Thursday, September 18, 2014

Report from Ferguson: Day One - "No more people dying"

Tuesday was a long travel day.  I'm in St. Louis with San Francisco colleagues, Imam Abu Al-Amin, the Rev. Richard Smith, and Bishop Ernie Jackson.  We are here as part of a Bay Area clergy team with PICO National Network, which has been supporting the organizing efforts of young people in the St. Louis area in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown.  We will be supporting youth and clergy organizing, and civic engagement efforts.

We arrived  just in time to participate in a media training for college students involved in the organizing efforts. About 40 young adults, almost all African-American, gathered at Harris-Stowe State University to learn how to work with the news media to get their stories heard.  I sat in on a small group  brainstorming about messaging.  There was discussion about creating greater cultural sensitivity and understanding in their communities, especially police training.  One young man stated his hope very simply:  "No more people dying."  Is that too much to ask for?

One of the things that was clear is that young adults here are ready to lead a movement for justice - and they want the support of their elders.  For them, Michael Brown's death was an execution, part of a long history of racial profiling and police brutality in the St. Louis area.  And this movement is not a protest: it is a rebellion.  The status quo is no longer acceptable.

These young people are articulate, energized, and have a sophisticated analysis of the historical forces shaping the racism and corruption endemic to law enforcement agencies in this part of the country (of course, this isn't just a problem here).  Too often, however, they feel unheard by their elders and especially by clergy leaders in the community.  I am reminded of the power of peoples' stories and the deep listening that can foster transformation.

Part of PICO's work here is to empower young adult leaders and identify clergy who are willing to mentor and support them.

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