And something felt right about going with Derrick.
I’ve watched Derrick grow up as an African-American youth in North Philadelphia — facing unfair obstacles like a bankrupt school system, an epidemic of gun violence, and a tantalizing drug economy. Despite Philly’s 40% high school dropout rate, Derrick graduated. And now he’s in his senior year of college.
Derrick has been living with my wife and I during his summer break. As we watched the events in Ferguson unfold, we’ve been processing all the questions that it raised. It is clear that Ferguson is about Michael Brown, but Ferguson is also about more than Michael Brown. Ferguson is also about Derrick Gregory. It’s about you and me, and how we can help heal the wounds that history has left us.
When the opportunity arose to go to Ferguson, Derrick and I jumped on it. The day we left, we woke up early in the morning and cut a sunflower from our community garden to place on the memorial for Michael Brown. We packed it up, carried it carefully, and delivered it to Ferguson. Sadly, something felt right about cutting a brilliant sunflower even though it was just starting to bud – and taking it to Ferguson. Together, we walked down the street where Michael Brown was killed. Hundreds of roses lined the street, and a thick, solemn silence filled the air – interrupted occasionally by kids playing in the distance. I watched Derrick deliver the flower alongside the teddy bears, candles, and cards.
We saw some wild stuff. A church that provided warm hospitality but had been raided three times by police (who found food, water, first aid supplies, and bibles). We saw 8 year old kids and 80 year old grandmothers marching side-by-side. We saw pastors from all denominations working as peacekeepers. We saw folks grilling out on the street, offering free food to everyone. And we saw, everywhere we looked, signs that read: “I love Ferguson.”
Derrick and I marched. We prayed. We listened. And we wept. We walked the streets of Ferguson with hundreds of young people audacious enough to believe we can end racism, chanting: “We’re young! We’re strong! We’re marching all night long.”
Now we are home. And I’m listening to Derrick pack up his room into cardboard boxes. Tomorrow Derrick will head back to college. And Michael Brown will not.
Let it break our hearts. Let it stir in us new questions and challenge old assumptions. And let it provoke in us the courage to build a world free of fear. Help us Lord.