Monday, November 9, 2015

Change but not Changing: A Ferguson Challenge

The other day, I came across a two-frame comic. In the first frame is a politician like figure standing at a podium in front of a happy crowd of people each with one hand raised as the politician asks, "Who wants change?"

In the second frame, it's the same scene, but the politician asks, "Who wants to change?" No hands are raised. No one looks at the politician or one another.

Everyone wants change, but no one wants to change.

The idea, the need, the desire for change was readily apparent during the recent Episcopal Church Young Adult Pilgrimage to Ferguson, Missouri. Twenty-four other young adults and I, 6-8 staff, and countless guest speakers, engaged in conversations about racial justice and reconciliation. Indeed, during the pilgrimage we met with many inspiring agents of change. But what was also apparent, especially in looking out from Ferguson, is a lack of will to change. We want change, but we're not changing.

Michael Brown's death was just one of many highly publicized incidents where a white male police officer shot an unarmed black man. Wrapped up in that event, and in the protesting and national discourse following it, is such a complicated web of history and politics and people and perspectives. We dove into that complicated web during the pilgrimage, exploring multiple aspects of the event and the aftermath and movement that followed.

Though the pilgrimage focused on Ferguson as a single example of racial injustice, just one lens to explore these vast issues, I do not believe the details are what we, as pilgrims, were meant to take away and share.

After reflecting for several weeks after the pilgrimage, I have clarified for myself two primary lingering points from the weekend.

First, each specific instance of racial injustice is incredibly complicated on a micro level and in the macro environment. Though the details from Ferguson are certainly important, it was more important that I gained an understanding of how multidimensional racial injustice is. Local politics and economy, local demographics, local churches and social groups unique to Ferguson and St. Louis all played as much of a role as national trends, regional and national history, and national politics. Each component is important to fully understanding the problem, and thus each component is important for creating solutions.

Second, Ferguson could be anywhere. It could be your home town. There are just as unique circumstances creating problematic situations there. Your town is not immune to these events. Ferguson is not just a stagnant place that exists as pictured on TV. It is as dynamic and as American as where you live.

To emphasize the second take away from the pilgrimage, I have an activity for you.

Below are pictures I took from Ferguson, Missouri, specifically the neighborhood, street and apartment complex where Michel Brown was shot and killed. We visited the emotional and symbolic site twice. These pictures will show you what it looks like.

Step 1: 

Before looking at the pictures, try to recall what you can remember about the events in Ferguson with Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. Think about what happened there—the tragedy, the scuffle, the gun shots, the protests, the tear gas, the police.

Step 2: 

Spend about one minute with each photograph, really looking at it and letting it become familiar to you. Think about what each photograph reminds you of, and try to picture yourself in the photograph. What are you doing in the photograph? Playing outside? Walking home? How does that moment feel? Do you feel the sun? Is the air fresh?

Step 3: 

(After the photographs)

For many of you, Ferguson itself is many miles away, separated by air and space. But I would bet, after spending time with these pictures, you might realize you do not have to look far outside your own window to see Ferguson. You may see it in the pavement running by outside, or in the yard between your home and the street, or even in the walls of your home itself.

Ferguson can be any one of our communities. And we reside within our communities. Thus if we want them to change, we must seriously consider what it takes to change ourselves. Think about your own neighborhood. Think about what you want to change in your community. Think about what you know and what you don't know about the people living in your community, or the history and local politics. Finally, think about what you can do to change yourself, and how that can in turn improve the world we share together.

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