Volunteers rebuild in Ferguson

By Rebecca Jacobs

FERGUSON, MO. — Store windows along Florissant Road in Ferguson, Missouri, are boarded up, but the windows won’t be drab for long. 

Volunteers are painting the plywood where rioters and looters damaged property the night of Nov. 24 following the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

On Aug. 9, Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Brown in Ferguson. Following the grand jury decision, some protestors became violent, looting businesses and breaking windows. Now the people of Ferguson are trying to rebuild from the damage done.

The morning of Nov. 25, Darcy Edwin, a Ferguson resident, walked with her husband along Florissant Road to see the aftermath of the damage. The couple asked workers at Ferguson Optical if they could paint a positive message on the windows the workers were boarding up, and the workers said yes.

Since the Michael Brown shooting, Ferguson Optical had a sign out front that read, “Stay strong Ferguson. We are family.” Edwin has incorporated that sign into her painting of a multi-color tree that symbolizes that the citizens of Ferguson are family, and they grow strong together. 

“We felt kind of hopeless,” Edwin said. “This isn’t going to fix the big issues, but it shows we care about the community and the strength of the community.”

Edwin said that hundreds of people have come by and asked her about the painting, thanking her for her volunteer work. 

But Edwin isn’t the only one out painting. Down the street, Anya Toler, a resident of Crestwood, Missouri, which is about 30 minutes away from Ferguson, was painting a snow globe on a boarded window. Toler said she got involved when she saw a Facebook group called Painting for Peace looking for volunteers.

“The goal is to have all the boards painted by Christmas,” said Toler, explaining that the Facebook group wants to make the street bright and cheerful for the holiday season. 

Toler said once the owners replace the windows with glass, the Facebook group plans to auction off the painted boards to raise money for what was destroyed.

Along Florissant Road, groups of painters are also writing positive messages on storefronts. One large window had a line from Dr. Suess’s “The Lorax,” which read, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better; it’s not.”

Common messages on signs were “Ferguson Strong” and “We Love Our Businesses.” Many of the boards had the word “open” in giant letters so people knew the stores were still open despite the boarded-up look.

On Florissant Road is a nonprofit store called I Love Ferguson, which sells merchandise promoting positive messages about the community to raise money to rebuild the businesses that were damaged by rioters since the shooting in August. So far, I Love Ferguson has donated $15,000 to businesses from donations and sales, and the nonprofit plans to donate $35,000 in December.

Merchandise has been sold to all 50 states in the country and to 30 other countries in the world. Store volunteers said people come in the store with big donations all the time.

Even though I Love Ferguson was closed on Sunday, the door was left unlocked for people to come in. Someone donated paint for window volunteers. Two men from Los Angeles and Florida came in to say they had to get shirts before they left town.

Sandy Sansevere is a volunteer at I Love Ferguson and has lived in Ferguson for the past 27 years. The Tuesday morning after the riots from the grand jury decision, Sansevere said she was in the store with other volunteers in tears from the destruction.

“We do what we do best,” she said. “We’re going to rebuild and come back better than before.”

Rebecca can be reached at [email protected].