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Commentary: When Ferguson Protests End, The Basic Problems Must Be Dealt With

Marchers demand change on Aug. 18 in Ferguson.
Willis Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

A week ago at the NAACP rally in north county, my good friend and a leading voice on stopping the violence in our community, James Clark, told everyone that “while we are good at protest we need to be good at the pivot to solutions.”

His words are both insightful and instructive. The challenges before us are both short term and long term.

Short term, we must understand that the events around the tragic death of Michael Brown have led to a great deal of conversations about the relationship between the police and the community. The issue for us all is how to we proceed after the tensions have calmed, the celebrities have gone away and we are left to talk to each other.

The emptiness of the violence in our community permeates all of us and now is the time to move past protest to long-term action that changes the dynamic of how we interact with each other. We must be willing to understand everyone else’s lived experience and try to build relationships with others.

Long term we must then become unwavering in addressing the underlying issues that prevent our communities from moving forward: education, housing, health, jobs and economic development.

In the days and weeks ahead, we must create the environment and the opportunity for the police to hear from community members, particularly the younger members of our neighborhoods. In turn, community members and our children must understand the incredibly difficult job that police officers have each and every day.

Our work at Beyond Housing over the last 20 years has taught us that community building happens at the speed of trust; and trust is not given but it is earned.

It is earned through constant conversations and actions that exhibit the respect for one another.

It is earned by listening. It is earned by doing what you say you are going to do.

It is earned by showing up over and over again in the places where relationships are built.

There is no magic elixir, no silver bullet and no glorious speech that will propel us forward. What will propel us forward is an unwavering commitment to not let Michael Brown’s life and death be in vain. We need to have the collective courage to be in uncomfortable situations to open our eyes to someone else’s reality. We must be willing to say I did not understand your perspective and now can and will interact with you differently.

This is no simple task, but it is the only way we are going to move forward. Most police officers are good decent people trying to serve and protect us. Most community members are good decent people trying to live their lives. We can find common ground but we will have to work at it.

We must redefine the American Dream for everyone as more than just owning a home. While we all know that Home Matters, over the years we have learned that a home is more than the house that people live in. Home is about the life that happens in and around the house as well as the life that fuels and draws out the best out of the people with in it. This includes access to quality education, living in safety, being healthy and having access to all of the necessary services. Understanding this will help everyone come together to begin the process of healing.

With that said, let’s come together as a community to protest peacefully for justice, compel everyone to come to a common table for dialogue that leads to actions and in doing so we will honor Michael Brown.

Chris Krehmeyer is president and CEO of Beyond Housing.