How should we be more just in Ferguson, 2021?

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Welcome to our new publication, The Ferguson Observer! My name is John Powell and periodically I will be contributing, along with others, to this column on social justice and our city.

I have lived in Ferguson since 2006. My wife Lisa and I were interested in living in a more diverse and affordable community. We wished to buy a house and saw a website promoting Old Ferguson West. After driving around, we noticed the work that was being done to revitalize the town and how friendly people were. We fell in love with our home during the last hour of an open house on a Sunday afternoon. Two months later, we moved in to what we would christen, “Bella Luna.”

One of the impetuses for doing a social justice column is that I have observed that The Ferguson Times, for all of its hometown charm and good information, seemed to ignore or give scant attention to some important issues in our city. This was part of a philosophy to highlight “good news” in our community.  In the last six years, I think many of us have realized that social injustice needs to be addressed systematically by our city’s social structures and by all of us individually.  The Ferguson Observer has decided to have a different journalistic stance. 

In terms of my own perspective or bias, I’ve been formed by my Catholic upbringing and teach social justice at a Catholic school. There are three concepts that order my thoughts on social justice: human dignity/human rights, solidarity, and the common good. Human dignity is something we all share: we are all individuals who are unique and enjoy a dignity that is inherent to our humanity. That dignity is the basis of rights that belong to all of us.  Solidarity is the act of standing with people who may be different from ourselves in terms of status, abilities, ethnicity, or sexual orientation for the upholding of their human rights. Finally, the common good is that set of conditions that allows people to be all they can be; individual rights are seen in the light of what is good for all of society’s members, not just those who are more powerful, wealthier, or privileged.

I realized in 2014 as an able bodied, white cis-gender Christian male that I had ignored or could ignore the injustices many people in our community were experiencing with our policing and municipal court structures. Changes started almost immediately in Ferguson on those fronts but more has to be done, both in terms of social structures and our citizens’ attitudes/actions. I’ve been on the side of protesters but I’ve also served the city on the Human Rights Commission. I believe in standing up for the side of justice; so often we see a false equivalency that devalues the real concerns of people in our community in terms of our social structures. Answers are not easy; we are now even more polarized than in 2014. At times, I don’t think it’s worth even trying to make this town better. Then I see the example of various citizens who have stood up for justice over the past six years and I’m reminded that good happens because of our efforts. Prime example for me has been Fran Griffin, who protested, organized, and ran a campaign to become one of our city council members. But there are so many people who have made a difference. I’m sure you know somebody you look up to in Ferguson.

We are committed to a diversity of opinions, so this column will be made up of a variety of voices that will share with you views of social justice or its opposite in terms of our town. We don’t see ourselves as paragons of virtue. We are simply giving our observations and trying to highlight efforts for justice. Professor Cornel West of Princeton University has said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” How can we love more in 2021? All of us need to think about this as we continue to struggle with the Covid 19 pandemic and its ramifications for justice as well as the continued implementation of the federal consent decree. Please contact us about possible story or column ideas. We have so many people who can help us to be better people and our social structures more equitable and responsive. Thank you for reading and please know that your input is appreciated at The Ferguson Observer. How have you loved people in Ferguson today?