A year ago, I wrote about the release of Ferguson Commission report, and about my own struggle with returning to my childhood home as an adult.
Before that, in the year after Mike Brown was killed, I’d felt compelled to name the problem (the least I could do) – racism, racism, racism – and to name it everywhere I went, the park, school hallways, bagging my groceries. (I don’t get out much.) As I did, people began to tell me stories, stories that didn’t surprise me for their insights (everywhere there’s racism), but did shake me by their specificity and in their number.
I’m talking about White people’s stories, stories of family members and friends, of experiences they’ve had themselves. I heard about self-segregation among public school teachers in 1980s North County. I heard what real estate agents tell young families relocating here for work. About the advice such families receive from fellow White people when they arrived. Don’t buy gas on Kingshighway. Don’t go to the Galleria after dark. (These are a couple I’m comfortable repeating here.)
At the same time, I was home with my young daughter and her ear infections, having left behind a tenure-track position (whatever that meant or didn’t mean) and affordable health insurance. I’d grown up with a deep commitment to work, to my work, but I’d run up against everything you read about in the news that makes “work” in contemporary America dispiriting for human beings, be they parents, women, or those in low-paying fields (and I’m White).
All year, I was relinquishing a notion of who I was and what the future held, and I was orienting toward another future and another self. I started asking questions like, what does paradigm shift look like? What could community really mean? What if we accept protest as a form of communication, in the streets and in the halls of power? What if we stop fooling ourselves that we can “vote” with our pocket books?
I started looking, and found role models all around me, in radical leaders and thinkers and teachers like Nicole Hudson, Traci Blackmon, Starsky Wilson, Brittany Packnett, Jason Purnell, Kira Banks, Justin Hansford, Stefani Weeden-Smith, Thomas Harvey, Brittany Ferrell – the list is gloriously long. I found fellowship through organizations like We Stories, Humans of St. Louis, The College School, Crossroads Anti-racism, and the Missouri History Museum.
Then, this week, I did my first writing for Forward Through Ferguson, the organization formed in the wake of the Commission to catalyze the region’s work toward Racial Equity. I wrote about the newly elected members of the Board of Trustees, St. Louisans who have proven, in their own spheres of influence, in their own ways, that there is power in intention, that meaning to make change is a primary ingredient in making it.
Then, last night, Bruce Franks, Jr. ousted incumbent Penny Hubbard in a special Democratic primary for Missouri’s 78th House District. Franks challenged the original, dubious election results in court and won. No matter the details, he used the process and the facts to disrupt business as usual, and in that vacuum Franks created space for different stories, different choices, different actions, and different results.