Most of us think of Ferguson, Missouri, as the St. Louis suburb where the police-action shooting death of Michael Brown three years ago touched off months of violent and destructive protests. For the Revs. Steve Schave and Micah Glenn, it is home and where they work to sow healing and hope.
Schave and Glenn addressed the 28th annual Conference on Youth at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum Thursday, offering inspiration to about 1,200 participants whose jobs involve young people facing the same hopelessness that sparked the events in Ferguson.
“Every community is Ferguson,” Allen Superior Court Judge Charles Pratt said in introducing the two. “Every community has the challenges that can erupt like Ferguson.”
Glenn was on a service assignment from his seminary studies when the violence broke out just blocks from his family home in Ferguson.
“Ferguson was a cultural pressure pot for something to take place,” he said, “because things weren’t right in our community.”
Glenn described a city with pronounced racial disparities: Sixty percent of the population was African-American, but 90 percent of citations were issued to African-Americans, generally for questionable offenses such as parking too far from the curb. Ninety-five percent of jaywalking citations went to African-American residents, with revenue collected supporting government operations. In addition, unemployment rates in some areas were as high as 21 percent and more than three-quarters of students were graduating from Ferguson schools with less than third-grade reading skills.
The Lutheran pastor now is executive director of the new Lutheran Hope Center in Ferguson, coordinating outreach efforts with a special focus on tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth.
“The reality of the people in our community is that they are alone – they have no network of support,” Glenn explained. “It’s really hard for anyone to break the mold without external intervention.”
Schave, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, expanded on some of the interventions he and others are doing through his work as director of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Urban and Inner-City Mission, with a focus on “a ministry of presence.”
The key is for faith-based groups and others to collaborate on improving prospects for education, jobs, housing, transportation and racial reconciliation, he said.
A gas station burned down during the violence – now the site of the new Lutheran Hope Center and Urban League Empowerment Center – “became sort of the fault line for the racial divide across our country,” Schave told the youth workers. “You can bring hope by being the ones who bring peace.”