In November 2014 a St. Louis County grand jury ruled against indicting Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. Announcement of the decision sparked protest, and later on in the night, violence wracked Ferguson and parts of St. Louis.
Businesses along West Florissant and South Grand had their windows broken, necessitating the erection of plywood covers. “A lot of windows were broken; there was a lot of shattered glass, and shopkeepers with broken hearts,” said poet Deborah Gambill. But the spontaneous appearance of art just days after the protests marked those contentious streets also as places of civic pride.
In the time since, Gambill and her friend and co-author Ronald Montgomery put together a book of photography and poetry entitled “Let’s Heal STL: Ferguson Messages in Poetry and Paint.” The book features the ‘board-up art’ that alleviated some of the tension felt in the St. Louis region after the grand jury decision, ensuring that the efforts of the artists are not forgotten.
Montgomery owns property in Ferguson close to the QuikTrip on West Florissant that was infamously burned and looted after Michael Brown’s death. Gambill lives close to South Grand, where she could hear the protests that followed the grand jury announcement. The two were on the phone the night of the announcement, watching television, Gambill said, and trying to “digest” what had happened.
Montgomery also cited feeling a sense of duty upon seeing the work others had done to lift up the beleaguered city. “I think we have a special responsibility as poets, and as writers, to take a view of what’s going on and to write about it in a way that stimulates change, thought and insight.”
The co-authors also felt a responsibility to use the book for tangible good: a proportion of the proceeds will go to the Ferguson Youth Initiative, as well as other community development groups that have helped St. Louis heal over the past year.
- Book signing, “Let’s Heal STL: Ferguson Messages in Poetry and Paint”
- Ferguson Farmer’s Market, 20 S Florissant Rd, Ferguson, MO 63135
- Saturday, August 29, 2015, 8 a.m.—12 p.m.
Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.