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‘The divide has deepened’: Ferguson Pastor F. Willis Johnson discusses healing the community

Pastor F. Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church in Ferguson.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Pastor F. Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church in Ferguson.

If the Rev. F. Willis Johnson were to distill the message of his new book, “Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community,” into a single phrase it would be: acknowledge, affirm and act.

  • Acknowledge: Becoming aware that there are things in the community that are not right.
  • Affirm: Even when I don’t understand or agree, that I give space to talk.
  • Act: All of us have a role and responsibility to address what is not right.

Johnson is senior pastor at Wellspring Church in Ferguson. In the weeks, months and years since the shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014, Johnson has emerged as a convener who is seeking to help the community heal.
“The divide has deepened, maybe in some cases we’ve gotten further entrenched,” Johnson told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.

“The pain and trauma for some is as great as it was then. Overall as a community we are still trying to find out what we can do to not relapse,” Johnson said, while acknowledging that some people may be upset with what he has to say.

The Role of Religion

Johnson said his book aims to serve as a practical guide for professional religious practitioners.

“All of us are called into acts of responsibility and community,” he said. “What is a struggle for most practitioners or professionals like myself is that you have an ancient narrative text that you’re trying to make sense out of now.”

Citing the history of violence from biblical times, Johnson notes that violence is nothing new, nor are efforts to resolve deep divides across the United States and other parts of the world.

“We try to help people figure out what they can do,” Johnson said, citing the central tenet of the book of “holding up your corner.”

“We have to acknowledge that while there are some things that have changed, what may have not changed are hearts. What has not changed is the system. I don’t care who you put on the council. The system is system,” Johnson said.

Johnson will discuss and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m., tonight, at Left Bank Books.

Related Event

What: F. Willis Johnson Discussion and Signing
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 28
Where: Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.