Six months ago, on Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson crossed paths on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. At the end of the encounter, Michael Brown was dead in the street, and life in the St. Louis region changed.
Anger and grief rushed into the streets in the form of protest. It suddenly became clearer that the region wasn't built on sturdy ground, but on divides — both social and economic. It’s this split ground that became the center of a national debate about race, law enforcement, and court systems.
As one resident put it, the town of Ferguson is now an adjective. That cannot be undone.
While the region has changed over the past six months, questions remain: Where are we now, and how do we move forward? We asked people from around the community to share their thoughts. We did not hear back from the Ferguson mayor or from police officials before the deadline.
Most who did respond were optimistic that some good would come from the disruption. A musician said she wasn’t surprised with an explosion about racism but was surprised it blew up in Ferguson. A social studies teacher says he was chagrined that he did not know more about the municipal court problems.
Brian Fletcher, chairman of the I Love Ferguson committee
On how life has changed: “It’s a mixed answer with that. It’s been a very devastating six months for the city of Ferguson and myself personally. Rather than sit and pout about it, I got involved and we formed the I Love Ferguson committee to help the businesses start to rebuild. We’ve now donated $100,000. But there’s just mixed emotions, sadness; there’s a little bit of depression still there. But recovering and hoping that we can move forward and rebuild Ferguson and be even a better community than we were before the unrest started on Aug. 10.
What’s next: “Change is a word that I have difficulty with because it’s so generic. Change can mean a lot of things to different people. I hope there’s progress and not just change. Progress means we’ve moved forward as a community, a diverse community, and we’ve learned to communicate and work better together for the betterment of our city and the St. Louis area.”
Alexis Templeton, Member of Millennial Activist United
On moving forward: “There are a lot of different parts of a movement. The first part is standing up getting off your couch and getting out there and taking a stand… but then the next step is actually working toward those demands. So now we’re still protesting, but it’s moved into a second wind where you weed out the people who come with their own agendas and the people who come from out of town. And … you have to deal with this racism on your own even though it’s national thing. So now we’re taking steps to organize and to demand the change in a way at a table instead of per se on the street.”
What Ferguson will represent in a year: “I feel it already represents what it’s going to represent in a year. And that’s change. … (Change) starts with understanding. I think because people were so uncomfortable, you were forced to understand. You were forced to sit down at the table and get some understanding, because if you didn’t it would have been just as intense now as it was in August. But because some people were willing to … get out of their houses sit down at the table with you … it helps take a step because now people aren’t so uncomfortable. They’re like you know what, it may ruffle up my feathers a little bit, but I understand. I get why they’re doing it now."
John Powell, Ferguson resident, educator and member of One Ferguson
How life has changed: “The silver lining for me personally is that I’ve gotten to meet all sorts of great people and I’ve gotten involved in my city. I think that before I thought things were great in Ferguson, and I had the blinders removed from my eyes. As a social justice teacher, I was kind of embarrassed to admit to people that I didn’t know about the issues with police or the municipal courts. So I feel empowered because I’ve met so many cool people. It’s been a hard time and yet a wonderful time at the same time."
The future of the community: “I don’t want that young man’s death to be in vain and I think a lot of us feel the same way. Regardless of how you felt about whether the officer was justified or not we don’t want this tragedy, a tragedy that also affect him and his family, to go to waste. I think all of us somehow want to see change coming from this tragedy. So whether it be Darren Wilson’s family or Michael Brown’s family we continue to send out good vibes to them and then work forward on how to prevent these kind of incidents from happening in the future and to look at the other structural inequalities that people are upset about in our community.”
De Andrea Nichols, Artist
How life has changed: “These past six months have shifted and reshaped many dynamics of my life — from engaging as a protester, mobilizing people through art and technology, initiating social efforts to gather people, being teargassed, collaborating with activists who I would have never otherwise met, and learning steadily from the stories of people I've engaged. My whole outlook has changed. Whereas I'd experienced disappointment about the devaluing of Black lives before, I now felt outraged. Social justice no longer existed to me as a field of study and circumferential exploration. It became my duty to use my art, design and tech skills to help our people fight against the ills of poverty, racial bias, white supremacy and black oppression. Ferguson taught me that everyone had a role in assuring the black lives would matter in our city and society. And I have continued to learn how to embed this duty more intentionally across every fabric of my life."
Cathy Jenkins, Owner of Cathy’s Kitchen in Ferguson
On how the community has changed: “It’s changed a whole lot. The name Ferguson will never be forgotten. I always say it’s kind of like Columbine now. Everybody remembers that name, but I believe that Ferguson will take a positive image afterwards. I believe we’re rebuilding in the right direction.”
On what the last few months have felt like: “It was exhausting, but I don’t think I’m as exhausted as most people. I think as an African American we’ve always had to overcome, you know that’s in all our songs, so I’m OK. We’re going to open up a blues and BBQ restaurant down the street at the end of March. We want to make a point that we live in Ferguson, we are business owners in Ferguson, that we’re still living … and we believe that Ferguson can grow and we want to be a part of the growth of Ferguson.”
Cindy Pierce, Ferguson resident
On what she’s learned about the community: “That there is a lot of anxiety and that there are a lot of good people. People have come from all over to help. I think people really care. I think people really want to help each other, when they see someone else in pain and hurting. I also see that we’ve got more of a racial divide than I realized. Something like this really kind of shows you people’s true colors and how they really feel about things."
On Ferguson next August: “I really want to see more diversity in local government and in the police department. I think if we can change that I think that will be a huge step in moving the community forward. We may not see a huge difference in a year, but I think you will begin to start seeing it.
Alexis Coleman, Musician
On how life has changed: “August made 2 years since I lost my best friend to cancer, and I didn't have the room to grieve her anniversary because of Mike Brown. The evidence of a nation in crisis was out in the open, and people had settled for it for too long.
I'm more motivated to reach out for truly important things, and for whatever will help out others. My life has changed because I've surrounded myself with more genuine people. A lot of them within the musical, artistic, and activism circles. I have a very difficult time with engaging or fostering contact with friends (white or black, past or present) who want to remain moderate about this movement. A lot of folks that I love at least seem to want things to "go back to normal," or are afraid of tackling their biases openly or head on. I don't want a stagnant existence in any area of my life. I want to be lovingly challenged and to feel free to lovingly challenge.
On what she’s learned about the region: “We have more deep seated issues than I was even aware of. It's scary. The Ferguson municipality wasn't and isn't the only part of town with such an oppressive operation. The surprising part is that the movement even started with Ferguson.”
Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township
On change: “There’s nothing that’s being discussed and talked about here that’s new. The racism, the profiling, the education issues, these aren’t issues that are new. It’s sad that some people still want to keep things the same. I’m hoping that the activity that’s taking place out of Ferguson, not just protesting but political activity as well.”
“I want to see what we’re doing in Ferguson and in St. Louis region, I want to see this resonating across the country. I want to see people getting more engaged. The protest activity, that seems to have spread, that’s awesome. We need the same type of activity to spread to change city halls. Police accountability is a local issue. “
Hear Emanuele Berry's NPR report: 6 Months After Protests, Ferguson Businesses On Path To Rebuild
Stephanie Lecci also contributed to this report.