Standing in Ferguson where Michael Brown diedPosted March 1st, 2015 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
“It’s not supposed to be like this,” Sharon said the morning we visited Ferguson. She and I have gone to many cemeteries over the years in our genealogical quests. “Cemeteries are places where we expect to find dead people.”
Yeah, cemeteries. Not in the middle of the street on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri; a street lined with sidewalks and apartments and grass and bushes where people drive to work and take their kids to school and walk with their friends and where Michael Brown was killed by a police officer last August. I’ve seen the pictures and watched the videos; lots of police, police dogs, yellow tape, angry people, news reporters. But being here, now, standing where Mike Brown died, it’s very different.
Six months had passed since Mike Brown died. It was a brutally cold Sunday morning in February. I remember the pictures of his body lying in the middle of the street under the hot, summer sun for more than four hours until it was taken to the morgue. What lies there now is a mound of stuffed animals, candles, a basketball, baseball caps, flowers, a small Christmas tree, handwritten notes, memories, tears, deflated balloons and deflated hopes. The first thing that struck me was how small everything was compared to my impression of this place from it’s enormous presence in the media and its powerful impact on our collective consciousness.
Sharon and I didn’t talk much. We read a few notes people have left, walked around a bit, stood where Mike Brown died. I think about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and so many other unarmed black people killed by police. Yet a white guy kills 12 people in a Colorado movie theater and he gets arrested. A white guy kills 6 people and severely injures U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and he gets arrested. I shook my head back and forth, over and over, thinking, it’s not supposed to be like this.
Sharon and I have spent a great deal of time over the past two and a half years traveling the country appearing at colleges, conferences, churches, corporate and community gatherings. We had come to Missouri for a three-day residency at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, located just a few miles from Ferguson. We led a half-day workshop, a screening and discussion of Traces of the Trade, a presentation of our book and journey together, and participated in several long discussions with the college president and administrators, student activities leaders, professors, staff, and, of course, students.
We spent three days discussing racism and trauma and violence and fear and resilience and hope. The people of St. Louis College of Pharmacy live in a traumatized community. Residents, police, counselors, witnesses, students, business owners, teachers, and others, in Ferguson, St. Louis, and all surrounding communities… lots of traumatized people. StLCOP educates people who will distribute health care across the United States. Students need to understand trauma and how it impacts the people they will serve. The college is committed to incorporating these issues, and to raising awareness on issues of race, diversity, inclusion, and resilience, with the entire college community. Sharon and I were impressed with their dedication and honored to be invited to work with them.
In January we spoke at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. DePauw closed down their entire campus for a day of dialogue about these same issues. Every class, every office, every program closed down so the entire campus community could learn and talk in large and small groups for a full day.
When more college and university presidents, faculty, and staff take actions like DePauw and St. Louis College of Pharmacy have, to help their students understand the impact that trauma, systemic racism, and unconscious bias have on individuals, communities, and our nation as a whole; when more parents, churches, corporations, civic leaders, and educators of all types follow suit, we’ll do a better job of training the next generation of police officers, teachers, business executives, and elected officials who will make decisions about systems of inequity and confronting unconscious bias; decisions that too often in the recent past have resulted in tragedy.
Like Sharon said, “It’s not supposed to be like this.”
What will YOU do to make a positive difference?
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