Violence in Ferguson – how does it affect us?

How are we affected by the unrest in Ferguson?

I’m getting this question every day.

Our city TV news cycle is now 2 hrs long showing the ongoing protests over the death of Michael Brown. I thought you might want a glimpse into my days during this crisis – here are random highlights:

- Mornings: I meet with our Jubilee Services crew in our North St. Louis garage (for my friends out of town this is our city’s poverty stricken area) for our morning devotional/training as part of our non-profit, Jubilee Service that provides leadership, problem solving and discipleship to men living in this community. We provide employment in our two businesses as our “working classroom”

- 2 of our teammates live near the conflict in the northern suburb of Ferguson. As black men living in generational poverty they are outraged at the image of a white policeman shooting a young black man and at the same time outraged that destruction and violence is destroying Ferguson

- For younger, disenfranchised youth in this area emotions run high and conspiracy theories run rampant. For the mature men on our team distress at loss of life is high balanced with an urge for calm

- Constantly reinforced for me is one characteristic of living in generational poverty is a shortage of meaningful tools to deal with stress. Most have only 2 tools: Fight or Flight. First reaction is emotional outburst or a fight followed by quitting or walking away. You can see it in an entire communities reaction on TV every night. Lots of anger and emotion, no reason or attempt to resolve anything. In my interaction with new team members I can expect emotional outbursts followed by “I quit” multiple times. Thank God there are mature well-respected teammates who can speak into their lives in ways I can’t

- Overheard from a team mate: The “reverend” Jessie Jackson and the “reverend” Al Sharpton show up and shout “justice” – but I don’t hear them say “Jesus”

- It strikes me 50 years ago you wouldn’t find a team of white guys from the suburbs partnering with black men in the city, developing relationships that help both grow

- Comment from one team mate: “Man working with you guys I feel like I can see over the fence” I added: “Tom when one of us stand on the other’s shoulders we BOTH see further”

- We left our morning meeting Monday to discover we had been burglarized overnight; thugs had broken into our trailer and stolen our commercial lawn equipment, our guys livelihood. As the police were finishing their report their radio crackled, they turned to me and said “Sorry we gotta go – an armed robbery is in progress at the bank down the street”

- I struggle with the claim rampant “racism” is the fundamental problem here (not saying it doesn’t exist). 50 years ago racism limited a black man’s opportunities, today, while hurtful it doesn’t have to limit opportunity. When I encounter my contemporaries and explain what I am doing they immediately ask how they can help. Just mentioning the loss of our lawn equipment resulted in $2000 handed to me without question to replace it – right hearted people want to see those in poverty work their way out

- I believe a deeper divide is economic – the differences in culture between poor and middle class are so deep neither side understands the other and neither see a way to bridge the difference. That is the core of our work. We build a bridge across two cultures and invite people on both sides to cross. Our focus is equipping men to do the right thing for themselves, their family, Church and community

- Sunday August 17th (about 5 days into the fury in Ferguson) Antoine, one of our leaders was taking his family to a Church event with his mother in Valley Park (Note to out of town friends, it’s a red neck community). Driving down a street in Valley Park they pass a police car, Antoine sees the cop turn and look at him and make the U-turn, follow him to the Church then cruise the lot to take down his license number. (I’ve never known what that is like. Every time I have been pulled over I was guilty). Yet Antoine maintains his calm and instills it in other team mates

- The shooting was the spark that ignited the explosion. The tinder is oppressive generational poverty