By Chris King
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
Reynaldo Anderson, a professor of communications at Harris-Stowe State University, said the university wants to be the St. Louis region’s “think tank for issues of concern to the African-American community” in introducing its Ferguson forum on August 9, one year to the day after the death of Michael Brown Jr.
In this event, ambitiously divided into a series of four panels, Harris-Stowe delivered as a think tank.
The forum’s 17 panelists, all of them African-American (and Anderson himself, in the role of moderator), looked at Ferguson and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement from a wide range of distinctly black perspectives. The forum at the region’s only HBCU was one of those “black spaces” the movement consistently claims for itself, and within it there was plenty of space for disagreement and challenge.
Johnetta Elzie, a well-known Ferguson protestor, called out the NAACP (and other unnamed middle-class black organizations) for not coming to the protestors’ aid “until it was sexy.”
“Where were you last year when it was late at night?” Elzie asked, knowing full well she was speaking in a black middle-class space.
Elzie also challenged Miranda Jones, a vice president at Better Family Life, when Jones said their agency also works on “black-on-black” crime as an issue.
“’Black-on-black crime’ is the language of white supremacy,” Elzie told Jones.
Jazminique Holley, a recent graduate of Harris-Stowe, gave that knife another twist when she defined “respectability politics” as “trying to fit in with white supremacy.”
Elzie’s colleague, the now-iconic DeRay Mckesson, attended the forum without speaking on a panel. Elzie and Mckesson had stepped out of the university’s Emerson Performance Center when the following Activists Panel got edgy. These activists criticized unnamed people in the movement by accusing them of selling out for money and media fame.
“Outside money came in and was very disruptive,” said Nyrota Uhuru, a St. Louis-area blogger. “Some people were elevated and their voices were amplified for competing agendas, not necessarily for our agenda,” Uhuru said. “We are still unraveling all of that.”
Yah Ammi, an activist and poet, said, “Media-hungry people were paid under, over and across the table,” claiming the outside money was responsible for “dismantling the movement.”
The indicted groups and individuals were not named, but Hands Up United was formed in Ferguson by organizers who came from New York, and George Soros has been identified as the largest source of outside funds. Ferguson activist Larry Fellows, speaking on the same panel, made a point to correct a media report that Soros had funded him and to justify how he spent what funds he did raise from social media.
“It was to sustain other people,” Fellows said.
Fellows said there is a role in funding social justice movements, in order to get young activists like Clifton Kinnie “tools and resources,” which were sorely lacking in the early days of Ferguson unrest.
“We did it ourselves,” Fellows said. “It was guerilla activism.”
The forum also included Political and Faith-based panels with more seasoned members of the community. Mike Jones, who has held senior positions in St. Louis city and county government and now serves on The American’s editorial board, spoke the language of the youth movement, while also pointing out an area where he thinks it needs to grow.
“Every problem that Black America faces is systematic and structural – it’s about the relationship between us and white supremacy – and to address those problems takes long-term struggle,” Jones said. “I have not seen that level of structure in this movement.”