The events of this fall were not how I thought our little corner store that serves authentic Eritrean food on Wednesdays would get famous. But here we are.
For better or worse (and at first glance it looks like worse), my tiny corner of the world has been thrust into the international spotlight. The tragedy is still very real and not to be diminished, but the despair I felt has subsided as I continue to witness my beloved neighborhood roll up our sleeves and dig the heck in.
There are large-scale, long-term issues at hand that are just plain messy. While incidents like this could happen anywhere, we recognize that it happened here. We are not without our issues, but we can — we must — harness the grit of this town for good. Here's how:
1. Talk. No, nobody knows what to say. No, there is no perfect answer or solution. But every time people create a safe place to discuss, progress occurs. A wise man recently said, "Let's make a commitment to being unconditionally constructive." We're doing community conversations every two weeks to come together and hash it out, to understand context and brainstorm ideas. Our social platform (nextdoor.com, for neighborhoods, which people are joining faster than ever) is hosting some amazing discourse on a complicated, emotional and ugly set of issues that many people wouldn't even go near. Even when (maybe especially when) we do not agree, I am so impressed by and proud of the conversations. This is how progress happens. Incrementally. Painfully. We have people asking why protests are happening, we have people explaining, admitting to and sharing articles about white privilege. We have people apologizing for statements they made days ago because they are just now unpacking what it meant.
2. Care for each other. Shaw residents organized a care calendar for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 30 meals to be delivered to our neighbor, the grandmother of Vonderrit Myers, over the course of several weeks. Once they were stocked up, folks turned to coordinating drop-offs of supplies and food to the local police station, where officers continue to work overtime. Some are providing water and blankets to protesters in and outside of our neighborhood. And, per usual, we're supporting each other as best we can.
3. Keep on keepin' on. We're still having our regularly scheduled meetings, social events and beautification projects. Businesses on South Grand, boarded up and decorated by hundreds of volunteer artists, continue to thrive, supported by dedicated consumers and even crowdfunding campaigns. We're not hiding in our basements; we're possibly more connected than ever. Going outside and living life mitigates the escalation of fear.
In a region where the tension is palpable and toxic, we're trying like hell to elevate above the choosing of sides to lean in to the mess, understand all the nuance and break some bread.
About this project: Riverfront Times asked a diverse group of contributors — policemen, rappers, shop owners, clergy — to tell our readers where they see solutions to the region's deep-rooted troubles. It's part of our #FergusonNext collaboration, in partnership with the Guardian's "US Opinion," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial page, the St. Louis American, Ebony.com and Colorlines. Go to www.fergusonnext.com to see what our partners are doing and to join us in our attempt to answer the question, "No justice, no peace — what now?"