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Breonna Taylor: Oprah puts magazine cover on 26 billboards

For the first time in the magazine’s history, O, The Oprah Magazine features not its namesake on the cover, but 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in her own home on March 16 — and now Oprah is erecting 26 billboards, one for every year of Breonna’s life, across the city of Louisville, Kentucky demanding justice.

Breonna covers the September issue of the magazine, with Oprah and her magazine staff paying tribute to the young woman, who was killed by plainclothes police officers who stormed into her Louisville home in the middle of the night with a no-knock warrant earlier this year. 

In her editor’s letter, Oprah stressed the importance of using ‘whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice,’ and now she is taking that a step further by putting the cover image on billboards across Louisville along with a demand that the police involved in her killing be arrested and charged.

According to local CBS affiliate WLKY, the billboards began going up on Thursday, and will all be erected by Monday.

Each one features an image of Breonna created by 24-year-old digital artist Alexis Franklin, which is currently the cover of the magazine. 

‘Demand that the police involved in killing Breonna Taylor be arrested and charged,’ the billboard reads in bold letters, directing people to visit UntilFreedom.com.

Until Freedom is ‘an intersectional social justice organization rooted in the leadership of diverse people of color to address systemic and racial injustice.’ They recently announced that the ‘entire team’ is relocating to Louisville for the ‘foreseeable future’ to fight for justice for Breonna.

The billboard also includes the Oprah magazine logo and a quote from the mogul herself: ‘If you turn a blind eye to racism, you become an accomplice to it.’  

Putting Breonna on the cover of the magazine was a change for Oprah, who has covered every issue of the publication for 20 years. But the 66-year-old insisted that people should use the platforms they have to demand justice. 

‘What I know for sure: We can’t be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice. And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine,’ Oprah wrote in her What I Know For Sure column.

She said that Breonna — who loved cars, chicken, hot sauce, and music, and who was saving to buy a house — was just like her.

‘Breonna Taylor had plans. Breonna Taylor had dreams,’ she wrote. ‘They all died with her the night five bullets shattered her body and her future. 

‘I think about Breonna Taylor often. She was the same age as the two daughter-girls from my school in South Africa who’ve been quarantining with Stedman and me since March. 

‘In all their conversations I feel the promise of possibilities. Their whole lives shine with the light of hopefulness. 

‘That was taken away from Breonna in such a horrifying manner. Imagine if three unidentified men burst into your home while you were sleeping. And your partner fired a gun to protect you. And then mayhem.’

Oprah revealed that she’d spoken to Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who was having ‘a particularly bad day dealing with the loss and the grief of knowing that her daughter is gone forever.’ 

‘Those of you who’ve lost loved ones know that the pain comes in waves and that any little thing can trigger it. A song. A scent. A word. A thought,’ she wrote. 

‘The day I called, Ms. Palmer was dealing with the emotion of it all. She told me, “I can’t stop seeing her face. Her smile. It’s what I miss most about her. I still can’t grasp the concept of her being gone. It feels so surreal. I’m still waiting for her to come through the door.”‘ 

Oprah also stresses the fact that there has been no justice. 

‘As I write this, in early July, just one of the three officers involved has been dismissed from the police force,’ she added, referring to Brett Hankison, who has not faced any charges. ‘This officer blindly fired ten rounds from his gun, some of which went into the adjoining apartment.’

‘The other two officers still have their jobs,’ she added, referring to Jon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, who were only placed on administrative leave and have also not faced charges.

‘What Ms. Palmer cannot understand is this: “The fact that no one has been charged. It was so reckless. They did all of this for nothing, and she lost her life.’

Oprah encourages readers to sign the Change.org and Color of Change petitions to demand justice from Kentucky officials; call Kentucky’s attorney general, mayor, governor, and the public integrity unit of the Louisville Metro Police Department to demand the officers involved be fired and charged, and visit StandWithBre.com.

She also urges donations to the Louisville Community Bail Fund and the use of the #SayHerName hashtag on social media.

The former talk show host added that she feels a particular connection to other women spotlighted in the #SayHerName campaign, which raises awareness of the Black women, girls, and femmes who have died by police violence or while in custody. 

‘I have a collection of property ledgers from former plantations. Names, ages, and prices of people, listed along with cattle, shoes, wagons, and all other earthly possessions. The ledgers are framed in my library,’ she explained.  

‘When in need of fortification in times of crisis or challenge, and sometimes just to remind myself where I’ve come from, I read them aloud. I feel a kinship. 

‘As a great-great-granddaughter of enslaved people, I know that in a different era my name would have been in someone’s ledger. Those ledgers come to mind when I see the names of Black women who were killed by police. 

‘Breonna Taylor and too many others like her. I see the names, I think of the ledgers, I feel the connection down the generations: the refusal to value Black women’s lives. And I feel a personal connection. Because I am these women. These women are me.

The issue, which hits newsstands August 11, also includes an interview with artist Alexis Franklin, who created the cover portrait.

‘I am so happy to play a small part in this long-overdue, world-changing narrative on racial injustice and police brutality,’ she said. ‘The original photo is one Breonna took herself and has been featured in the news many times. Looking at it, I see an innocence, simple but powerful. It was critical for me to retain that.’

She said that ‘so many things were going through my mind’ while creating the cover.

‘Every stroke was building a person: each eyelash, each wisp of hair, the shine on her lips, the highlight on her cheek. 

‘I had that season when I chose to shut down my feelings around the killing of unarmed Black people because I couldn’t take living day to day in such a state of awareness,’ she went on.

‘Now I was as up close and personal as I could ever get to this woman and, consequently, to this very real problem. I felt a new level of determination and pressure to get it right, but I tried not to let that affect me’  

Janelle Washington, a Black papercut artist, also created work for the issue: a silhouette of Breonna with 89 names highlighted by the #SayHerName campaign. 

The groundbreaking issue is being released amid reports that the monthly will cease printing after its December 2020 issue.

The staff of O: The Oprah Magazine, which was created by Winfrey and Hearst Communications, was informed of the decision on Friday, Business of Fashion reported.    

The magazine has a paid print circulation of 2.2 million and an audience of 10 million, meaning that each copy of the magazine was read by around five people on average, Hearst claims.

While most magazines saw a decline in sales around 2009, O’s circulation gained about five per cent, according to the Associated Press.

O also has a large black subscriber base compared to most publications. Black subscribers represent 35 per cent of O’s readers.

The magazine is second only to Essence Magazine in terms of the diversity of its readership, beating BuzzFeed, Instyle, Refinery29, and sister publication Elle, according to the magazine’s promotional material.

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