In 1990, more than 70% of the citizens of Ferguson were white, with around 30% black. Now, less than 24% later, those demographics have nearly reversed. Such a quick transition may be a contributor to the current events where a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old. I don't pretend to know everything about the situation, and I don't need to go into details or posit any opinions, but there are some things we can learn. (Incidentally, one of my former students is reported to currently reside in Ferguson.)
What Do Recent Events In Ferguson Show Us?
- The obvious lesson is that there is racism in America. If we thought we could undo 400 to 600 years of racism in 50 years, we have learned that we were wrong. From the first hints of racist activity, through the events of slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement, we recognize that the United States has made positive strides in this area, but there remains a divide in the hearts of some.
- Hostility is to be expected. People are people. People are human. People have emotions. Hatred is one of those emotions. Hatred breeds anger. Anger can turn violent. Violence is usually not rational. If there is anything Ferguson, Missouri, has illustrated, it is that anything can break. To most of us it does not make sense that when Person One is angry at Person Two, Person One attacks Person Three, but so is the nature of irrational and out-of-control anger. It is called madness for a reason.
- Racism is costly. Who knows just how much has been spent to combat the beliefs that one man is created "more equal" than another? Add to that the cost of rebuilding downtrodden areas, areas that have been damaged or destroyed in the "race wars", and monuments to remind us of our historical ugliness, and the figure is unfathomable. More importantly, the cost hits home for many families as their lives are disrupted, and people are killed. The cost is not only astronomical, but unnecessary.
- Life is not fair. Sometimes one person benefits while another person declines...but is that always the result of race? I must not always envy my neighbor or my brother when he receives something I do not have. The sooner I understand that life is not fair, the sooner I realize that "fair" does not always have to mean we all have the same things or benefit in the same ways. We all have something our neighbors and brothers do not, but that may not be the correct definition of the word fair...and it absolutely does not excuse me to take, at all costs, something that does not belong to me.
- Life can change - or stop - quickly. When you least expect it, expect it. Life can be shortened due to a great range of reasons - disease, accident, or deliberate actions taken by someone known, acquainted with, or unknown. We had best live our lives without regrets, live lives full of service to others, and live lives worth living. The loss of the young man in Ferguson undoubtedly shocked his family; no parents expect to outlive their child. Are we prepared for eternity - after this mortal life is snuffed?
- Attitudes vary by region. While life can appear peaceful and tolerant on our side of the state, there are communities where differing races are at odds. They are taught to hate others because of their appearance. We may not understand, but the truth is that when we stumble upon such a place by chance, these places can make us feel nervous or scared. It has happened more than once in my own adult life - once, in fact, in Ferguson itself.
- Issues must not be ignored. When we sweep negativity under the rug and pretend it's not there, we may quickly be caught off guard. Problems fester like infection, and under the heat of a rug, the same problems may infest entire families, groups, and neighborhoods. When we ignore racial division, we do not strive for unity or solutions; we only allow the infection to grow. It may be easier to pretend there is no problem, but taking the more difficult path may make things easier for us in the long run.
- We exist as a single race - the human race. Segregation is not the answer, but neither is forced integration. Perhaps we must get out of our own communities to understand others. Shouldn't we talk more to each other more and less about each other? Shouldn't we listen to each other? Don't pretend it's easy to understand a mindset that has been 500 years in the making, but make the effort to make peace with the people around you. Reach out: perhaps you will fail...but perhaps you will get one inch closer to success.
- Hope springs eternal! While the news outlets continue to display the bane of Ferguson, other events have occurred. Not only have people held prayer vigils, not only have people made themselves available for counseling, but individuals have also taken it upon themselves to start cleaning up the mess in their community. Ugliness often outshines beauty. Treasures are often hidden. We must continue to search for and uncover the glorious riches in the darkness. We must look under stones, dig into the soil, and brush off any clues we find, but we can and will find that there is always a hope that abides. Our world is full of it if only we will look for it. When we see it, I fully believe that we should openly share it to others, as well.
- Life goes on. Whatever happens, until further notice, someone has always survived. I suppose that will be true until the end of the earth. If I am that survivor, I must continue to breathe, and walk, and strive to improve myself.
- I don't control anyone outside of myself. In the end, we can only do what we can do. Sure, I attempt to influence my own children to grow in reverence of my Lord, and I try to influence my class of fourth graders to be respectful, responsible, and safe, but ultimately we must each decide for ourselves who we will be. Some will always choose unwisely to be menaces to society; they will fill prisons, take from others, and threaten to upset life. Others will always choose well; they will constantly struggle against the temptations and trials of living in a world inhabited by humans. I'm not saying it will be easy, but we must not give up the hope of living and advancing life, teaching good citizenry, and the methods of making wise decisions.
- There is a constant need for us to spread the Good News: the unconditional love, the indiscriminate attitude, and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. He is the only path to peace, hope, love, and joy. He is the only door, our only avenue to eternal reward. Whether we be black, white, or any other color, Jesus loves us and gives us all the opportunity to be forgiven and redeemed from the powers of Hell.
There are times when we give up hope. Those are the times when we want to close ourselves off to anyone who is not like us, anyone who does not share our religion, our sense of humor, or our skin color. We begin to think we could be better off living alone in the wilderness, off the grid. Maybe when we see life through the prism of our televisions, we do not see as clearly as when we observe life through our own eyes and even vicariously through the eyes of others (empathy). We must not assume to know how someone else feels, acts, or reacts, but we must always be prepared to feel, act, and react appropriately for ourselves. Our classroom is just one place to learn and practice.
May Ferguson, Missouri, serve to remind us, warn us, and educate us about ourselves.