Youth conversation about Ferguson
Youth missioner Danielle Dowd writes about the gathering at St. Stephen’s Church in Ferguson on January 25.
When I went to St. Stephen’s in Ferguson the Wednesday after the Michael Brown shooting, I asked Father Steve Lawler the same question that all of us were asking, “What can I do to help?”
Father Steve paused in his thoughtful way and then answered, “In a few months, host a youth event at St. Stephen’s.”
He told me that he wanted people to see that there was more to Ferguson than what we saw on the news, that Ferguson was a normal town, a town just like the one in which many of us live.
So when a couple of youth leaders came to me and said that they saw a need for youth from our diocese to be able to come together in a safe space and process their thoughts and feelings, St. Stephen’s felt like the right place to be.
On January 25th around two dozen youth from various parishes around St. Louis county came to St. Stephen’s.
Youth began by hearing about the food pantry ministry at St. Stephen’s and participating in a short time of service by decorating and writing homemade “Thank You” cards to donors who had provided food to the food pantry.
Rob Good from the Commission on Dismantling Racism then facilitated activities and a discussion surrounding the media portrayal of Ferguson. Youth discussed the different messages they had heard about Ferguson and what the over-arching narrative was. Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, two young leaders from the activist group Millennial Activists United, spoke on their experiences and answered questions. Finally, there was time for prayer and quiet reflection. Youth used art supplies to write their hopes and prayers for our communities.
At this point, youth were able to make the choice to participate in an optional pilgrimage prayer walk to the memorial site on Canfield Dr. I told the participants that regardless of how we might feel about the Michael Brown shooting, this was a place where something happened that shifted the consciousness of our city and changed our world.
About half of the participants came on this prayer walk. We gathered together in a parking lot on the corner of West Florissant and Canfield and prayed out our voices and asked God to give us eyes to see what God would have us see.
Then we silently walked to the memorial site, holding in our hands the pieces of paper with prayers that we had written together earlier.
When we reached the memorial, we circled up for a time of silent prayer and placed flowers and prayers at the memorial.
We walked back in silence again, circling up again in the parking lot to pray our voices back in, and took some time to reflect with one another about what it felt like to see the physical space which was the epicenter of so much that has happened in our communities.
Before leaving, each youth and youth leader was provided with both an electronic copy and a hard copy of a hand out with resources, support, and discussions questions.
These issues are complicated, difficult, and emotional, and deserve ongoing reflection and conversation. I was honored to bear witness to our young people doing just that.
Photo of youth gathered around the memorial for Michael Brown, taken by Stephanie Rinaldi Starr.