During the candlelight vigil held by the Scioto Mile on March 27 to honor the life of Amber Evans, something awe-inspiring happened — a rainbow appeared.
“It was a rainbow, but it was a rectangular rainbow that had no beginning or end. It was just there in the sky,” Baffoa Baffoe-Essilfie, a mentee of Evans, said. “It was as if her presence was there. She has always been willing to meet people wherever they are in life, like a rainbow appearing at any time when you need it most, no matter how different they are, like each color is different in a rainbow.”
Evans, 28, was a dedicated community activist who went missing on Jan. 28. Her body was found nearly two months later in the Scioto River on March 23. She will be remembered for being far more than just a community organizer, her closest friends said.
“Amber was not just an activist. There was so much more to her,” Baffoe-Essilfie, a third-year in political science, said. “She brought so much more to the table. She represented so much, and her being gone, it’s like all of those things are being taken away as well.”
A former Buckeye and Lantern reporter, Evans earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio State and a master’s in library and information sciences from Kent State University. In 2011, Evans began her activism on Ohio State’s campus through student organizing within the coalition Occupy OSU, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Inspired by this work, the following year Evans became one of the founders of the Ohio Student Association, an organization led by young people that engages in values-based issue and electoral organizing, nonviolent direct action, advocacy for progressive public policy and leadership development, according to its website.
Born at Ohio State under Evans’ leadership, OSA has grown into a statewide organization, with chapters at multiple universities and colleges in Ohio, as well as chapters throughout communities in Ohio. Evans’ time spent at OSA is known most notably for playing a role in blocking the Stand Your Ground Bill from being passed in Ohio, Baffoe-Essilfie, also a member of OSA, said.
Baffoe-Essilfie said that she is forever grateful for Evans starting OSA, which not only provided her with a family of justice seekers but also helped her to realize her dream of becoming an international human rights lawyer.
“Because of Amber, people like me were able to realize their purpose,” Baffoe-Essilfie said. “She created opportunities, which create dreams.”
Alongside OSA, Evans’ community activism evolved even more, as she also founded the People’s Justice Project, an organization addressing police brutality and fighting against mass incarceration in Ohio, Jack Brandl, a close friend of and community organizer with Evans, said.
Brandl said that in her leadership role at PJP, Evans was the “first line of defense” and “emergency 911 phone call” whenever there was police brutality in the city or tragedy struck the community. She was the one who comforted the mother and the community, organized the vigil for the victim and created the donor page.
“She practiced what she preached,” Brandl, a fourth-year in public affairs and African American and African studies, said. “She wasn’t just saying things. She was really in the weeds and in the work.”
Brandl said that at the same time, even though she was a hard worker, Evans was one of the most loving people anyone could ever meet.
“Amber was that kind of person that when you met her, she became your instant best friend,” Brandl said. “You saw her in a space and you knew this was someone who is clearly very intelligent, clearly has a vision, is really grounded and down to earth.”
Evans also spearheaded The Voices of the Unheard, another organization in Columbus prompting change in the community. VOU has chapters in schools and locations throughout Columbus, including the Columbus Alternative High School and the Franklin County Jail.
At the Franklin County Jail, Evans worked with many of the incarcerated young men, focusing on their empowerment, helping them find agency and allowing their voices to be heard on issues that they cared about, Brandl said.
In her most recent role as the director of organizing and policy of the Juvenile Justice Coalition, Evans initiated the “Counselors Not Cuffs” campaign, which focused on getting schools to implement social workers, therapists and counselors, instead of school resource officers and police officers in schools, Brandl said.
“Wherever she saw a group of people who weren’t having their needs met, she tried to start something to meet their needs,” Kevin O’Donnell, OSA training and data coordinator as well as close friend of Evans, said. “She saw the need to create vehicles that people could use to get power, who are typically locked out from power.”
With all of the achievements and milestones Evans accomplished, O’Donnell said that she would be most proud of the young people she poured herself into and the growth that they have gone through as a result of being a part of a community that she helped create.
Baffoe-Essilfie said Evans was especially there for the youth she worked with in the community, which meant far more than just a person to talk to.
“Being there for someone creates the opportunity for them to have a family,” Baffoe-Essilfie said. “It creates the opportunity for them to have a different outlook on life.”
Her love for community and people was even greater, Brandl said.
“Her ability to love without question was so powerful in bringing everyone together into a space, despite being from different walks of life,” Brandl said.
O’Donnell described Evans as a woman who could not be defined as one piece.
“Remember her as more than any one puzzle piece,” O’Donnell said. “Not just as an organizer, not just as a journalist, not just as a librarian, not just as a lover of friends and nature but as all of those things and to honor all of those parts within each other.”
A lover of nature, Evans enjoyed hiking and backpacking, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell recalled the time he and Evans went hiking in the mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a conference for youth organizers, where he asked her what she would be doing if there were no more problems in the world left to solve.
Her response: “I would climb mountains all day and take people with me.”