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Ferguson Church Helps Community Deal With Race Relations


The city of Ferguson is just outside of St. Louis, in the U.S. Midwest state of Missouri.

Many white residents there say they chose to live in the city because of its cultural diversity.

So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in August of this year. The protests and violence in the weeks after the shooting shook the community.

Now, they are waiting for a grand jury to decide whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the death of Michael Brown. They are also trying to decide what to do next.

Some churches in the community in the central United States are leading discussions.

Pastor Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church in Ferguson used his Sunday religious service to talk about the issue. He changed his usual plans and made members of his church stand up and hug one another.

Mr. Johnson says he wants the community to start what he calls a difficult conversation. He says he believes it is his duty to, in his words, “challenge people to do something, in some way, regarding not just this issue but the many issues that are human issues that we have to address.”

His church has been working with other churches and nearby school districts to help the community deal with Mr. Brown's death.

The pastor also is trying to give a sense of direction and purpose to people who are questioning what to do and how to do it.

Katie Turnball lives in Ferguson. She is white, and came to Mr. Johnson’s mostly African-American church after the shooting of Michael Brown. Ms. Turnball says coming to Mr. Johnson’s church helps her understand different ways of thinking in her community.

She says she believes people in Ferguson want to talk about and try to improve issues of race and social inequality in their community.

But, both she and Mr. Johnson say, they do not think this important conversation is as common in the community as it needs to be.

Both Ms. Turnball and Mr. Johnson also believe this is not something that can be done quickly. Mr. Johnson says the whole community of Ferguson needs to work together “a little bit longer.” He says, “It’s going to require a lot more heavy lifting, and it’s going to require us to be long suffering.”

Many in Ferguson say they hope the unarmed teenager’s death may lead to change and an improved relationship between community members and police.

VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem reported this story from Ferguson, Missouri. Ashley Thompson wrote it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in this Story

diversity n. the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

unarmedadj. not having a weapon; not armed

hug – v. to put your arms around someone especially as a way of showing love or friendship

conversationn. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people; the act of talking in an informal way

inequalityn. an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better opportunities than other people

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