Healing Through Art

Three weeks ago, a Grand Jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Witness accounts differ in the level of aggression Brown displayed toward Wilson, but he was unarmed and did not earn a death sentence by his actions.

As anticipated—and arguably egged on by a frenzied media presence and worsened by prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s timing and tone—planned demonstrations and protests quickly turned into rioting and arson along Ferguson’s roads. Cars burned alongside the infamous split-screen image of President Obama calling for calm.

Following the shooting of Vonderitt Myers in the Shaw neighborhood, a smaller epicenter of demonstrations in the previous months has been south city, where I live. Marching up and down Grand, the major thoroughfare, protests were peaceful before I went to bed Monday night. However, I woke up to news of busted windows up and down the South Grand district of shops and restaurants a block from my house. Broken glass is not comparable to unequally applied justice or racial inequities or ongoing mistrust between police and the communities they serve. But it does represent fractured communities, scare people away from our neighborhood, and distract from efforts to make progress on issues brought up by Brown’s death.

So I was lifted up as the neighborhood associations in south city put out a call for materials and volunteers to decorate the plywood that covered broken windows and protected whole ones from further damage. Hundreds of artists and neighbors came to paint the plywood boards, turning a symbol of broken communities into uplifting messages of healing and community. Rather than exist for a week or more as a boarded up ghost town, South Grand was transformed into an impromptu art walk.

I walked around to snap pictures and thank the people who were painting. I was waiting to join a community meeting at the new pocket park on Grand where local leaders and aldermen would speak and neighbors would chalk messages of love for St. Louis. Here are the pictures I took.

The boards are starting to come down. It is peaceful at night in my neighborhood now. But that should not be permission to look away and ignore what Brown’s death has brought to the forefront. I do not believe that we need to break our communities to have them heal stronger, like a bone. But I do know that to let these problems fester unaddressed will lead to further heartache and greater problems in the future. So let us move forward and heal not just the symptoms but the underlying rot so we can have stronger and healthier communities.

See the rest of the pictures after the break.