Healing Ferguson Begins With Its Children

The Ferguson Commission’s blockbuster report shows that children of color face challenges at every turn.

ia flickr user Jamelle Bouie

Much of what emerged from the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer was heartrending. But none, arguably, was more so than the photographs of Ferguson’s children.

“My generation is next...Don’t Shoot!” read a sign held by the little girl in the pigtails. Two other children marched in shirts a little too big, bearing the words, “We are Mike Brown.” These were young people forced to grapple with questions they shoud have been too young to understand.

Now a new report on that community indicates that those children will be key to healing that profound social and economics ills that ail St. Louis County—and the nation.

On Monday, a diverse 16-person commission appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon released an extended report on the state of racial equity in Ferguson.

“We know that talking about race makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” the Ferguson Commission wrote in the 198-page report released online. “But make no mistake: this is about race.”

Many of this country’s inequities are seeded before its children are even teenagers, the report found. Giving children access to excellent educations and support networks could solve problems—crime, cyclical incarceration, health disparities—before they even begin.

Overwhelming statistics

An entire section of report zooms in on the nearly overwhelming challenges facing the children of St. Louis’ majority black neighborhoods, and children in similar neighborhoods all over America. Some of the more distressing takeaways:

  • In 2013, 26.1 percent of America’s black households were food insecure, compared to 14.3 percent of all American households.
  • During the 2011-2012 school year, 14.3 percent of Missouri’s black elementary students were suspended from school, compared to just 1.8 percent of white students.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, 20 percent of black students and 27 percent of Hispanic high schoolers did not graduate in four years. Only 11 percent of white students did not graduate.

This is a maelstrom of opportunity denied. The commission, and the studies it examines, found that children with poor nutrition are also children with slow mental development and physical growth. Children who are often suspended are more likely to become dropouts or delinquents. And Missouri children who don’t receive high school diplomas will make an average $8,109 less than their peers with diplomas.

via flickr user Jamelle Bouie

Hoping for solutions

The facts are harsh. But the report also includes some important solutions. Many of its recommendations concerned the children of Ferguson:

  • Reforming federal nutrition programs to make sure all those who deserve vouchers and food stamps are able to receive them.
  • Creating in-school medical centers, so that all children can receive the care they need.
  • Giving teachers additonal training to help educators understand and work to eliminate racial bias.
  • Reducing out-of-school suspensions to ensure that the most troubled students are not also those missing the most school.

‘This moment is urgent’

These are important ideas for Ferguson. But as a number of commissioners have pointed out, much of the work is ahead of Missouri.

“[The commission] is a group of citizens saying to our elected officials that this moment is urgent and you must move with greater intentionality to getting justice for all of our citizens,” Rev. Starsky Wilson, a co-chairman of the commission, told the New York Times.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Help my peers to connect to positive influences to help us develop into strong community members and leaders.[/quote]

The children of Ferguson feel that urgency, too. At the open meetings that lead to the creation of the document, a number of students spoke on what they hoped for the future.

“Motivate teachers to be devoted in the midst of all that is going on,” Mariah Jones, 13, said in one meetings’ invocation . “Help my peers to connect to positive influences to help us develop into strong community members and leaders.”

“We ask for peace for everyone affected as well as safety for all,” Jones added.

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