My hometown is a national headline, and for reasons that feels surreal, yet admittedly it’s representative of a problem that has been there my entire life.
Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, MO, has been headlining news the past few days. Michael Brown, a recently graduated senior from Normandy High School, was killed by a police officer. There are multiple accounts of the story going around; however, one thing is clear: Mike was walking away. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. He was shot multiple times.
Words cannot express the tragedy.
I grew up in Ferguson and the cities that surround it. St. Louis County is made up of a bunch of tiny little cities that are practically on top of each other. We call Ferguson and the cities that surround it (Florissant, Berkeley, Calverton Park, Jennings, Normandy, Hazelwood, Dellwood, Riverview, Kinloch, and so on) North County. North County has had a terrible reputation for a very long time. One of the most segregated cities in the country, you can see it here. North County has a lot of low-income housing made up of primarily minorities, especially blacks. However, there are little pockets of white communities, far nicer than the hoods, that are in the midst of it. Put that together, and you have a ghetto right next to nice suburban neighborhoods.
Because of the socioeconomic difference between whites and everyone else, this caused extreme segregation. People mostly stuck to their race. The first school I went to was in Normandy, and I was beat up almost every day because I was the only white person. Even though we were young, we were all taught the differences between “us” and “them” in a very ugly way. My house was tagged by gangs with spray paint. There were drug dealers on my street. Then I turned 8 and moved to the edge of Florissant, which is Ferguson’s sister.
Fortunately, my experience in Elementary school didn’t stick. I went to McCluer High School, which is in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. We had a lot of different races, including a nice population of exchange students and immigrants. I didn’t really fit into the “white crowd,” because my family was extremely poor and full of addiction, very like most of the black communities in the area. Truthfully, I didn’t really fit into any crowd. I found myself starting “Club International,” a school-sponsored organization that was to unite people, no matter their race, socioeconomic background, or religion. My inner circle of friendship consisted of all kinds of different races and skin tones. It was beautiful.
This was what Ferguson had to offer me: a thorough education of the different cultures and customs of our world. It’s what inspired some of my friends to pursue degrees in international business, foreign languages, and missions work.
Even though most who are impoverished find themselves stuck in a place of poverty, Ferguson was a place where a person could gain redemption through education. I was able to take the ACT twice, not needing to pay either time. My high school offered free prom tickets to those who scored a 21 or higher on the ACT, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to my senior prom if not for that. I had teachers work with me on my writing skills, my grammar, and my attitude.
This was my Ferguson; my North County. It wasn’t perfect. But it had something to offer me. The difference is that, as a white female, I had an advantage. Everyone expects you to get out–after all, there was a major White Flight from North County many decades ago. However, if you are black, and especially a black man, there are little expectations, especially because the majority of the city is run by white people.
As I watch my friends from high school and church back home in the midst of these riots, my heart aches. I wish I could do something. I wish I could go home and remind them of the Black History classes we took every year, about how it was those who stood for PEACE that we celebrated in class, not those who caused riots. Those who stood their ground, who didn’t back down, yet did it without the added violence.
And as I think about Ferguson, my home… I think about all the beauty that’s there, things that were added to add life. I think about Whistle Stop, and how at Ferguson Middle School we would walk there as a class field trip every year for ice cream. I think about Street Fest. I think about live music in the summers. I think about having home-field advantage there as outfielder on my winning softball team, the Ferguson Fire. I think about Girl Scout parades through the town. I think about the new bicycle path put there in just the last few years. I think about all the little family-owned restaurants and bars. I think about how I want to avoid Marley’s, a bar that consists 90% of people from my high school. I think about January Wabash Park, how we’d watch fireworks every Independence Day, and how we did the mile run there in school…with the terrible hills. I think about the church I grew up in, which is right across the street from the looted shopping center on West Florissant Rd. I think about all the times I told my mom I was staying after school, but really roaming the streets with my friends.
And I think about the injustices that never seem to end. Racist white leadership. Black-on-black violence. A struggling economy.
So this is MY Ferguson: Complex. Yet it has beauty. Ferguson was a city really fighting for something to give its residents…and it infuriates me that people (who, are PS, mostly not even from Ferguson) are looting, burning, and causing violence.
But if you ask me the truth, I have to wonder: The things put in Ferguson to give it beauty and life–who are they reaching? If we have 2/3 black and 1/3 white, why are there country music concerts in the summer time? Why are there bike paths–not for commuting to work, but for exercise? The beautification isn’t for the poor, but for the middle class to have something nice to look at, widening a gap and making blacks even more disenfranchised. “MY” Ferguson is in most cases, the white Ferguson. Even though I’ve seen the poverty, I’ve also had interests catered to my Caucasian culture. Because again: I am white and therefore have a privilege in that area, whether I’m poor or not.
Despite not having the automatic white privilege I have, Mike Brown was making better for himself. He graduated high school from Normandy High, a school that is one of the roughest around. He was to begin college this week at Vatterott, a trade school with a great reputation. Mike could have made a great life for himself. Whether he did anything “wrong” in this situation, he didn’t deserve to lose his life. He was no threat. He was a kid achieving things that most don’t get to do.
I ask that you partner with me in prayer for my hometown. It shaped a lot of who I am, and although I’m in a different city now, I miss it. I wish there were easy answers.
I also ask that you pray for Mike’s family. I can’t even fathom what they’re going through right now, watching Mike’s legacy being “honored” by riots full of vandalism and violence.
Lastly, I ask that you join me in prayer for prejudism to be removed from our hearts. That we’ll learn to give respect to one another, no matter their color, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, their background, their socioeconomic status, their waist size, etc. I pray that the Kingdom of Heaven will slowly be revealed more and more on earth, and that we can be restored…and quick.