A Reflection: Perspective From a White Girl who Grew Up in Ferguson, MO

Acrylic on Canvas by Dorothy Inman
It has been a little over three weeks since that fateful Saturday afternoon when an unarmed African American teen, Michael Brown, was shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, MO.  To be quite honest, I have had a  difficult time wrapping my brain around everything that has transpired and how I, a Christ follower, should respond to this tragedy.  I've had Facebook friends who were quick to say that Michael Brown's shooter was a racist, bigot and deserved to be hanged on the spot.  And others join groups to raise money for the cop and his family or and saying this shouldn't be a "white" and "black" issue because racism doesn't exist anymore.  I have read comments on pages regarding the incident where people have encouraged the African American population to stop shopping and supporting at white places of business.  I have also witnessed other people saying that Mike Brown deserved to be shot.  People are deciding the fate of both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson before all of the facts have been collected, before the FBI (who is investigating the case) and the Grand Jury, can review the situation.  Obama also sent the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, to help with the case and race relations as well.

But what really happened?  I don't know.  There has been a lot of evidence floating around the internet.  But does any of this tell the whole story?  I don't know.  So, I have been hesitant to say that one side or another was in the right.  All I can to is trust the FBI, trust Eric Holder and trust mostly in God that justice will be served*.  Whether it is justice for Mike Brown or justice for Darren Wilson, I pray that it will happen.  I pray that the truth is told by everyone involved and that peace and change will flow as a result.

So, I'm not going to spend my blog giving a litany of facts and evidence that proves one over the other.  At this point based on what I have seen on Facebook and the internet, I do not think this is a fruitful discussion within a blog**.  Chances are I would come across as preferring one over the other and that is not my reason for this blog (although some readers may say I have already done this, but I would encourage you to read on).

What is my reason for this blog?

Well, first of all I want to tell you that the first 22 years of my life I lived in Ferguson, MO on the same street, in the same house.  My parents, now, after 40 years of marriage still live in Ferguson, MO.  11 1/2 years ago I moved away to Louisville, but have made quite a few trips back to my home town.
My Childhood Best Friend (who's parents also still live in Ferguson)
When I was a kid, growing up on the streets of Ferguson, I loved where I lived.  My parents were determined that they were not going to raise their kids to discriminate.  Their kids were not going to think they were better than someone else just because they were a different color, had a different social status or religion.  We were poor.  My mom collected soda cans from the street just so she could buy milk.  When I was a little bit older, she would send me up to Paul's Meat Market with pennies to buy a few pieces of candy.  This embarrassed me because my friend always had dollar bills.  I didn't understand that my parents were trying to give us the best life they could with the resources that they had.  In spite of that, I have the fondest memories of my childhood.  I remember that my first crush in elementary school was on the cutest African American little boy.  I honestly don't remember his name, but I was sure I was going to marry him.  The high school that I went to, McCluer Senior High School, had a pretty even ratio of whites to African Americans.  I hadn't known anything different, although I often wondered why my church, which was up the street, wasn't desegregated like my school.  I did notice kids that were a different color than me, but when I saw their skin color, it didn't make them any less of a person.  It made them beautiful.  I did have one instance where I received what I call "reverse" racism, where a few (about 2 or 3) students discriminated against me because I was white, but that was only once instance.  But being discriminated against has not been something that I have had to just "deal with" (as one of my African American friends put it) the rest of my life, because I was a white girl growing up in America.

Paintings I Displayed for Cultural/Diversity Day While I was Working at Humana
When I moved to Louisville, KY I felt out of place.  At the time, we lived on campus at a seminary where the vast majority of the people were white.  I remember the first time I went home to Ferguson and stepped foot in the local Shop 'N Save, I sighed in relief.  I was definitely the minority, but I felt like I was home  I welcomed the job I had at Humana because there were people there of all different colors and backgrounds.  I was so glad that when we bought a house in Louisville, that it was in the neighborhood of Lyndon where at any moment I could see a Hispanic little boy riding down the street on his bike, with a white little girl and her African American friend trailing close behind.  When I went for a walk, I would often pass an elderly Indian couple, sari and all, pushing their grandchild in a stroller.  I loved the diversity of the neighborhood.  When I waved at people, they would wave back.  I felt safe.  I felt at home.  We did have an instance with our then next door neighbor (they were a mixed couple), who was letting their dog poop all over the yard and hauling scrap metal and banging on it during all hours of the night.  When we confronted them about it, the woman, who was white, said we were giving them a hard time because we were racist.  It wasn't the case, I was seven months pregnant at the time and I just wanted to sleep at night.  I didn't want to walk out of my front door and see scrap metal and dog poop everywhere.  When we moved in, my husband tried to befriend the 14 year old boy and play basketball with him and his friends, but after awhile he and his friends started to hang out with the wrong crowd and he wasn't outside playing basketball very much.  Fortunately for us a sweet African American woman and her four kids moved in.  Her children are the most well behaved kids and my now 3 year old daughter loves them.  The other day we were outside when they got off their school bus and asked, "Our friends are coming home?"  We really haven't had any problems with them at all and the woman and I text frequently to check in on each other.  The other night I told her how thankful I was that she was my neighbor.  Her reply?  "I'm thankful that you all came into our lives!!  Couldn't ask for a better friend."

I'm not telling you all of this to toot my own horn.  I'm telling you all of this because this is what my parents taught me.  This is what Ferguson, MO taught me.

As I previously mentioned, my parents still live in Ferguson when so many chose to move to the West (documented as white flight).  Currently in Ferguson, my parents are the minority.  According to the 2010 census there are 67.4% African Americans and 29.3% Caucasians residing in Ferguson.  If there is one thing my parents will tell you it is that they love this community.  They love walking down the street and seeing diverse people.  My mom loves her job at the community college where she gets to interact with the students that are from different backgrounds.  They believe that God has called them to stay there, when many of their white friends have left.  They attend the City Walk Concerts and go to the Farmer's Market.  They have been a part of groups with both white and African American churches from the area who discuss how to make race issues better in Ferguson.  They have led cycling tours through Ferguson and volunteer to help with city races.  They love Ferguson.
Childhood Friends and I at the Ferguson Brewing Company
High School Friend that I've Recently Reconnected With

I also love the present day Ferguson.  When I'm in town I crave a hamburger from the Ferguson Brewing Company.  Indulge in battered and breaded fries at Cathy's Kitchen.  Devour the crab rangoon from Queen's Chop Suey and eat delectable custard at The Whistlestop.  I have ridden my bike down South Florissant Rd. with my 3 year old in a bike trailer and never feared for my safety (granted my parents were flanking me on their bike).  Not to mention introducing my child to modern art in the Jeske Park Sculpture Garden.  Many of my high school friends have actually moved back to Ferguson because it is such a great place to live.
My Sweet Girl Enjoying The Hands on Sculpture at the Jeske Sculpture Park
My Daughter and I at the Jeske Sculpture Park
To focus on our love for Ferguson is not to dismiss what happened to Mike Brown.  It is to embrace a city that has been shed in such a negative light since the unpeaceful protests and rioting happened the Sunday night after Brown's shooting (Please see my note under ** below.  I do believe people have the right to protest peacefully).  It is because of Ferguson that we don't dismiss the race issues, but show how the citizens of Ferguson have actually been living in harmony together for quite some time.

But the truth is that racism is still something that plagues our churches and plagues our society.  I have learned this from close friends who have recounted stories to me of not only what their parents have went through, but what they have went through being an African American person.

So, we need to pray for peace and pray for change, not only in Ferguson, but in America and in the world.  I have read so many times that what happened in Ferguson could happen in any city of the United States.  The sad thing is, what happened in Ferguson has happened in many other cities in America, but the press weren't there and no one noticed (except those immediately affected).  However, as a result of the recent events I believe with much prayer and discussion and action, peace and change can happen.   

And I guess I may be naive.  It may seem like a pipe dream that will never take place.  But I think my God is bigger than that.  In fact, He's already said that one day this will happen, because he loves the nations and his son died for the nations.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob 
and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, 
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 49:6    

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. 
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:1-2

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Revelation 7:9

God loves the world.  That means everyone in it.  Everyone in the world was made in God's image, regardless of the color of their skin.  Every tribe, every tongue, everyone. 

Jesus was called to be a light to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles were everyone who was not Jewish (who were God's chosen people).  Salvation was going to be brought to the Gentiles.  That means everyone who isn't Jewish.  Everyone.

God will bring healing to the nations.  The nations are everyone of every tribe, every skin color, every tongue.

And the people who will worship at the foot of the throne of the Lamb will be people from every tribe, every tongue, everyone from all different nationalities.  All different backgrounds.  All different skin colors.  Everyone.

Our job as Christ followers is to begin to set the world right, by bringing in peace and justice into it.

Acrylic on Canvas by Dorothy Inman
 So, I ask you to look at your heart.  Do you dislike, stereotype, walk on the other side of the street when you see someone because their skin color is different than yours?  Or do you smile, do you wave, do you wish them well?  Do you assume someone is guilty just because their skin is a different color than yours?  Do you assume someone does not like you because your skin is a different color than yours?  If you do then you are in the wrong.  Regardless of if you are white or black or turquoise or neon green, you are in the wrong.  

Christians, it is our job to pray.  Pray for the Brown family.  Pray for the Wilson family.  Even if you think one or the other is the enemy, Jesus called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  He called us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Pray for the leaders in Ferguson, pray for the residents in Ferguson, pray for the churches, pray for the government officials involved.  All of the people who I have mentioned above are our neighbor (remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Luke 10:25-37).   And pray for healing across the United States. 

And Christians, it is our job to love.  I am not talking about making people our "projects", but I am talking about showing the love of Christ to everyone we meet.  This may be in the form of getting to know your neighbor who has a ethnicity that is different from yours.  This may be in the form of speaking your heart to a friend who is the same color as you are who makes racist remarks.   This may be in getting out of your bubble and exposing your children to people who aren't just like them.

And Christians, it is our job to be light in the darkness.  If we are not a light, who will be?  If we are not the light, then everyone will just walk around, running into each other.  We must be a light.   

I am going to close with a prayer that my husband wrote to say in church in response to what has been happening in Ferguson. 

In your ministry on earth you looked on the poor 
and said the kingdom of God belongs to these

The most faith you've ever seen 
came from one of the empire's law enforcement

In your last moments you granted
paradise to a thief

You taught us to give to those in need
To carry the load of abusive cops
To visit those in prison

Your cousin John, told those with two tunics 
to share with those who have none
Leaving us both with one
He told the soldiers not to threaten and accuse falsely

But we prefer more analysis, more information 
and being right to the ways that make for peace

We chose Barabbas and the occasional riot 
over you and your way 
because your way is hard

But your way is the only path through 
death into life

Grant us your Spirit 
so that we might not settle for I-told-you-sos


*Note:  There is an interesting article indicating the fact that a lot of people have already determined who is guilty in this case is because of a "confirmation bias".  "Such strong opinions can often be influenced by 'confirmation bias,' psychologists say. A large body of research shows that people search for evidence to support their preexisting viewpoints - and then interpret that information in a way that reinforces their beliefs.  'It's the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts it,' said Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut."  This is something that we all do and we probably don't even realize it.  

**Note:  I do believe that people have a right to protest about what happened to Mike Brown.  I do believe that they have the right to be upset and angry about what happened.  One of my African American friends told me that everyone protesting were not necessarily convinced that Mike Brown was innocent, but they are angry because this has happened too often.  The right to peacefully protest is a right that we have as Americans and it is not our right to take that away.  Imagine if the tables were turned (see how Mike Bell took action after his white son was shot by the police.  If they were, you might feel the same way.  And honestly, we should all be a little angry.  It's 2014 and we are still having issues with race relations.  It's sad really.  I wrote a blog about this about a year and a half ago titled, "We have come so far, but not far enough

The people in St. Louis aren't just protesting, they are having conversations about race relations.  They are showing up en masse at the local restaurants and businesses to support the community.  They are organizing and cleaning up the streets.  There are good people that are doing good things there.  You haven't heard about this on the news though.  I only know about it because of what people have posted on Facebook (I am so proud of my graduating class that is trying to find ways to volunteer at some of the shelters in the Ferguson/Florissant area) and because my parents live there. 


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