family members. But it didn't hit home until I was able to see how it affected the Black community in Texas and other places. After doing this since June ... and really having such positive feedback from the community, we've decided that we will tour an installation exhibit around the country next year.

We are currently working on fabricating a structure that will move and will be probably exhibited in about 10 to 16 locations around the country. So this will be in addition to the more grassroots style memorials that folks have put up on fences and in windows and on the walls. This will be like a fabricated wood structure. And our hope is when we do that, that at every single location we do have a town hall engaging the community and not just, you know, the people who come out to the memorial, but the people who don't want to come to the memorial. You know, I think we've seen so much happen in these past years here in this country. But I think if I've learned anything, I've realized that we're not going to move forward unless we talk to all sides and all people. And so my hope is that we can find a way to invite community members who do not support Black Lives Matter to be able to talk about systemic racism and racial injustice in the communities.

KNKX: Are you going to  reach out to local Proud Boys?

Proctor: Exactly! There are a number of values that I share with people who are Proud Boy supporters and Trump supporters. And the truth is, our country is not going to move forward if we continue to just stay on our side and not have these conversations.  I've seen in Portland these horrible and fatal incidents where, you know, these two groups come together and awful things happen. We have to find a way to talk about this. And so, yeah, my hope is that they do come out and we figure out where there is common ground. And then from there, we move forward, you know, realizing that as community members we're in the same community, in the same country. We have to talk about these things. You know, our futures are intertwined regardless.

Photos from the Say Their Name Memorial can currently viewed at the following locations: Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, 10021 NE 124th St, Kirkland, WA 98034 Kirkland Congregational United Church of Christ, 106 5th Ave, Kirkland, WA 98033 Lake Washington Christian Church, 343 15th Ave, Kirkland, WA 98033 Lake Washington United Methodist Church, 7525 132nd Ave. NE, Kirkland, WA 98033 Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church, 308 4th Ave. S, Kirkland, WA 98033 St. John's Episcopal Church, 105 State St., Kirkland, WA 98033

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.