My heart has been incredibly heavy this week as I take in all of the events happening just north of my beloved city in Ferguson, Missouri. Since the tragic news of Michael Brown’s death on Sunday, I’ve spent most waking hours trying to learn, read and consume any and all information on the ever-changing situation in this small community in North St. Louis County.
To be honest, I’ve been heartbroken. I’ve been angry. And I’ve been scared.
I’ve been heartbroken over the loss of life and the reality of a region torn apart by issues that have long festered just below the surface.
I’ve been angry over the senseless violence, the way in which demonstrators have been treated and the misunderstanding, anger and hatred shown toward others by those in our community.
I’ve been scared. So scared. Scared for those in Ferguson. Scared for the journalists (including my husband) putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure transparency. Scared for the children whose lives have been forever altered by their surroundings. Scared for protestors, police officers, elected officials and volunteers. And scared for myself and our city. Scared of the reality that we all could have been working to better race relations in our city but instead chose to look the other way while injustices took place right in front of us.
Saturday, I finally made it out to Ferguson for the first time all week (and for the sake of full transparency and honesty with myself, the first time in my entire life despite living only 20 minutes away for the past two years). My friend and associate pastor, Rev. Katrina Drew, and I joined a community of neighbors and clergy as we prayed for those affected by all that is taking place.
Led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, we were encouraged to visit with those around Canfield Green Apartments and listen to their stories. Sit with them in prayer. Let them know that we care about them and want to do anything we can to help them get through these times of trial.
We spoke with a group of four 20-something men, who despite being around my age, seemed so young to have to live amongst such heartache and tragedy. They spoke of their frustrations over needing to leave for work 90 minutes early to make their way through the crowds and their concerns over a few wrongdoers shedding negative media attention on all young black men living in the area. Two of the men had just moved to the area two weeks before Michael Brown was shot. The part of the visit that struck me the most was the way they all said the same thing when asked how we could better serve them. “Be here. Listen to us. Spend time getting to know us.”
If being present with residents and neighbors is the largest obstacle we face toward improving the divide that separates our city, why haven’t we done so? What is stopping us from getting to know those from different walks of life? What stopped us from visiting Ferguson and Canfield Green Apartments before now? If I’m honest with myself, what has stopped me has been heartbreak, anger and fear.