“Silence from the Desert” φ Susan K Williams Smith, The SpiritHouse Project

“Silence from the Desert”

Susan SmithSusan K Williams Smith
Gordon G. Cosby Seasoned Voices Fellow, The SpiritHouse Project

The SpiritHouse Project, under the direction of Ruby Sales, has been investigating the deaths of black people at the hands of white police, vigilantes and security guards since 2007. The deaths have been shocking and reports of them have been scarce; Sales is determined to get the word out that young black people, male and female, are being brutalized with alarming frequency, with the murderers seldom being held accountable. A recent recurring phenomenon with these deaths is missing organs. The following story involves the case of a Black young man who, like Kendrick Johnson, (who was also black) was found murdered and organs missing. Sales is calling for a national movement to bring awareness to these murders and to stop them.

It has been six months – 74 days, to be precise – since Ryan Singleton’s body was found in a California desert, his organs missing, 74 days without having gotten a single bit of information about how he actually died.

Joggers found his body in a Death Valley desert near Baker, California, more than 70 days after he went missing. Though police say they searched for his body within a five-mile radius of a convenience store from which he disappeared, he was found a little over one mile from that same store. His body had no eyes, no heart, no liver, no lungs and no kidneys.
He disappeared in early July; his body was found September 21.  Iris Flowers, his mother, speaks slowly and deliberately. The pain of having lost her son in such a horrific way comes through as she speaks. To date, she knows little about what really happened to her son. “When I have called, I get nothing,” she says, her voice heavy. “I have not gotten an autopsy report. I don’t know how long he was out in the desert.” “I don’t even have a death certificate yet.”
Ryan, 24, was a handsome, young African American man who had gone to California chasing his dream of becoming a model and film producer. His career had begun in New York and had taken off. He had appeared in major magazines, had appeared on Fashion Television, and was featured in a film that was seen by delegates at the United Nations. He moved to California where he met and mingled with people who saw his talent and opened even more doors for him. His star was rising; he was in the first chapter of what promised to be a life most could only dream of.
He was a good kid, folks would say. Not perfect, but a “good kid.”
He hadn’t been in California long before he decided he wanted to take a vacation. He rented a car and, en route to his vacation spot, ended up in the desert. His car, according to reports had broken down. White police officers found him walking in the desert, presumably trying to get help. They stopped when they saw him, did a check to make sure he had no record – which he didn’t – and then took him to a nearby convenience store so that he could call for help. He made a phone call to a friend to come pick him up …and then, suddenly, he was no longer in the store. Nobody saw him leave; nobody saw anybody pick him up – but it was clear that Ryan was gone.
Twenty-four hours later, law enforcement officers in Atlanta visited Mrs. Flowers at her home to tell her that Ryan was missing, after having been notified by California authorities.
Authorities told Flowers that perhaps coyotes had taken Ryan’s organs – they sometimes do that, police told her – but Ryan’s body was not mutilated. “Were his remains strewn all over the desert, near where he was found?” she asked them when they gave her the coyote story. No, as a matter of fact that had not been the case. Neither were any of his limbs missing. If coyotes had taken his organs, Flowers mused, they had taken them with surgical precision, leaving the rest of his body relatively intact.
Though Ryan had gone missing in July, his body was not badly decomposed, certainly not to the degree a body left in the hot desert sun might have been expected to. Authorities told Flowers the same; “his body is remarkably intact.”
Pictures of Ryan showed his hands curled, as though he were scratching or writhing in pain. He had perfect teeth, but pictures showed his five lower teeth missing. His mouth was open, lips still pretty much intact, but his mouth was open as though he were screaming. There was hole in the back of his head, low, near where the head meets the neck.
Flowers has been trying to get information, but nobody will tell her anything because Ryan’s case is a “death investigation,” she has been told. Police still have Ryan’s cell phones and his back pack. Flowers has called not only police, but the rental car company from which Ryan had gotten his car. Nobody will tell her anything. Ryan had two cell phones, Flowers says. One, they found in the back seat of the rental car, the other on his remains. She has not been able to get either one of them. “I call his cell phone every now and then, just to hear his voice,” Flowers says. It goes straight to voice mail…Flowers is understandably exasperated, annoyed. “Surely by now, the forensic records should have come back; surely somebody has to know something.”
Flowers holds the pain in so that she can move, breathe, talk. She recalls the last time she heard her son’s voice. “He had called me the day, the morning (I later learned) he disappeared, asking me to wire him some emergency money. I did …and then later I called him to make sure he had gotten it. He never answered the phone. He never picked up the money.” Twenty-four hours later, she got the news that he was missing.
In the early days of her son’s disappearance, and even after his lifeless body was found, Flowers called California authorities regularly, in spite of never getting any answers. After he was found and she could not get information, she called the FBI. They advised her to get an attorney. She has not as yet gotten one; attorneys cost money and her resources are limited.
Flowers recalls going to look at Ryan’s body after it was flown from California to Georgia for a funeral.
“Yes, I saw his body,” she says softly, heavily, in response to being asked if she saw him. “I went in to make sure the remains were my son, Ryan Singleton. It looked like road kill; they said it looked like that due to the autopsy. There was only a certain amount of torso left…there was not recognizable as a young man.” Her voice trembling some, she continued. “I had to make sure it was my son. I couldn’t do like Kendrick Johnson’s parents did. They had an autopsy and then he was buried and then they had him exhumed. That’s when they found his organs were missing. I learned from them. I couldn’t have gone through that. Before they buried him, we knew he had no organs.”  Flowers said she also learned from a woman whose son had died in an equally horrible way years ago, when asked how she had endured seeing her son so mutilated and violated.  “There were stronger women who went before me,” she said. “I thought of Emmett Till’s mother. I thought of how horrible that was …to show her son mutilated by hate. When I saw my son, I thought that what I felt was what Mrs. Till felt. I didn’t feel it was racial…but I don’t know what it was that killed him. I was thinking of her – looking at her healthy, beautiful child – and she showed her son to the world, to let the world know. I just wanted to go in and see …see if there was anything I recognized as part of my child.”
Ryan was unarmed. He had no record. He was young and vibrant, with his whole life ahead of him.
That life snuffed out, Flowers now just wants to know what happened…and get justice.
The silence from the desert is unacceptable, she says. Her son was a person, her baby. She cries slightly as she looks at a videotape showing Ryan shortly before his death …saying he was on his way and that he would be known all over the world in five years. He is confident and filled with hope; he is smiling and his eyes dance with a freshness that only comes with youth. Nothing was going to stop him; mom was not to worry.“That was my son,” Flowers says. “I miss him so much.”

02-8-14 Susan Smith5

Witness On the Bridge l In Conversation with Ruby N. Sales l March 23, 2013 l OUR COMMON GROUND

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham



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In Conversation with Ruby N. Sales


Civil Rights and Liberation Activist – Community Activist and OrganizerCommunity Education and Development Leader

 Human Rights Activist

March 23, 2013       10pm ET


“They came to Change a Nation and Lift Up A People”
The Women of the Black Power Movement



Ruby Nell Sales is a highly-trained, experienced, and deeply-committed social activist, scholar, administrator, manager, public theologian, and educator in the areas of Civil, Gender, and other Human Rights. She is an excellent public speaker, with a proven track record in conflict resolution and consensus building. Ms. Sales has preached around the country on race, class, gender, and reconciliation, and she has done ground-breaking work on community and nonviolence formation. Ms. Sales also serves as a national convener of the Every Church A Peace Church Movement.

Along with other SNCC workers, Sales joined young people from Fort Deposit, Alabama who organized a demonstration to protest the actions of the local White grocery-store owners who cheated their parents. The group was arrested and held in jail and then suddenly released. Jonathan Daniels, a White seminarian and freedom worker from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was assassinated as he pulled Sales out of the line of fire when they attempted to enter Cash Grocery Store to buy sodas for other freedom workers who were released from jail. Tom Coleman also shot and deeply wounded Father Richard Morrisroe, a priest from Chicago. Despite threats of violence, Sales was determined to attend the trial of Daniels’ murderer, Tom Coleman, and to testify on behalf of her slain colleague.

As a social activist, Sales has served on many committees to further the work of reconciliation, education, and awareness. She has served on the Steering Committee for International Women’s Day, Washington, D.C.; the James Porter Colloquium Committee, Howard University, Washington, D.C.; the Coordinating Committee, People’s Coalition, Washington, D.C.; the President’s Committee On Race, University of Maryland; and the Coalition on Violence Against Women, Amnesty International, Washington, D.C. She was a founding member of Sage Magazine: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. Sales received a Certificate of Gratitude for her work on Eyes on the Prize. Additionally, she was featured in Broken Ground: A Film on Race Relations in the South, by Broken Ground Productions. From 1991-1994, Sales founded and directed the national nonprofit organization Women of All Colors, dedicated to improving the overall quality of life for women, their families, and the communities in which they live. Women of All Colors organized a week-long SisterSpeak that brought more than 80 Black women together to set a national agenda.

In 2000, Dan Rather spotlighted Sales on his “American Dream” Segment. In 1999, Selma, Alabama gave Sales the key to the city to honor her contributions there. In 2007, Sales moved to Columbus, Georgia, where she organized: a southern summit on racism; a national write-in campaign to save Albany State from being merged into a White college; a grassroots and media campaign to shed light on the death of seventeen year old, Billye Jo Johnson, who allegedly killed himself on a dark road in Lucedale, Mississippi when a deputy stopped him for speeding; Long Train Running Towards Justice, which celebrated the work of Black teachers during segregation and explored the ways that the Black school culture has been destroyed by White officials under the guise of desegregation; and a meeting with students at Savannah State to assist them in organizing and mobilizing a move by officials to merge Savannah State with a White college.

03-09 RubySalesIn 2009, the History Makers named her a History Maker for her contributions to civic affairs. The Veterans of Hope Project selected her to be a part of its video series. Her video “Standing Against the Wind” has been shown at colleges around the nation.

Sales serves as the founder and director of the SpiritHouse Project. SpiritHouse Project is a national organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity.

about SPIRITHOUSE Project

SpiritHouse Project houses The Jonathan Daniels and Samuel Young Institute for Racial Justice, which (1) supports and prepares a new generation of peace and justice workers who want to discern a call to social justice and nonviolence; (2) strengthens their courage, hope, resolve, and reason to do this work; (3) prepares them to play leading roles in public policy debates about issues such as poverty, prison industrial complex, militarism, the shrinking budget for human needs, voting rights, privacy and judicial issues, and neo-conservatism; and (4) helps grassroots communities meet their urgent need for trained and committed volunteers or staff. Throughout her career, Sales has mentored young people and provided support and venues for an intergenerational community of developing and seasoned social justice performing and creative artists. Sales has a deep commitment to providing the education, practical experiences, and frame of references to contest racism and add their voices to a public conversation on the many streams of oppression that emerge from it.

SpiritHouse also houses SisterAll Programs that bring Black women together in assemblies, classrooms, and performance spaces to renew our historical roles as a community of activists, spiritual guides, and leaders who stand and work on the front lines for racial, economic, and human rights using the tools of nonviolence and participatory democracy. SisterAll One was a community-building project that called together black female scholars, activists, artists, students, workers, practitioners, and lay and ordained spiritual leaders between the ages of 18 and 35, alongside older Black women who have been long distance runners for justice.

Ruby Sales’ Spirit House Project interns will share what they have learned in their work tracking the different points of connection within the Prison Industrial Complex and Criminal Justice Reform.

Spirit House is located at 1884 Ponce De Leon Avenue NE #1, Atlanta, GA 30307

Join us in the conversation with one of our most powerful, prolific and important figures in contemporary Black History.

LIVE: OCG Meetinghouse: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/OCG

For More Information: http://www.ourcommongroundtalk.wordpress.com/

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves


Community Forum: http://www.ourcommonground-talk.ning.com/

Twitter: @JaniceOCG #TalkthatMatters                   Web: http://www.wordpress.ourcommongroundtalk.com/

Witness From the Bridge l OH State Senator Nina Turner


03-9 witnesses


March 9, 2013

Rebroadcast, OH Senator, Nina Turner

9-19 Nina Turner3



March 16, 2013

Rebroadcast, Barbara Arnwine, Lawyers’ Committee for CRUL


March 23, 2013

Ruby Sales, SNCC and Civil Rights Movement Veteran, Freedom Warrior, Director, Spirit House Project

03-09 RubySales

April 6, 2013

“An Evening with Runoko Rashidi: His Life and Work”

04-06 Coming up Rashidi2

Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal l SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed

Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal

Written by SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed

A variety of communities, including the Black community, continue to praise the American Broadcasting Channel’s (ABC) latest prime-time television series, Scandal. They celebrate it for being the first one-hour dramatic network television series produced and written by a Black woman (Rhonda Shimes) for an African American woman lead. Among such shows as Basketball Wives, Housewives of Atlanta, and Love and Hip Hop, capitalizing upon the racist mythologies of Black women as Sapphires and Jezebels, Scandal appeared as the beginning or genesis of a new Black woman who does not fit into these stereotypes. Scandal, presents the leading character, Olivia Pope, as an intelligent, independent, and resourceful Black woman. However, contrary to this representation, Olivia is not a new Black woman, Olivia is the quintessential Mammy, Jezebel, and Tragic Mulatto, wrapped into one. As a Mammy figure, she cleans up the messes of White men, covers their flaws, and protects their interests, while overlooking the needs of her own community. Essentially, her work is in the big house. Not only do White men see her as the Mammy, for them she is the tragic Mulatto and Jezebel. With her mulatto-like acceptability, she allows them to think White, while sleeping Black.

John Mayer, a White folk artist, reflects this attitude, when he states in Playboy magazine interview, that he possesses a “white supremacist ‘d–k” and that he would deviate from this and sleep with Kerry Washington, a black woman, because she is “super hot, white girl crazy, and would break your heart like a white girl.”

Although the series presents Olivia as a new woman, the center of gravity remains the same. The real scandal is that we accept the interracial love affair of Olivia Pope and the Republican president without recognizing that the image of Powerful White men, who sexually use Black women, is not new or liberating. It has it’s roots in a racist history that extends back to enslavement.

Olivia is the mistress and not the legitimate heir to the power and status of her White lover. Olivia’s position as mistress, echoes Sally Hemming’s affair with Thomas Jefferson. In season one, Olivia Pope engages in a heated argument with Fitzgerald Grant, over their torrid affair in which she likens their relationship to that of Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemming. Although Olivia draws on the example of Sally Hemming, she acts if her relationship with the President exists without a history or context. In other words, in a racialized society, the relationship is stripped of any racial meaning.

Despite the fact that many in the audience view Scandal as a groundbreaking series for it’s position in history as the first primetime series to be written and produced by a Black woman to feature and an African American woman as the lead, the show remains profoundly silent on the issue of race. It ignores that racism and White Supremacy are core values and organizing tools of the Republican party. In reality, members of the Republican party exploit and mobilize White resentment towards the gains that we achieved in the 1960s and 70s, viewing these gains as a loss of White power. Building on this resentment, the Republican party strategically uses codified language, distorted images, and a rhetoric of colorblind post-racialism to cover their racist assaults against our community.

The real scandal is that Olivia Pope, helps these men manipulate the public and to promote an anti-black agenda.

As I became further involved in the series, watching episode after episode, season after season, I slowly became increasingly aware of the incredible deception of the the producers who present the Republican party as supportive of democratic values while using a Black face to encourage the support of a Black audience.

In the first season, we witness Republican President, Fitzgerald Grant and his administration lobbying for the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill providing amnesty for young undocumented residents in the U.S and the support of immigration. In reality, the Republican party vehemently opposed the DREAM Act, executed under President, Barack Obama.

In 2011, Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney voiced his opposition to the DREAM Act, vowing to veto it, if elected.

Another prevalent deception in this series is the representation of the Republican party as supportive and accepting of LGBT rights. This is exemplified through the show’s representation of the Republican administration as supportive of the openly gay Chief of Staff, Cyrus. Scandal, presents Cyrus as an out gay Republican who is married to a young, male journalist.

In reality, the Republican party is very vocal in its opposition to gay rights and has strongly advocated against same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and the existence of gay men and women in the military. It was the Democratic President, Barack Obama who repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” along with vocalizing his support of same sex marriage.

Scandal is inspired by the life of co-producer and writer Judy Smith, Washington’s D.C’s crisis management expert and former Deputy Press Secretary and Public Relations consultant to the George H.W. Bush administration.

Judy Smith involved herself in the Clarence Thomas saga, when she provided her services to clear his image during Anita Hill’s charge of sexual harassment.

Judy Smith and actress Kerry Washington, (cast in the role of Olivia Pope) together lend a Black face to a party that builds its platform upon the continued oppression of all people of color.

The real scandal is that we know this and yet we allow this to invade our living room week after week.

(In my next article, I will reveal the ways in which Scandal mask the racist deeds of the Republican party)

Writer, Dean Steed, is the Lead Educator and Youth Organzinger at the Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Institute and Senior at Georgia State University, majoring in African American studies.


What Is the Institute?

Through the program, The SpiritHouse Project: (1) supports and prepares a new generation of peace and justice workers who want to discern a call to social justice and nonviolence; (2) strengthens their courage, hope, resolve, and reason to do this work; (3) prepares them to play leading roles in public policy debates about issues such as racism, poverty, prison industrial complex, militarism, and the shrinking budget for human needs, voting rights, privacy and judicial issues, and neo-conservatism; and (4) helps grassroots communities meet their urgent need for trained and committed volunteers or staff.

Visit The Spirit House


The SpiritHouse Project is a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity.

The SpiritHouse Project
1884 N. Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Unit 1
Atlanta, GA 30307
Phone: (404) 228-1715
Email: info@spirithouseproject.org