Thursday, September 28, 2017

[Curly Nikki] #SayHerName: Why Kenneka Jenkins deserves the same attention as Natalee Holloway

Last week, I stumbled upon an episode of The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway. It was part of a brand-new, six-part documentary that follows David Holloway as he searches for new developments in the disappearance and ultimate murder of his daughter, who took a trip to Aruba upon her high school graduation.   

It’s also a 12-year-old case with a vested community that equally seeks answers and justice for Holloway’s demise.

“Watched an update on the Natalee Holloway murder investigation,” writes Facebook commenter Susan Willis Updegraff. “The lengths [sic] to which her father has gone to find her remains is extraordinary and so tragic. The officials in Aruba covered up the murder and kept the investigation from being brought to a conclusion. Natalee's family has spent 12 years attempting to get some kind of closure and justice with Aruba authorities blocking their progress. October 6 they will get forensic DNA results from a lab in Washington. My heart broke for her father. All we can do is never go to Aruba for any reason. They don't deserve any benefits from U.S. tourists. What if this happened to someone you you [sic] love.”

Likewise Carole Ann Pigman wonders if these “poor parents” were ever able to find Natalee’s remains, whom Pigman describes as a “beautiful” young lady with such a “promising life.”

There are pleas to dismiss our usual pastime of Sunday afternoon football – because our players have the boldness to stand up to racism and police brutality –and instead pray for the family of the smart, young woman who only traveled to the island to celebrate the beginning of a premed education and career.

But Crystal Constance Bey makes another point on social media: “They can investigate a missing person in another country but won't investigate all the missing [black] and brown women here in America,” she posts.

It makes me wonder if Kenneka Jenkins – the 19-year-old woman who attended a party at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare just a few weeks ago and whose lifeless body was later found in the hotel’s walk-in freezer the next day – and her family would receive the same level of attention and support.

Many of us doubt it, as Twitter user Brittney Chardae brilliantly tweets: “And just like that the #kennekajenkins story goes silent.”


While watching the Natalee Holloway documentary, I, too, realized I hadn’t heard or seen anything new on television or social media so I Googled Jenkins’ name. The only recent news I find is information on her public funeral, which is scheduled for Saturday. The facts leading up to her death are still a mystery.

I perform the same search on Facebook and visit the major media pages. There, against my better judgment, I click on the comments and subject myself to pure vitriol.

Jennifer Russell Peters attacks Tereasa Martin’s parenting skills and writes, “What a loving caring mom. First, she lets her daughter leave the house at 1130 and has no clue she's missing and now she's turning her daughter's funeral into a circus.”

“Mama looking for a payout?” adds Rori DeLaurentis, “[Jenkins] was drunk and walked into a freezer and passed out. It was her own fault! Tell Mama to get a job and stop causing commotion. It's annoying.”

How poorly a perceivably lazy Martin must’ve raised her carefree daughter must also explain Jenkins’ actions as well as her inaction to survive. Facebook user Richard Koss posts an insensitive picture of what we can presume is a freezer door knob that accompanies the caption “Here's what would've saved your life, but you chose to drink and do drugs.”

The Facebook responses continue with freezer and Ringling Brothers jokes, dead horse memes and unnecessarily lame attempts to minimize and dismiss Jenkins’ death.

“She got drunk, she got high, she got dead. End of story,” Roxy Gellar writes.

While only a select handful blame Holloway’s disappearance on her parents for allowing a teenager to travel so far, most choose to strongly criticize a “drunk, drugged and stupid” Jenkins and her “greedy” mother who’s looking for nothing but a come-up.

The blatant lack of sympathy and pure disrespect for a black body and her family is appalling. But it’s real. It’s also rather interesting, read contradictory and hypocritical, how those who are the most vocal in victim-blaming and parent-shaming simply refuse to acknowledge the glaring similarities in both cases.

Like Holloway, Jenkins was celebrating a milestone, too: a friend’s birthday. They both partied with friends outside of home, although Holloway was in the Caribbean while Jenkins was only a few miles away, and disappeared. The friends can’t exactly account for the missing women’s whereabouts after a certain point. The chronology of Holloway’s final hours is also sketchy. Rumors continuously interfere with the facts of her case and both cases seem to involve some level of foul play.

But the stark contrasts are that one victim is white while the other one is black, the public views one superior to the other and what’s considered untimely and tragic for Holloway is inevitable and deserving for Jenkins. It only reminds us that race often does influence law enforcement’s decisions, equality and justice for all is a myth and to non-people of color, black girl magic is more dust than glitter.

Given the current racial climate, perhaps the infamous Facebook Live video showing Jenkins’ friends and a glimpse of Jenkins inside of their hotel room didn’t help any of the participants shine. It was hard for an empathetic viewer to watch and there seemed to be no real purpose for the footage, unless it actually was recorded as a clue or some sort of alibi. There’s a bit of profanity, obvious underage drinking and some blunt-passing. It’s totally unfair but people judge us, even us.

Still by no means does it give anyone permission to deem a young black woman’s life as disposable. Her background or current lifestyle or image isn’t a valuation of her worth nor is it a definite indicator of a bleak future. I grew up in a rural community where most youth bypass college for the real world. When I was 18, I attended a nightclub that served alcoholic beverages, I arrived home at 4 a.m. the morning after my birthday and I cursed and drank the night before, too. The elders in my family didn’t know where I went and unless they read this piece, they still won’t know. But I still received a degree from a well-renowned university and within four years. The fact that Holloway partied hours before her death doesn’t preclude her potential but Jenkins is punished partly because four million viewers can easily witness part of her evening and mainly because she’s black. Never mind that Jenkins’ potential to become a doctor or nurse could’ve grown to easily surpass Holloway’s. We’ll never know that because neither is here to prove it.

But one continues to live on over a decade later while the other continues to be repeatedly killed two weeks later. Jenkins and all of our magical young black women deserve the same respect and recognition as Natalee Holloway and all of the young white women whose lives are unexpectedly cut short. This is why we mustn’t allow Kenneka Jenkins’ name to be tarnished and dismissed by those who feel any mention of it is a waste of precious breath. It’s up to us to be her vested community that continues to scream her name until she and her family receives due justice.

A shorter version is originally published on Curly Nikki.

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