*Editor’s Note: This interview originally ran in July of 2016, shortly after the tragic shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and the ensuing protests across the country.
It’s an image that’s become the ultimate representation of the division between protesters and police.
In the photo, hailed by many as historic, a woman is seen standing in front of heavily armed cops clad in body armor, running toward her in preparation for an arrest. In the chaos, she stands peaceful and grounded. As her sundress blows in the wind, her spirit seems unmoved.
That woman is Ieshia Evans, a 27-year-old nurse from New York City. She tells HelloBeautiful she never expected any of the events of the past few days, but she knows she’s part of the shifting tide of social justice.
“It’s much bigger than this picture and than me,” she tells us. “It’s not about me, I’m just a vessel. There is a movement happening and there are people like me standing up all across the country.”
The photo was taken last week at protests against police brutality in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both of which were captured on video.
For Evans, who describes herself as “just a regular mom from Brooklyn,” it was seeing that brutality captured on camera that spurned her into action.
“The video — I had to do something after I saw it,” she says. “The video was my motivation. My son is my motivation. My people motivate me.”
Evans says the protests were completely peaceful until police arrived in tanks, toting machine guns and riot gear. Video captured at the scene shows absolute chaos as cops wrestled protesters to the ground and forced their way into private residences to make arrests.
“Our people were peaceful while facing off against an army,” she says. “They were literally suited and booted and ready for war against average Americans. It was overwhelming.”
But while Evans was overwhelmed, she tells us there was never a moment where she felt any fear.
“I wasn’t afraid,” she says. “I felt disgust at what is being done across the country. At the fact that it’s come this far that we have to take to the streets in protest to demand our safety.”
“It was surreal,” she adds. “I had to take things one step at a time because so much was happening.”
When she arrived in jail, the conditions were worse than she could have imagined.
“It was horrible in that prison,” she says. “Horrendous. Being strip-searched was awful and degrading. It was dirty and extremely cold. You’re supposed to take a shower but it’s freezing cold. And then they give you a hand towel to dry yourself with.”
“The treatment along the way was horrible,” she continues. “I wasn’t read my rights. I wasn’t told what I was charged with. My things were taken away from me and I was taken to jail without even knowing what my charges were. It didn’t make any sense.”
After being packed into a crowded cell, she spent most of her time praying and getting to know the women around her, some of whom she shared her contact information with.
It was also there she found humanity and grace in the treatment she received from one police officer, who let her know there are good cops out there who need to speak up.
“I have to give credit to Officer Morris. She was an angel amidst the darkness. She showed how real police officers should be and how they should conduct themselves. She told me, ‘I love my job, I don’t want to see any of you in here.’ And I just thought, ‘Where are the rest of you? Why aren’t you saying anything? Your voice needs to be heard just as much as anyone else’s.’”
Since then, Evans says she has been hounded by media, who camped outside her home in the days following her return.
But she did not let the attention stop her from getting back to her regular routine at home with her son and at the job she loves.
“I went back to work already,” she tells us. “I love what I do. I love taking care of people. I don’t plan on detaching myself from my profession. Come what may, it will be integrated into what I worked hard for.”
And while Mom’s face may be all over the news, to her son, she is still just “regular old Mommy.”
“I don’t know if he gets it. I tried to explain it to him, but he was more interested in his Nerf toy,” she says, laughing.
As for any future work as an activist, she’s going to let God call the shots.
“I don’t know what’s next for me,” she concludes. “I never knew what God intended for me. But I know that I’m not here for me. I’m here for my people.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters