Louis Michael’s college graduation was canceled over the summer, but the Vallejo resident still wanted to walk in his cap and gown.
So he wore it to a protest on May 29 in Oakland with a Black Lives Matter T-shirt under the gown. Sarahbeth Maney’s photograph of Michael standing with his fist in the air in front of police officers went viral. It was Michael’s first protest. Four days later, on June 2, the direction of Michael’s life changed when Sean Monterrosa, a 22-year-old San Franciscan, was fatally shot by Vallejo police. He was the 19th person killed by Vallejo police since 2010.
Michael, 23, had planned to go to graduate school. Instead, in June, he started Vessels of Vallejo, a community organization to fight the oppression of marginalized people. In August, he began his campaign for a seat on the Vallejo City Council. He only captured 37% of the vote, losing to Mina Diaz, a real estate agent and community advocate who is the first Latina elected to the City Council in Vallejo, which is about 25% Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
“It would have been amazing to be a City Council member and to bring change in that capacity,” Michael told me the day after the election. “But there’s a part of it that’s kind of reassuring to know it’s not over for me. I have a whole team of people waiting for me to get back into it with Vessels and to start getting some stuff done.”
Vessels is mounting an effort to recall Hakeem Brown, the Vallejo city council member who lost his mayoral bid to Robert McConnell. Weeks before the election, Brown downplayed his criminal history in an Oct. 11 Facebook post. Stories by Open Vallejo and The Chronicle revealed a disturbing history of violence against women.
“It’s more disheartening when you have the opportunity to take accountability for your actions and to own up to those things, and you don’t take that opportunity,” Michael said about Brown before the election.
In September, Vessels of Vallejo put up a billboard adjacent to the police headquarters that read, “Justice for Sean Monterrosa,” along with an illustration of the shooting victim.
On July 11, Michael married his high school sweetheart, Destany Barnett, who is studying for the Medical College Admission Test. That day, he organized a protest. They’re expecting their first child in March.