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Religion

Springfield Prayer Service for Michael Brown Addresses Racism Through Collaboration

Over 50 people gathered in prayer and song at Park Central Square in Springfield on Monday in remembrance of Michael Brown, whose death sparked mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri. KSMU’s Alissa Zhu has the story.

Michael Brown’s body was finally laid to rest in Ferguson. It has been over two weeks since the unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a white police officer, sparking massive demonstrations and racial violence that has resulted in dozens of arrests. As thousands of mourners attended his funeral in St. Louis, a gathering of southwest Missouri residents came together to honor Brown’s memory and to discuss diversity and understanding in the Springfield community.

“So we come together to grieve the loss of sacred life. We come together acknowledging racial tension and injustice exists in every community, realizing what happened in Ferguson has or could happen in most cities in this country.”

That was Reverend Mark Struckhoff, on the Board of Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri, the organization that hosted the interfaith prayer service.

Jon Ross, who attended the service after reading about it in the paper, said he was there because of his life values. Ross said he thinks of racism as a disease on the body of our country that needs to be treated holistically.

“I think we have to look at the whole body. It’s not just Ferguson, it’s each community in our governmental or geographical set up.”

Roosevelt Baron said that as a young black male, he sometimes feels the effects of discrimination in Springfield. He cited an incident earlier Monday when he felt targeted by a police officer while waiting for the Park Central Square library to open.

“I feel unsafe. I don’t feel like I could step outside and I know I can be harmed by a person that’s both not in a lawful suit and a person that is in a lawful suit, you know? It’s just kind of hurt my feelings.”

Springfield is not an exception to discrimination, said Francine Pratt of Washington Avenue Baptist Church, another speaker at the prayer service.  She said we must learn about each other so we can accept each other and our differences.

“Well I think it’s important to understand that when there’s tragedy, there’s still positive that can come out of that. And I think it’s a good way of Springfield recognizing yes there is work we still need to do but we can do it together,” said Pratt.

Pratt listed several programs in place to help foster understanding about diverse groups of people, including the Bridge Springfield Brother to Brother mentoring program designed to help underprivileged males graduate from high school and college.  Additionally, she mentioned the poverty simulation by the Impacting Poverty Commission and Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, and Neighborhood Night Out, last Friday’s event that connected residents with their community law enforcement officers.

Baron gave a brief speech after the service drawing attention to the plight of racism in America. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Kendrick Johnson, he listed. These are all names of black men whose deaths have come to represent the cost of injustice and bigotry in America. Despite all this, Baron said he still has hope.

“Ferguson, period, can heal. Missouri, period, can heal by actually coming together and actually talking to each other. Like, ‘Hey how are you doing?’ Like give me a pat on the back,” said Baron.

Simple actions and words of kindness can have a humanizing effect, said Baron. In the end, we’re all people who can come together and make our community a safe and inclusive place to live.

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