FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — The president of the National Urban League says he’s seen “steps in the right direction” in Ferguson, Missouri, in the three years since Michael Brown’s death, and he’s hopeful the new Ferguson Community Empowerment Center will help even more.
The $3 million center was built on the property where a QuikTrip convenience store was burned during rioting after the 18-year-old Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9, 2014. The center that will house a job training and placement service and other offices officially opens Wednesday — the same day the Urban League kicks off its national conference in St. Louis.
“I think there have been steps in the right direction,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said in a phone interview this week. But he said the events in Ferguson after Brown’s death also highlighted the “challenges of poverty, the challenges of disparities in education, health and political participation.”
Brown and a friend were walking along Canfield Drive in Ferguson when police officer Darren Wilson told them to get out of the street. Heated words turned into a scuffle between Brown and Wilson, who is white. Wilson fatally shot Brown who he said was moving menacingly toward him once he was out of his squad car. Some witnesses had said Brown was surrendering.
The initial unrest in the St. Louis suburb erupted after Brown’s body lay in the street for hours in the summer heat. More protests gripped the town after a St. Louis County grand jury in November 2014 declined to charge Wilson, who resigned a short time later. The U.S. Justice Department also cleared him, but an investigation by that agency uncovered patterns of racial bias and profiling in Ferguson’s police and courts.
Ferguson reached a settlement with the Justice Department that calls for revised police practices, court reforms and other changes.
“It would be a mistake to characterize that, quote-unquote, ‘Ferguson is back,’” Morial said. “It would be, and is, important to say that there are tremendous efforts underway in Ferguson to move that community in a better direction.”
Morial and civic leaders are hopeful the Empowerment Center is the next step in that evolution.
The night after Brown’s death, as a peaceful candlelight vigil was going on at the shooting site, rioters torched the convenience store that stood less than a mile away.
Oklahoma-based QuikTrip demolished the building and donated the property to the Urban League, which announced plans for the Empowerment Center in July 2015. Several companies and organizations donated money to build it. St. Louis County provided $1 million in tax credits.
The centerpiece of the project is the Urban League’s Save Our Sons job training and placement service. The center also will house offices for the Salvation Army, Lutheran Hope Center and the University of Missouri Extension Service.
About 20,000 people are expected to attend the Urban League conference that will also include a “State of Black America” town hall meeting, a gathering of urban mayors to discuss economic needs, a career fair, and a volunteer day in which backpacks will be donated to 10,000 children.
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