Ferguson Activists Prepare for Anniversary Weekend – and Beyond

Ferguson Activists Prepare for Anniversary Weekend – and Beyond

Police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. Earlier in the day, the resignation of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson was announced in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report prompted by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

It has been one year since the world was introduced to the small city of Ferguson, Missouri and learned of the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown Jr., whose life was taken by a white police officer. Hearts ached, eyes wept and the city turned to chaos as people poured into the streets to demand justice.

Months of daily demonstrations followed. Many protestors were arrested for simply exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly. The Department of Justice later concluded that the intimidating and unconstitutional police tactics used in response to Ferguson protests incited more unrest. That local unrest bloomed into an incipient national civil rights movement.

In honor of Michael Brown Jr.’s memory, an eventful weekend – hashtagged as “United We Fight” – to commemorate the anniversary of his death is planned. Although many are excited for the weekend’s events and actions, other long-term activists confess they are exhausted from the continuous fight for justice, renewed almost daily by new reported incidents of police violence against African Americans.

Tony Rice, founder of activist group Ground-Level Support, is leading an operation to recall the mayor of Ferguson. Rice said August 9 – the date Brown was killed – will be like “hitting reset on the calendar year.”

“It’s been exhausting, but I’m happy to get this year over with,” Rice said. “Maybe this weekend people will highlight what progress has been made.”

Rice made it clear that his activism work will not end after the commemoration weekend, however exhausted he and other activists might be.

“Civilly educating people and getting information out has been the most exhausting,” Rice said.

Writer and social justice event planner Angel Carter will lead a three-hour self-care workshop for Ferguson activists during the long weekend. Carter said most people only think of the physical toll of activism and neglect the emotional burden.

“When people think of doing activism work,  they think of the physical – we do it in any weather, rain or snow,” Carter said. “In addition. there is a not-so-visible part in the work. This is why I do self-care.”

Carter said the closer we come to the anniversary of Brown’s death, the more emotional she becomes.

“I have been in tears more as the day approaches,” Carter said. “But I have been having flashbacks about how it was before August 9. There are some things I have grown through because of what happened on August 9.”

Elizabeth Vega, leader of the Artivists group, said the commemoration is a marker of how much activists have to do, but also how much they’ve learned.

“There are many of us who can’t return to our lives before August 9,” Vega said. “We are still questioning what this new normal looks like.”

She said for her it means lowering her living expenses and living in community so she can stay committed to the fight.

“We are in this,” she said. “We are starting to talk about five-year plans instead of month-to-month. Many of us are ready for the weekend to be over so we can get back to the business of doing the work.”

She said “change” has become rhetoric over the past year. “What we are striving for now is transformation,” she said, “individually and collectively.”

If you are dealing with stress related to Ferguson, you can receive free counseling through the Ferguson Relief Program and Children’s Service Fund. To make an appointment, call 314-533-8200. Mention the Ferguson Relief Program  (age 20 and over)  or Children’s Service Fund (youth under age 20).

This story is published as part of a partnership between The St. Louis American and The Huffington Post.