By Catherine Russell
November 24, 2014. It was a cold Monday night when the decision was released that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the death of Mike Brown. That night I went out to S. Florissant Road — five minutes from where Mike Brown was killed and three minutes from the murder of St. Louis teen Antonio Martin. CNN had live feeds of what seemed like rioting crowds when a group of maybe 100 protestors were simply upset about the verdict.
From the southeast corner, two friends and I watched the news program through the windows of a bar. The owner had been locking the door and not letting anyone in except whites. While we were staring at the screen, an older white guy yelled to me and my friends, “Fuck you niggers.” He held his middle finger up at us and a beer. Officers were defensive before anybody said anything. When I asked if I could cross the street heading back to my car, I was threatened with an arrest.
(Read Catherine’s first account of Ferguson to ELIXHER:
“Fighting For Justice In Ferguson: One Queer Woman of Color Shares”)
I’ve lost several friends these last few months—even my job. I was working for a company as a bilingual researcher. When my manager went on medical leave, I took over the department and in less than a month, I was honored as “Employee of the Month.” I also handled all Spanish-speaking customers because I was the only one fluent in the office. A white male co-worker with a felony charge on his record, same age, made one dollar an hour more than I did. There were no absences on my record to date. Yet, during my protesting and vocal opposition of the grand jury decision, they fired me without cause.
The racial tension remains high. We are disappointed and afraid, but we are a family and a city that prays together. We care about our communities. We are enraged and exhausted with oppression being the constant narrative when there are people in the community working to create positive and productive environments for our children to learn and grow in.
Community organizers like Aja Owens, Spook White, DJ Twinny Twin, Rico Steez, Tseed Grafix, Change Gang, and countless others have been working non-stop to create effective outlets and community-enriching activities. My organization, the STL REC (Russell’s Enrichment Cultural Center) in St. Louis, is focusing on education through passion, innovation, creativity, and kindness. We are building our own means of honest and reputable communication to the world about what St. Louis residents have been going through prior to and post-protesting.
The STL REC is offering tutoring opportunities to students who may have gotten behind during the first semester of the school year. We are also engaging youth with various activities such as the Cutie & the Geek Children’s Charity Fundraiser, TeamEpic Boys & Girls Basketball Club, and the #iCareCampaign by passing out pins during the protest that read “I Care.” The #iCareCampaign aims to remove some of the misrepresentation of violence on the ground. Supporters can purchase t-shirts and hoodies at teespring.com/wecarecampaign. All monies raised for the REC will go towards the purchase of a central space for our members.
It’s been quiet in Ferguson, even though you can still hear the wails of mourning mothers and community. Institutionalized fear has caused pain and upheaval in our city. In order for us to fix it, first, we have to collectively recognize it, then become our own bosses. Black enterprise and education are key steps to our independence, which will lead to job creation within our communities. Owning, buying, selling, and leasing from within can create a system of responsibility and cooperative economics among our next generation. We have to stick together and support each other. We’re all we’ve got.
Catherine Russell is a St. Louis, MO, resident. She is a wife, a mother, and the founder/president of The Russell’s Enrichment Cultural Center, a youth academic, sports, and culture recreational center. Russell serves as the head coach for The REC’s #TeamEpic varsity boys basketball team. She graduated from Webster University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology and a Minor in Spanish. Russell has dedicated her life to servicing other people. Her daily motivation comes from the biblical verse James 2:14: “Faith without work is dead.”