Fer­gu­son ed­u­ca­tion site called ‘first step’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JIM SALTER

FER­GU­SON, Mo. — The Na­tional Ur­ban League pres­i­dent helped chris­ten a new job-train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter in Fer­gu­son on Wed­nes­day, call­ing the site a “pow­er­ful first step” in help­ing the St. Louis sub­urb that’s still mend­ing from un­rest over the fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown nearly three years ago.

On the same day the Ur­ban League kicked off its na­tional con­fer­ence in St. Louis, Marc Mo­rial said much work re­mains even with the ar­rival of the $3 mil­lion cen­ter, built on the prop­erty where a QuikTrip con­ve­nience store was burned dur­ing ri­ot­ing af­ter a white po­lice of­fi­cer killed the 18-year-old Brown, who was black and un­armed, in Au­gust 2014.

Ok­la­homa-based QuikTrip de­mol­ished the build­ing and do­nated the prop­erty to the Ur­ban League, which an­nounced plans for the cen­ter in July 2015. Sev­eral com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions do­nated money to build it, in­clud­ing the Sal­va­tion Army, which con­trib­uted $1.4 mil­lion. Mo­rial said the cen­ter is al­ready paid for.

The cen­ter­piece of the Fer­gu­son Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment Cen­ter is the Ur­ban League’s Save Our Sons job train­ing and place­ment ser­vice. It also will house of­fices for the Sal­va­tion Army, Lutheran Hope Cen­ter and the Univer­sity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice.

At Wed­nes­day’s open­ing cer­e­mony, Fer­gu­son City Coun­cil­man Wes­ley Bell said build­ing the cen­ter at the for­mer QuikTrip site was sym­bolic of how Fer­gu­son is ris­ing.

“This build­ing has to mean some­thing,” said Bell, a black man elected af­ter Brown’s death. “It has to rep­re­sent some­thing.”

The store was torched the night af­ter Brown’s death, as a peace­ful can­dle­light vigil was oc­cur­ring at the shoot­ing site less than a mile away.

Brown had got­ten into a scuf­fle with then-of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son af­ter Wil­son told Brown and a friend to get out of the street where they were walk­ing. Wil­son said that when he shot Brown, the teenager was mov­ing men­ac­ingly to­ward him. Some wit­nesses had said Brown was sur­ren­der­ing.

The ini­tial un­rest be­gan af­ter Brown’s body lay in the street for hours in the sum­mer heat. More protests gripped the Mis­souri town af­ter a St. Louis County grand jury in Novem­ber 2014 de­clined to charge Wil­son, who re­signed a short time later. The U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment also cleared him, but an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by that agency un­cov­ered pat­terns of ra­cial bias and pro­fil­ing in Fer­gu­son’s po­lice and courts.

Fer­gu­son reached a set­tle­ment with the Jus­tice De­part­ment that calls for re­vised po­lice prac­tices, court changes and other mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

The Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment Cen­ter in­cludes a bench hon­or­ing Brown. His par­ents, Michael Brown Sr. and Le­z­ley McS­pad­den, were among sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple who at­tended the cen­ter cer­e­mony.

About 20,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend the Ur­ban League con­fer­ence that also will in­clude a “State of Black Amer­ica” town-hall meet­ing, a gath­er­ing of ur­ban may­ors to dis­cuss eco­nomic needs, a ca­reer fair, and a vol­un­teer day in which back­packs will be do­nated to 10,000 chil­dren.

AP/JEFF ROBERSON

“This build­ing has to mean some­thing,” City Coun­cil mem­ber Wes­ley Bell said as he spoke Wed­nes­day in Fer­gu­son, Mo., dur­ing the open­ing of a com­mu­nity cen­ter built on the site where a store was burned down dur­ing ri­ot­ing in 2014.

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