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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Being Welcome, Equal And Seen

Latisha Ellis
courtesy of Latisha Ellis
Latisha Ellis

Latisha Ellis is a poet, author and recently became co-owner of PoiBois Entertainment, a performing arts group that uses pyrotechnic tools, poetry and music to spread the message of community building. We met Latisha last year during season one of ReEntry Stories, and today, she will share with us the story that made her the winner of the 2020 Dayton Story Slam.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Latisha Ellis So the night of the Grand Slam, they had done some Zooms because of COVID. And so I'm listening to some amazing seasoned story slammers, people who have actually been on The Moth, so much to learn from them. And so I'm up there and do my story.

My story was about the first time I had an interaction with a cop.

I was 18 years old, and I'm sitting in my car waiting for my friend to stay the night. The neighbor - I had dated their daughter back for some months, so they knew who I was. Well, I'm 18 years old - and right now I'm 28 and I look like a 12 year old boy - so you can imagine what 18 looked like.

And I remember the cop walked up to me like, his cop lights come on, and I'm just like, what is happening? You know, being told what every - sadly - what every Black person is taught - to be quiet, look forward ahead, answer yes or no. Show your hands.

And he comes up with his hand on his hip, on his gun, and the first words out of his mouth, Mary, was "So how many warrants you got?"

And like I just remember being so, like, scared, because that was that was your first thought. Why are you sitting here? Why are you there?

And my friend Tiffany didn't even know I was supposed to stay the night because I was kind of like homeless at the time. And I was like, I'm not about to sleep in this car today. And Tiffany showed up and saw what's happening and without a drop of the hat was just like, "Why are you talking to my friend?"

Tiffany was white. She was like, "why are you talking to my....?"

The cop asked "Do you know Latisha?"

And Tiffany said, "Yes, I do. She's staying the night.”

She didn't even know that was the plan.

And like, it just makes me wonder, like had Tiffany not shown up would I have been another hashtag?

And at that time, this was 2009, so like, the movement hadn't really started. So I would have been another name in a list of names that needed justice.

And those cops left after speaking to Tiffany and the neighbors and never once said anything to me.

And so I told the story and how this movement has happened. And first time I am going into neighborhoods that don't typically have people that look like us living there with Black Lives Matter signs. And I had never felt....equal, so welcome that if I was walking into this neighborhood, somebody would think I lived there, too, and not just, "Well, you're Black, why are you here?" And just that - that feeling of being welcome and equal and seen.

We just want to be seen! See us! Feel us! Love us! You know, it's not just Black Lives Matter. Black dreams matter. Black smart kids matter.

I'm one of those kids, you know. I mean, it's at some point it changed to where it's not okay to call intelligent Black children white. That's toxic. And people are seeing that.

And for the first time, I just felt so beautiful in my skin.

But that was my story and it resonated. And I didn't think I was going to win, and I wouldn't have cared if I didn't because, like, I got to experience these amazing people, listen to their stories, because that's what the story slam is. That's what telling stories is, connecting people and showing people sometimes...that within five minutes, little miracles happen, even though we don't see them in a world full of chaos, a lot of good things still happen. And we should share those moments.

ReEntry Stories is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Mary Evans is a Dayton, Ohio-based activist, abolitionist, and journalist. She holds a BA in the Business of Interdisciplinary Media Arts from Antioch College. In 2022 she was awarded the Bob and Norma Ross Outstanding Leadership Award at the 71st Dayton NAACP Hall of Freedom Awards. She has been a Community Voices producer at WYSO since 2018. Her projects include: Re Entry Stories, a series giving space to system-impacted individuals and West Dayton Stories, a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant West Side. Mary is also the co-founder of the Journalism Lab and helps folks in the Miami Valley that are interested in freelance journalism reach some of their reporting goals.