Local joins cast of Emmett Till series

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Lindsey Adkison, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·5 min read
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Feb. 18—Emmett Till's story has lost none of the horror in the 65 years since his murder. A 14-year-old boy from Chicago, Till was brutally beaten, shot and thrown into a river with a blade from a cotton gin tied around his neck. His offense? Allegedly flirting with a White woman in Money, Mississippi, where he was visiting family.

Two men were charged for Till's death, but they were acquitted by an all-White jury.

Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, launched a relentless crusade to tell his story. She even asked for an open casket to display his broken body to show the extent of the brutality with which he was killed. She continued to share his story throughout her life, and because of this Mamie Till (who later remarried) is widely credited with helping to spark the Civil Rights Movement, which would gain more momentum in the 1960s.

Like the Till family, St. Simons Island resident Iman Ali has a connection to both Chicago and the Mississippi Delta. She worked in broadcast journalism in both areas, which eventually brought her face-to-face with Mamie Till-Mobley. Years later, Ali also met Till-Mobley's niece, Deborah Watts, and became an ambassador for the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

Ali says this connection also led to her participation in a new television series about Emmett's death and the women who spearheaded the fight for justice.

"The project is a mini drama series called 'Women of The Movement,'" she said.

"It's very important ... probably one of the most significant that we have seen on television but hopefully the beginning of more."

The project will air on ABC later this year, thanks to some pretty powerful producers — Jay Z (Roc Nation) and Will Smith (Overbrook Entertainment). In addition to Ali's connection to the Till family, she also has an extensive background working within the entertainment industry, which is how she first heard about the project.

Ali has worked with Chadwick Boseman's "Get On Up," Muhammad Ali's "The Last Punch," Tyler Perry's "The Haves and Have Nots," BET's "The Game" and "Devious Maids." She also helped produce "VH1's Rock Doc: Planet Rock The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation."

These connections and her dedication to racial equality made her a perfect fit to serve as a stand-in for the actress who plays Mamie Till.

"I was cast as a member of the production team as stand-in and double for the lead character Mamie Till being played by lead actress and Tony Award winner, Adrienne Warren," she said.

For weeks, Ali has been living in Mississippi, while working on the production. It's made for some long days and nights but there's no place she'd rather be.

"I'm extremely honored and humbled to be apart of this project," she said.

"I had the distinct honor to meet and talk with Mamie Till when I was producing television news in Chicago. What was supposed to be a five-minute conversation turned into a nearly two- hour discussion about the Delta of Mississippi, the fight for justice for Emmett and our fight in general as a people in this country."

Ali recalls Till-Mobley's kindness but also her conviction as she continued her decades-long quest for justice for her child.

"She was very clear, deliberate, loving yet firm in her position and her encouragement of me," she said.

"Unfortunately, I could also relate to the disparities and the racial divide that was and is prevalent in the Deep South as well as in a big city like Chicago."

It's one of the reasons that she dedicated her life to social justice. Ali pursued that path both through journalism and the music industry, working with a number of celebrities, activists and politicians, like Barack Obama, prior to his presidential campaign.

For Ali, it's become a personal and spiritual mission. Music, too, she says, is part of that equation. And she notes that various generations have shared the struggle through song.

"Every movement has had its music. James Brown, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and so many more created the sound track of our lives and sojourn here in America," she said.

"So it is today, I am proud of two brothers who hip hop raised, Jay Z and Will Smith, being in a position and having enough consciousness to put the money up to tell the story of Emmett Louis Till and equally the story of Mamie Till-Mobley."

Though Ali feels that each era has music that defines its generation, for many Black Americans, the styles may be different but the themes are heartbreakingly similar. Like Emmett Till, she feels that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others are simply the latest verse in an unending and sorrowful song of death and trauma.

"This keeps the family and Blacks as a whole in a state of stress and survival mode," she said.

"It's like Mamie Till in one of her first speeches after Emmett's death — that 'what happens to one of us wherever we are in the world had better be the business of all of us.' Boy, are her words true today as they were 65 years ago."

—Iman Ali is also a Reiki and meditation master. She offers private sessions and workshops at Salt AER in Brunswick and was featured on the cover of Golden Isles Magazine's January-February issue. To read more of her story, pick up a copy of GIM or visit goldenislesmagazine.com.