Religious leaders have actively addressed Ferguson issues and participated in Ferguson demonstrations since August. For the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, getting involved comes down to one word: Listen.
“I don’t think you give people a lot of incentive to listen to you if you’re not willing to listen to them first,” Kinman told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “There are young voices out there that are coming off the streets that are crying out their experiences of growing up black and brown in America. They have been crying for a long time. It is only now that we are beginning to listen to them. We need to listen to them deeply.”
In August, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. Protests began almost immediately. Many believe race played a role in the shooting. Brown was black; Wilson is white. Kinman said nonviolent protests are raising awareness of issues that have long affected the St. Louis area, including race, class and poverty, and are causing discomfort, which he said is the point.
“We have to show people like me who didn’t think that Mike Brown’s death and everything that is being exposed by this has anything to do with them, that this does, that this is all about us,” he said.
Most recently, Kinman participated in a Black Friday protest at St. Louis Galleria. In a Facebook post, he called the experience “incredibly powerful.”
“A big reason that I am out there, that I have been on West Florissant, that I have been working with and standing with amazing young people like Ashley Yates and Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton is I need them to preach to me,” Kinman said Tuesday. “There is no reason that they should listen to me right now if I have no credibility with them — if I’m not standing with them. Then, once I have shown that I have listened to them, then we can have a conversation. It’s not me preaching to them — they don’t need me to preach to them. They need us to have a conversation.”
To help take that conversation farther, Kinman has asked clergy from St. Louis and across the country to address race and class with their congregations. Many have been willing to do that, he said.
“There can be an opportunity nationally to kind of be voyeurs and look in — sort of spend your evening turning on CNN and look at what’s happening over there. This is an invitation for us to hold up a mirror to ourselves. To look deeply in our own communities. To see the deep divides of race and class.”
After the grand jury’s decision to not indict police Wilson was announced last week, protests spread across the nation.
“In August, everyone was just looking at St. Louis, looking at Ferguson,” he said. “Now it’s New York. It’s Boston. It’s Atlanta. It’s Oakland. It’s San Diego. It is everywhere, and it is continuing to be sustained everywhere. And that’s what a national movement looks like.”
After the shooting and decision not to indict the officer responsible for it, Kinman said many people have lost faith in the system. Changing that will take time, he said.
“We’re in a state of negative trust,” he said. “This is highlighted by the relationship between the demonstrators and the police, but it exists in many other places to the point where it’s not just if you say something, I’m not sure if I believe you. It’s almost to the point where if you say something, I believe the opposite is true.
“Trust is earned over time, and trust is broken over time. It’s going to take a lot of time of deep engagement with one another to rebuild trust.”
Building trust and relationships will take more than conversations with friends and neighbors, Kinman said.
“One of the most promising initiatives that I’ve seen come up is the north-south MetroLink connector, because that is a tangible sign that we are one city and one region,” he said. “It’s physically breaking down the Delmar divide. But then we have to cross it, and not just hang out for a little bit, but really spend time and get to know each other.”
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.