Sandra Bland's mother says daughter's story 'can't be swept under the rug'
In a Lisle church last summer, Geneva Reed-Veal made a vow at her daughter's funeral.
"I'm going to find out what happened to my baby," she told mourners.
Almost a year later, Sandra Bland's mother remains steadfast in her search for answers into her daughter's death inside a Texas jail cell in the wake of what started as a routine traffic stop.
It's become "an assignment" that sometimes leaves Reed-Veal unable to truly grieve.
"Sandy's story has got to be told," she says. "It can't be swept under the rug."
Reed-Veal has shared that story while campaigning across the country for Hillary Clinton and during a ceremony last month to rename a Texas street in Sandra's honor.
That road marks the spot where Sandra was arrested last July by a now-fired state trooper in a traffic stop that quickly escalated. Three days later, the 28-year-old former Naperville woman died in a small jail 60 miles outside Houston. The Waller County coroner ruled her death a suicide.
Reed-Veal does not accept that ruling. She remains convinced the truth of what happened to Sandra is still hidden.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Herald, Reed-Veal, who lives on Chicago's West Side, recently said she fears her doubts about the case will prevent her from ever achieving closure.
She also talked about her memories of Sandra, the family's plans for a celebration of Sandra's life and her desire to help other mothers who have lost children.
This is an edited version of that conversation.
Q. What are your favorite memories of Sandra? What's something most people don't know about her?
A. She was a very good trombonist. She was so good that she got into Prairie View A&M on a scholarship.
One of my fondest memories of Sandy is that she would love to be in the kitchen with me at home. Early on, prior to (her) ag sciences degree, she would love to cook. She was the one who was in the kitchen doing breakfast, lunch and dinner.
She was just the type of kid who got involved in everything and wanted to be sure she took advantage of everything she could growing up.
Q. What did the renaming of the Texas street where she was pulled over -- now Sandra Bland Parkway -- mean for you?
A. At the funeral, I said, "I love your resolutions. That's great. Wonderful. But you want to impress me? Rename that street where she was accosted Sandra Bland Parkway."
Well, somebody took it and ran with it, and that happened.
So to see it and to remove the sheet from the sign, oh man, it was the most awesome thing you ever want to see. It was a feeling of OK, Sandy, honey, this is your first piece of justice.
And that's the way I feel about it because I won't stop until the real truth comes out. At this point, I don't believe anything coming out of Waller County right now.
Q. That street leads to Prairie View, her alma mater, where she had accepted a new job. What do you hope students think of when they see Sandra's name?
A. I want students to always remember that your alum -- your alum -- who graduated from this school was a fighter. She was really ready to soar at that school because she was going into her master's (in political science). And what I want all the students to know is to be who they are. And to not have to be afraid to be who they are because that's certainly what Sandy did. She was who she was. And you weren't going to change who she was.
Q. Have you been able to mourn the way you would like?
A. You're somewhere every day. I'm on the bus, the train, even if I drive to Wal-Mart, somebody knows me. It is this whole issue of being what people call a celebrity. Who do you know that wants to be called a celebrity for a dead baby?
So it's overwhelming. It's a bit much, but I'll say to you that right now, I'm beginning to take some steps back when I need to.
I've been out of town with Hillary's campaign. I was down in the lower level of the hotel, and I'm eating my meal. And I was by myself. And I see a young lady with two daughters, and they're having their meal, and all I could see was Sandy and I at the table with pancakes like we used to do.
And I just start bawling right there. And I'm about to go on stage with Hillary, right? So I need to get up at that point and go take care of my grief at that time and then just go back and do what I needed to do.
But it is very hard to do that when there is constantly someone pulling on you. There's constantly someone saying, "Hey, can I take a picture? Hey, aren't you Sandy Bland's mom?" I almost want to say "no" sometimes, but I can't do that.
True grieving takes stepping away and not being accessible for a while.
So I just call it an assignment that needs to be done, and when I'm able to do it, I'll get it done.
Q. How do you pull yourself out of your grief in those kinds of moments?
A. Because it's necessary. Sandy's story has got to be told. It can't be swept under the rug. It's just necessary. Because meeting many, many women (who lost children) across the country who are basically paralyzed, not able to speak, who didn't go back to work, I need to be able to speak for those moms as well.
Q. How will you mark the anniversary of her death?
A. There's going to be a big festival, "Sandy Speaks," on July 16 and 17 in Chicago. We will be having a legacy remembrance weekend. But the 16th will be a big, big celebration: gospel artists, singers, spoken-word people, friends, family. It's going to be a fantastic tribute to her.
And I am inviting 28 moms from across the country that I have met to come and be a part of it.
So the challenge is finding a big enough facility that could accommodate what we really would like to do.
We want to reach out because there are still so many moms (who have lost children) who haven't figured out yet that you can make it, that you can do this. So with every step I take or everything I'm able to do, it shows that yes, life keeps going, and you keep moving, and you cement your child's legacy.
Coming Friday: Reed-Veal discusses her concerns with the Texas investigation and why she's campaigning for Hillary Clinton.