Miles Today: 16
Miles to Date: 16,015
States to Date: 44
16,000 miles after I left Cambridge I arrived at one of the very first push pins I placed on my map: Ferguson, Missouri. What I encountered was worth all that effort.
Ferguson looks nothing like the images etched into our televisions two summers ago. It looks like the middle class community it is: modest houses with nice lawns, solid businesses, no-nonsense public buildings and shady trees. My day included a few hours at the Ferguson Farmer’s Market; a visit to the public library, which won 2015 library of the year award for its work after Michael Brown’s shooting and Darrell Wilson’s exoneration; time along West Florissant Ave, where the worst of the rioting and looting occurred; and dinner at Marley’s, a local pub, with long-time residents who hosted me for the night.
I am particularly grateful to Linda Lipka and Wesley Bell, two Ferguson City Council representatives who talked with me about their work and responded to my question. I have asked dozens of candidates and elected officials along my route; Linda and Wesley are the first to participate in my project. They typify what I found everywhere in Ferguson: transparency, respect, and tolerance.
Toward the end of my locally brewed Ferguson Pale Ale, I realized that what transpired in Ferguson could not have happened just anywhere. It couldn’t happen in a lily-white community, a pitch-black community, or a gated community. It could only happen in a community that was already on the road to integration, a community where Whites and Blacks rubbed shoulders on a regular basis. A string of disrespect and bad decisions sparked that rubbing into friction and violence, a young man died, and the world reprimanded Ferguson. But when do we reprimand the places so guarded and fearful they do not even allow racial discourse to occur?
We’ll never know if Michael Brown had to die in order to create the respect and tolerance I witnessed in Ferguson. But we should give credit to the citizens of this city who, under a microscope, took his death and its aftermath as a call to come together. Ferguson is far from perfect, but it’s further along the path of respecting all our citizens than most places in our nation.