As soon as you walk inside the brand new Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, you see a mural of photos from the 2014 unrest, as the three year anniversary approaches of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown Jr. Without the fatal encounter between Brown and former officer Darren Wilson, there would probably be no empowerment center.
“There’s a lot of dedications that’s up in the building, a lot of plaques,” said Michael Brown Sr. “He’s got a bench that’s dedicated to him. The Urban League showed a lot of love to the family.”
Brown attended the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the Empowerment Center, which coincides with the National Urban League Conference at America’s Center. The location of the center carries symbolic weight. Donated by the QuikTrip Corporation, the property was the site of looting and burning during the 2014 Ferguson protests.
“Convert anger into action,” said Marc Morial, National Urban League President. “Take the tragedy that occurred and from that tragedy try to shape a new beginning.”
A new beginning and a new partnership. The Salvation Army and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis will own and operate the $4 million facility. Social services will also be provided by the University of Missouri Extension and the Lutheran Hope Center.
The Save Our Sons job training program was mentioned several times during the two-hour grand opening ceremony. Since the local Urban League started Save Our Sons in January 2015, it said more than 400 men have found permanent jobs. William Patterson now has a job in the public school system after graduating from the program.
“Having something that’s built specifically for the community I think is very empowering,” said Patterson.
Some of St. Louis’ most prominent business leaders spoke to the standing room only crowd in a steamy tent in front of the empowerment center, including Centene, Emerson, Ameren, World Wide Technology, and AT&T. Generous corporate support means the center is paid for and there is no debt. St. Louis led the effort to win more than $6 million in federal New Market Tax Credits for construction of the center.
A phoenix really can rise from the ashes, a metaphor that got a workout Wednesday in Ferguson.
“It shows that we can build from our ashes, from our pain, and our distrust,” said Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who coordinated law enforcement during the 2014 protests. “Our ashes today have given us a great start.”