Say Her Name

Oluwatoyin Salau’s Cautionary Tale

What We Can Do To Honor Her Memory & Keep Our Youth Safe

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Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

Please Note: Every dime that I earn from this piece and related pieces will be put in a fund to help pay for housing and supplies for homeless youth. I will post the link to the fund and more details soon.

I am writing this piece because as Clarkisha Kent so eloquently said, “I believe I am duty-bound to witness all of the stories so that they do not die a second death.” (WearYourVoiceMag.com)

We must remember and say her name Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau! She joins a growing list of Black women like Breonna Taylor, who’s lives senselessly and tragically ended. I have to admit, when I saw Pamela Turner’s shooting, something shifted. All the lost lives are weighing on me…I guess seeing her struggle was so jarring that it made me hyper aware of my own mortality as a Black woman. I thought about the lack of safety and security for Black and brown women in and out of our communities. So many Black activists and authors have written legendary works on the subject, like:

Sonia Sanchez’s “Wounded In The House Of A Friend”

Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”

Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls When The Rainbow Was Enuf”

There are countless tales about the unsafe lives of Black and brown women. Pamela’s story is shocking and lingers, but Toyin’s story is way too familiar…I thought about how I’ve had to fight for my life (literally and figuratively) over the years and count my blessings…

When I see videos and pictures of Toyin at protests fighting for justice — I saw myself when I was younger, brave, strong — yet trusting. The story of her last days are developing, but something tells me she fought to the very end…

What we do know is - on the day this beautiful, 19 year old Nigerian American girl went missing, she left the protest to go to a church to retrieve her personal items and trusted the wrong person to give her a ride. I’m not sure if the predators were at the protest, but she posted about being assaulted and then went missing. Her body was found 9 days later.

Although I didn’t know her, I feel Clarkisha is right, “we all failed Oluwatoyin” and countless others like her. To be clear, WE means America. Something about this young lady’s story haunts me. As a mother, Christian, advocate, and village baby, I wish I was there for her. I would have given her a safe ride to get her things. I would have tried to find a shelter, House of Hospitality (HOH) or paid for a hostel and if all else failed, I would have offered to let her spend the night at my house…She should not have lost her life because she was homeless and trusted the wrong stranger!

As her story unfolds, layers of past abuse come to light. Yet, this child — chose to channel for pain in protest and lost her life seeking help and shelter.

NO WOMAN OR CHILD SHOULD DIE ON THE STREETS OF AMERICA!

Toyin showed us that some of our most vocal and dedicated are often the most vulnerable.

How We Can Honor Toyin

Toyin was one of thousands of girls who’ve gone missing with little to no media coverage. According to the Women’s Media Center, approximately 64,000–75,000 Black women and girls are missing in the United States. We need to spread the word and keep this message amplified.

Secondly, we as elders, advocates and organizers — need to work together to make sure that we have trusted and vetted partners and a hospitality table or point person at our events. I know everyone is jumping in to help rally for justice, but Toyin’s death is a wake up call. Toyin was the personification of the social injustices that plague our Black, brown, poor and disenfranchised communities: housing insecurity, lack of resources for women and at-risk youth, etc. Toyin showed us that some of our most vocal and dedicated are often the most vulnerable.

As we continue to protest and rally — I’m calling on organizers, community leaders, faith based organizations, and my fellow elders to add safe havens/hospitality to their checklists to make sure EVERYBODY has safe transportation and places to go — after your events. Not everybody can march — but we can bring water — phone chargers, hospitality kits or Blessing Bags (click on the link for a list of items) and provide safe transportation. We can provide a printed resource page with local shelters, hostels, low or no cost health care providers, bail funds, pro bono lawyers. I’m working on a list that covers cities on the east coast and will post it on Medium when I’m done. You can create a group chat just to make sure people got home safely.

During the marches of in the 60’s and 70’s community organizations and churches offered food and shelter to protesters. Every neighborhood had an elder or block captain who was a wealth of knowledge and resources. Drastic times call for drastic measures! We meaning teachers, social workers, social and community service retirees need to step up and work together to keep our people safe!

We need to reach out and get information on our local network of emergency shelters and safe havens for our most vulnerable. I am not blaming any organizers because this is new to us… but going forward we have think of people like Toyin and ALWAYS ask if anyone needs help at the end of your events. I never thought predators would be in midst of social justice protests — but predators are everywhere and we need to watch out for our fellow men, women and children.

Other Ways To Help The Cause

If you have a safe, secure place for a young person to stay (where you don’t put you or your family at risk) i.e., a guest house or in-law suite with a separate entrance and exit please — reach out to your local youth shelter, get trained, screened (meaning background checks) and donate your space.

Or better yet, there is a whole network of “houses of hospitality” (HOH) across the country reach out to them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a national directory — but if you search “interfaith house of hospitality” you’ll find a local organization. They are normally connected to faith based organizations. Some are church properties and others are private homes. It will take a little effort as a lot of churches have been closed due to Covid-19, but it’s worth it to keep someone safe.

Homeless Resources

Here are some quick resources for people who need housing:

National Coalition For Homelessness

Homeless Shelter Directory

Youth Hostels — A safe cost effective, place to stay overnight

*Organizer or helper tip: Print out the list of lodging options, local shelters and have them at your rallies. I would also reach out and double check the numbers and make sure they have after hours and weekend staff or availability.

Toyin deserved the kindness, hospitality and safety of strangers. I hate to sound sexist — but that normally falls on women. WE need to work together to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another person. There are A LOT of empty apartments and houses that could safely host people. We need to mobilize volunteers to help update local and national information.

In researching this piece, I couldn’t find a national directory of youth shelters or emergency housing. This is needed! College students please reach out to your local non-profit shelters and homeless advocacy groups and update their information on social media so it’s easily accessible. Most non profits cannot afford to hire a social media associate — but this information can literally be a matter of life or death. If you know of a directory or you’re interested in helping to create on, please post the link in my comments or send me a message via Twitter.

A Word Of Caution

I’ve been in education and worked with people in the criminal and juvenile justice system most of my career so I don’t want anyone to be disillusioned. The world is a dangerous place for the helper and the ones seeking help. So PLEASE proceed with caution. Toyin was the victim of heinous crimes — but so were the 9 church members who welcomed and prayed with Dylan Roof and were killed by what they thought was a harmless young man in their church.

Dylan Roof, increasing hate crimes and lynchings have showed us — we have to be extra careful. We don’t know what hides in the hearts of people. So help — but don’t put you or your family at risk.

There is no nice way to say this — we REALLY don’t know what some of our friends and even family members are capable of…. Remember the alleged accomplices and recruiters in the Jeffrey Epstein case were his long term girlfriend and other young girls…That “nice” beloved family or friend may be a predator, thief or just mean to others. I’ve experienced, seen and heard too many creepy and horrific stories about a well meaning women trying to help and ended up putting another woman or child in danger. I’ve been that girl and that woman who either stayed silent or had to tell a friend or family member that their loved one has hurt me… It never ends well…Again, if you can’t provide a separate, safe space — donate to the cause or volunteer to help outside your home.

With that being said, have a conversation with the people in your life to make sure they understand that YOU are not tolerant of ANY abuse. Last, but not least, community members and church folk -report and turn in rapist and child predators. I’ve heard too many excuses…We can still pray for them and hold them accountable. The bottom line is, they are dangerous and often repeat offenders. The man that is suspected of killing Toyin is also killed an elderly woman.

Everyone please be safe! Toyin’s story has taught us that stranger danger is real and we need watch out for each other — even in “woke” circles.

Final Call For Help

The next time you see something about a rally — ask if they have a hospitality/resource point person and it they don’t volunteer. Let’s make sure that we honor Toyin in our ongoing efforts to fight injustice.

Please volunteer and donate money to your local shelters. They are often underfunded and in need of helping hands to help clean, prepare meals and organize donations.

As I move forward in my work to fight for justice, safety, protection and culturally competent resources for Black and brown women, I will forever remember Oluwatoyin!

Special Thank you:

This piece was inspired by an articles from Morgan Jerkins, Clarkisha Kent and a poem from GFC: Grown Folk Conversations that talked about Oluwatoyin (Toyin) Salau. Thank you all for keeping Toyin’s name and story alive!

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Thank you for reading and remember — we are our sister’s and brother’s keeper.

Writer, Founder WEOC and Editor of Writers and Editors of Color Mag Bylines in Zora, Momentum, An Injustice!, POM, Illumination, The Pink, and Better Marketing

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