Ferguson: How I’m going to discuss it in my classroom

brownsignYesterday from 12:15 to about 2:15 in the afternoon, I marched with about a thousand other people from the spot where Mike Brown was killed up to West Florissant, then down to Chambers and concluding at Greater St. Marks, the former Catholic church St. Sebastian, which has become a gathering point for many of the peaceful protest efforts in Ferguson.

There were reporters there from as far away as Japan.

The crowd was about half white, half black. The mood was peaceful but passionate. People in cars driving by on West Florissant honked and gestured in support, as did people standing in their yards and watching. Numerous times I saw black men from our group of marchers go out of their way to shake the hands of County police officers who stood by alongside the march route. We chanted “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and sang “This Little Light of Mine.” My favorite sign held by a (white) marcher was “Mike Brown was our son.”

Though the news reports sometimes make Ferguson look and sound like a war-torn section of Baghdad or Gaza, and there had been some looting the previous night (curtailed by other protesters), many of the boarded-up businesses were still open, and West Florissant was fairly clean, thanks to the efforts of volunteers and protesters who’d come out to clean up. People with trash bags circulated during the march to pick up litter. Ferguson seemed like a place that was going on with life even in the midst of crisis. Leaving Ferguson on Saturday afternoon, one of my strongest feelings was that I wanted to come back, and to bring students with me to see for themselves this place that we’ve all been seeing on the news.

On Monday, as I do each year, I will talk to my African American Voices class about an essay called “Dragon Slayers,” by Jerald Walker, which will help us focus our study of the African American experience not primarily on white cruelty but on its flip side: black courage. I plan to ask my seniors where they see black courage in Ferguson. Some examples I can think of: Ron Johnson, Antonio French, Tef Poe, the protesters who held back looters and who got up early to clean up damage and board up broken windows, the Brown family itself in their calls for peace.

We’re watching history unfold before us. I really believe that what’s happening in Ferguson is about more than Mike Brown’s death, and I hope that it can be the beginning of a deep re-evaluation of where we are as a region and where we are as a nation, and a commitment to change. And I’d love it if my school, my friends, and my neighbors could be a part of that re-evaluation.

There’s a place for white courage in all of this, too—and I think it begins with simply listening, reading with an open mind about what’s happening, trying to understand, and then finding ways to help, including just being present for the peaceful protests in Ferguson, and understanding that this situation belongs to all of us.