Below is a reflection from Fredy Rosales ’17, a student who took part in the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break Trip. Fredy was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant to attend the trip.
As I bend down to pick up a fugitive piece of trash from the road in North Florissant Rd in Ferguson, Missouri, I try to observe and absorb the reality of this environment and my situation. It’s not what I expected. I don’t mind the physical work even after an exhausting day of traveling, because after all, I knew my Ferguson Alternative Spring Break was a service trip, but I wonder if this is the best way to help the movement and specifically chaos-invaded Ferguson. I also wonder why this place is so similar to my home town. When will we see the riots, protests and chaos that the media so insistently portrays? Where are the burning buildings? The streets closed by police or by activists? I’m sure many of the other college students with me are wondering the same, but it is not until later in the day, after having indeed seen some destroyed buildings, that we really start to make sense of the reality of Ferguson: it’s just like any other suburban town in the country, at least on the surface.
Throughout the rest of the week we learn more about the reality of Ferguson. We learn more details about the Police Department’s racial profiling and over-policing. We learn about the problems with the local judiciary system, the political scene, and the constant struggle that people of color go through every day in this community. But more importantly, we learn from the community members and activists. During one of our community service activities we ride the metro and converse with people. We learn that it is unsafe for two black men to walk together on the street, because they might “fit the description.” We learn about families that have been broken up by accusations without realistic evidence from the police. We learn that people feel afraid of the police. But still this place feels too normal. By the end of the week we had all learned and confirmed that Ferguson is not an exception to the norm in the country –it is the norm. Things like this happen to people of color everyday all around the States. The Ferguson Police Department was just one that “got caught”, but the media insists in depicting this as an isolated issue–it only happens there. It’s sad to think that the media has found some success in influencing the general public.
But the positive, valuable lessons that I took from my experience in Ferguson outweigh the negative ones. One such lesson I learned was the power of effective organization to affect real change and I witnessed first hand through Operation Help or Hush.Operation Help Or Hush. In only a matter of months, the organizations’ co-founders, activists Tasha Burton and Charles Wades, along with many collaborators, have implemented a series of programs that are already changing Ferguson, and that are cementing the bases to further long term changes. These programs include a Transitional Housing Program (which evolved from their earlier work to provide safe-stays for activists) that provides safe housing for those struggling financially free of charge for 90 days; Ferguson Food Share which provides several low income families with healthy food; funding the Faces of the Movement initiative; and of course, the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break which for 5 weeks brought together college students from all over the country to learn more about and support the movement. When you consider that OHOH has only existed for less than 9 months, and that it started with a twitter campaign to raise funds, their accomplishments become all the more impressive, and their story quite inspiring.
And inspired we were. During my week in Ferguson I met many intelligent civic-minded college students that were eager to apply what they had learned in Ferguson in their own communities. I think that one of OHOH biggest successes during this program was that they transformed us in a way that sent us as waves throughout the country, as sparkles willing to ignite to change our communities. (Many were already planning to organize ways to address issues such as over-policing before they had even left Ferguson). More importantly, they created a network of individuals who no longer saw themselves as “saviors” but as allies willing to work effectively to affect change.
-Fredy Rosales ’17