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Ferguson Town Hall Fosters Conversation On Race And Diversity

Ferguson Residents Outside A Town Hall Meeting Earlier This Fall.
Emanuele Berry|St. Louis Public Radio

Diversity and racial tension were the focus Tuesday evening at Ferguson’s third town hall meeting.

Ferguson resident Darci Knowles, who is related to the town's mayor by marriage, said those in attendance participated in small group activities where residents were asked to discuss stereotypes in Ferguson, white privilege and ongoing commitments to racial relations. Knowles, who is white, said the tone of the discussion was not contentious.

“Our table talked about the divide between most of Ferguson and Canfield and the surrounding apartments, which is a whole different universe,” she said.  

About 200 people attended the meeting. The series of community discussions is being run by the U.S. Department of Justice.

This week’s discussion was held at the Ferguson Community Center. Attendance was limited to Ferguson residents and business owners. Media were not allowed to attend.

Cassandra Butler, who is black, has lived in Ferguson for 32 years. She said she was encouraged by the number of white Ferguson residents  at the town hall.

“Whenever somebody says, 'Let’s talk about race,' the only people who come to the talk  are black people,” Butler said. “So, it’s almost like preaching to the choir. This opportunity has widened the dialogue about race. In this meeting whites outnumbered the blacks and you don’t typically see that in a dialogue about race.”

Butler said Tuesday's meeting was different from the previous town hall discussions because the small group format allowed attendees to directly talk to each other.

Ferguson resident Milton Robinson said initially he did not think the  meetings would make much of a difference in Ferguson. After the meeting, he said he he felt like the community was making some progress.

“At least we are talking,” said Robinson, who's black. “I’m talking to neighbors about stuff I haven’t talked to them about. I’m expressing feelings and they are going, 'I didn’t know you felt that way.'”

Milton said he thinks dialogue is essential for the community to address racial tension but he worries that the community won’t move beyond discussion.

“It was good to hear people talk,” Milton said. “The thing that scares me about us human beings is we can make a mouth say anything. But the action -- how are we going to put this action together?”

The next town hall meeting is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Oct. 21 at the community center, and will focus on the community’s future growth and next steps.