Remarks to the Ferguson Commission by Lawrence Johnson, SNIA President

By Laura Kinsell-Baer | No Comments

SCGood evening Ferguson Commission, welcome to the Shaw neighborhood.

Shaw, being the location of one of three incidents that gave rise to the establishment of this Commission, is uniquely situated to address your charge: “to help chart a new path toward healing and positive change for the residents of the St. Louis region.”

On viewing the racialized media images of the shootings and hearing the reactions of pundits, politicians, and activists, one might well come away thinking that black males are at imminent risk of being shot by police in St. Louis and of an impending race riot. That is not the case in Shaw, where “All Lives Matter.”

Residents of Shaw, in response to the shooting of Vonderrit Myers, Jr. on October 8th, have been guided by a finding following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, that a key element in recovering communities is the presence of “social resilience,” that is, neighbors helping neighbors.

From the start, Shaw neighbors have been helping one another, by:

  • Providing meals and other support to Vonderrit’s family;
  • Passing “prayer batons” from block to block;
  • Monitoring protest activity on the streets and using social media to keep residents informed of what’s happening;
  • Using social media as forums for sharing thoughts and feelings;
  • Churches conducting prayer vigils and serving as “safe places” for residents and demonstrators; and
  • The Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association (SNIA): (1) coordinating communications within/without the neighborhood; (2) providing safety patrols; and (3) conducting 5 “Shaw Conversations” for neighbors to come together to share feelings and examine ways to unite and strengthen the community.

Not surprisingly, the Conversations have proposed actions in the following areas:

  • Getting to Know One’s Neighbors
  • Engaging Youth & Young Adults in the Neighborhood
  • Community/Police Relations [Note – police officers took part in this discussion]
  • Long-Range, Neighborhood Planning

Sustaining “community” entails ongoing communication. Social media is helpful, but postal mail, phone calls, and physical gatherings are still required. Additionally, the Conversations have resulted in neighbors meeting one another; residents feeling “heard;” residents learning of neighborhood resources and amenities; and enhanced goodwill in Shaw.

While Shaw is not yet “healed” from the shooting of Vonderrit, we have taken this “opportunity” to grow together. And our advice to other communities in the region is that “All Lives Matter.” Don’t wait until a tragic incident of whatever sort occurs in your neighborhood; unite now!

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