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Leading a call: Recent grad creates memorial altar for women of color killed by law enforcement

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In summer 2016, a group called Black Feminist Future began a movement across the country building altars in response to police killings of black women and girls. Twenty-six of these memorials popped up nationwide with goals of honoring the dead while fighting for the living. At that time, Radiance Campbell, who graduated in May, was just about to begin her studies at Illinois State, where she majored in sociology with minors in women’s and gender studies and Latin American/Latinx studies.

That fight continues in 2020, and Campbell recently led a local call in Bloomington-Normal to resurrect the altars. Breonna Taylor, the Louisville emergency technician fatally shot by police at her own home in March, would have turned 27 on June 5. On the weekend of her birthday, Campbell and Black Lives Matter of Bloomington-Normal built a memorial remembering Taylor and other women of color who have been killed by law enforcement. It was purposely placed in front of the McLean County Law and Justice Center in Bloomington, where many peaceful protests have taken place over the last two-and-a-half weeks following the murder of George Floyd.

Campbell, an academic star at Illinois State who was both a Bone Scholar and Lincoln Laureate, said the timing of Taylor’s birthday helped bring the idea together.

“It only felt right to make a proud stand as a community to be in defense of black life and black womanhood through a community altar,” she said.

A portrait of Taylor, painted by Bloomington native Haven Ryburn, was placed on a white-clothed table and surrounded by candles and flowers. In the back were three message boards meant for people of all backgrounds to engage in conversations and ideas on how to create a better tomorrow for all citizens. The three boards had unfinished sentences that read: “Healing in our community looks like…”, “If we defund the police we could…”, and “I’m sorry for ____ and I commit to….”

Throughout the weekend, people stopped by to fill in the blanks.

“The altar was meant to be a space for healing,” Campbell said. “People could bring their grief, their frustration, their prayers, their love. It was also meant to be a space for imagining what a better future looks like here in our community.

“Every day brought a slow and steady stream of community members leaving flowers, kneeling in silence, and dreaming better with us.”

Headed off to Georgetown Law School in the fall, Campbell dove into many leadership opportunities at Illinois State. She was captain of both the dance and bamboo team of Gamma Phi Circus, the country’s oldest collegiate circus. She also conducted a research study on public health initiatives from a sociological perspective and helped transform a course curriculum to be more culturally relevant for Illinois State students.

At Illinois State, she instilled the black feminist consciousness within herself.

Now, she’s helping lead the fight against systemic racism and police brutality. She draws inspiration from black activists who met in church basements to mobilize efforts throughout the South during the Civil Rights Movement. She and other young activists are working off that foundation in pursuit of change.

“We have to lay the groundwork now for the potential yearslong fight, and I think we’re starting to do that with Black Lives Matter BloNo,” she said. “It’s time to do the hard work of imagining a better world, and the even harder work of fighting like heck until that world is a reality.”