It’s been a long journey for the people of Ferguson and Michael Brown’s family since August 2014. By documenting the Paint for Peace effort that happened during the aftermath in November 2014, in the book Painting for Peace in Ferguson, and by visiting schools and community events in the years that followed, I have been fortunate to hear from many voices and people in the community of Ferguson during the past five years. Some voices were young and angry … some older voices were hurt and confused … but a solid core remains hopeful and willing to work for a better future.
Growing up in Ferguson, I saw its resilience. Despite economic troubles, loss of major employers and even several destructive tornadoes … people who live there have always been willing to dust themselves off and rebuild. With longstanding traditions of 4th of July, Christmas parades, Farmers Markets, and festivals, “I Love Ferguson” was not just a T-shirt slogan but a sincere feeling among many residents both black and white alike. This sense of community and belonging is what continues to attract people to the small town of 22,000 and keeps them there to this day.
In the past five years, while there has been positive change, for many, it has not been fast enough. What has changed is that many who live there now recognize that not everyone felt that feeling of belonging. So Ferguson can’t, and shouldn’t, go back to where it was, and the only way forward is to create a new way to “be” community. As Amina Terry, one of the artists (pictured on pg. 16 of the book) who created a mural for Paint for Peace said, “It felt great to be part of something positive and beautiful that would let people know we haven’t given up on our neighborhood. I hope we can come together to find a NEW NORMAL.” Beginning then and continuing today, many residents turned to each other to heal … seeking out small groups where they could openly share thoughts and concerns neighbor to neighbor. Continuing those relationships and building empathy will be key to Ferguson’s future success.
But it is also important that the larger St. Louis region continues to support these reconciliation efforts and to support Ferguson itself — by going to the Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, by visiting the shops and restaurants. Healing from the events of five years ago is going to take a long time, both socially and economically as Ferguson continues to bear legal and economic burdens imposed on it post-2014.
As a larger community, we need to recognize that dismantling racism is everyone’s issue. When windows were broken out of many Delmar Loop shops in 2017 following racial protests, residents there echoed the sentiment of the residents in Ferguson three years earlier, with many wondering, ”Why did this happen here … University City is an integrated community?”
Like Ferguson, the lesson to be learned is that it takes more than living side-by-side together to move beyond racism. My hope for Ferguson is that the reconciliation efforts and healing continues. And that years from now Ferguson can be a model of what a truly integrated community looks like where black and white neighbors not only live next to each other but truly know one another.