Most Influential Students: Naomi Daugherty
Senior Naomi Daugherty spent her years at MU as a dedicated student, poet and activist.
May. 06, 2015
Senior Naomi Daugherty always has a poem memorized and ready to share at any moment. If she has one on her chest, she can’t sleep until she gets at least part of it out.
Daugherty’s existence is poetry.
“Poetry is the reason I can make sense of a very complex and hurting world,” she said.
She wrote her first poem when she was 8 years old.
“It was because my brother told on me. It really upset me,” she laughed. “And I remember it was called ‘betrayed.’ It was in my first diary — I still have it. And it was written in orange marker.”
Her favorite line she has ever written came from her pondering how compassion feels like the marrow of her bones: “If love is all I’ve got to give, then I know that I am powerful.”
She has performed her work across the country, including in Nevada, Minnesota, Indiana, Arizona and Illinois.
As a freshman, Daugherty lived in Johnston Hall, where she was in hall government. She was a part of Mizzou Change Today, Dream Outside the Box and Indie Poets. During her sophomore year, she started her own organization called SPEAK Community Theater.
She said it has been a long-running joke that she is an “honorary” staff member of the Women’s Center all four years.
“I exist in that space so deeply,” she said. “That is my home and definitely the place on this campus that I feel the safest. If we could pick where we could have our graduation, I would say the Women’s Center.”
Daugherty’s voice can also be heard across this campus, but her words this year had more urgency.
It was Aug. 9, 2014, and Michael Brown had just been killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Daugherty, December 2014 graduates Ashley Bland and Kailynd Beck were sitting in Daugherty’s house when the news of his death broke.
“I think it was a mixture of having our knowledge and experience of having existed in a world where we knew we were never meant to survive for so long — and then seeing this black body, this black life, that didn’t survive … and deciding that we needed to do something,” she said.
MU4MikeBrown, the student-led movement responsible for numerous public demonstrations, was born that day. Daugherty and her collaborators emailed a bunch of campus leaders and student organizations that celebrated people of color and asked them to be on board, Daugherty said.
"We were watching the news unfold via Twitter, and we all knew orgs that were planning things separately, so we said ' let's make this a collective,” Beck said in an email. “That way we could eliminate orgs trying to plan over one another and the reach would be more powerful."
Bland said it's not a true organization that it was formed it that way on purpose so people who were not involved in traditional, prominent campus groups would still be comfortable getting involved.
The movement’s first demonstration was a silent vigil in Speakers Circle in August.
“It was wild to believe that was this year,” Daugherty said. “It feels like a long time ago … but it also feels like it was yesterday.”
The movement encountered several obstacles on campus.
“Our administrators are racist,” she said. “And they try to pacify the fact that they are.”
She referenced two different accounts, including when Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said “yellow” lives matter at the MU4MikeBrown Demonstration in the MU Student Center on Dec. 2 and when Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin joked that “something good came out of racism” at the race relations forum March 17.
She said they ran into problems with the media, as well. She was “misquoted for days,” and felt a lot of them forgot that they were reporting on such a sensitive topic: their lives.
“I had journalists begging me to cry on-camera after the non-indictment,” she said. “There was one journalist who stole my protest sign to use for her news station.”
However, she praised Ashley Jost, former higher education reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, for her sensitive reporting that acknowledged the movement’s historical context.
Jost, who is from North St. Louis County near Ferguson, met Daugherty in Speakers Circle in August at that initial demonstration.
“She definitely is one of the students who thinks about not only what she is saying, but why she is saying it,” Jost said. “And you can tell when she’s talking about those issues that she’s personally invested in them.”
Daugherty said Jost always got the scoop before any other reporter.
“At the very beginning, I made it clear that I (didn’t) have an agenda, and so many people are unaware that that’s not the media’s role,” Jost said. “And trying to get over that hump with those students really wasn’t that big of an issue because they were all pretty media-savvy.”
Daugherty always loves to remind people that she graduates in May. She already has a job set up in New Orleans where she will be teaching ninth-grade English. She said her emphasis on education tends to be overlooked because of her involvement in race relations.
“The lens is race relations and the frame is access to education,” she said. “I’m so excited to extract myself from this space, because I am so tired of being confined in an institution where my liberation feels compromised.”