This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, challenged Kirkwood to do "three big things" to help heal the community from the wound of the deadly Feb. 7, 2008 shootings at city hall.
Charles "Cookie" Thornton's attack left five city officials dead before police killed Thornton. Mayor Mike Swoboda was gravely wounded and died seven months later. Thornton was black and the city officials white.
Cleaver was speaking to about 130 people at Kirkwood's first annual human rights symposium at Kirkwood High School. The symposium was an outgrowth of a Justice Department mediation process that followed the shooting.
Cleaver said that there is "not another community in the United States that has had this kind of tragedy."
In a speech that blended humor and biblical references, Cleaver said, "It takes the wounded to heal." No other city in America has suffered such a high death toll at a city hall shooting, he said. "Don't let it go unused."
"Use your wound," he urged. "Use it and you can help other communities heal."
Mayor Art McDonnell said he appreciated Cleaver's challenge and thought he and people in Kirkwood should support other communities with similar violent incidents. He noted that the Presbyterian church in Kirkwood sent people to help Tucson recover from this year's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Asked if there was a city response to Cleaver that related to race, he said, "That is something that we are going to think about. It challenges me mentally to think about it. We can help each other, no matter what the race of the person who needs help."
Darnell Frost, head of the Human Rights Commission strengthened after the Justice Department mediation, said his commission would enthusiastically take on Cleaver's challenge. "This is the first big thing," said Frost, in reference to the meeting. "We will take up this challenge and we are ready for it."
Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation also called upon the city to continue to "pick up the pieces."
"We all remember where we were on Feb. 7, 2008," she said.
"There are no suburbs west enough," continued Talve, "to protect us from segregation and economic disparities. ... We cannot hide from another's suffering." But she added, "we can come to see division as a gift" to build upon.