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Hundreds march in black lives rally organized by Ferguson-Florissant schools

Hundreds march in black lives rally organized by Ferguson-Florissant schools

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FERGUSON — With an escort from Ferguson police, hundreds of people marched down South Florissant Road on Saturday for a rally organized by the Ferguson-Florissant School District to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

It was just one of several gatherings in the metro area Saturday in the wake of the killing of George Floyd on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody.

Among marches and rallies were ones in St. Louis’ Hill and Dutchtown neighborhoods, Crestwood, Wildwood, Maryland Heights, Webster Groves, Mascoutah and Waterloo.

Ferguson became the epicenter of protests after the killing in 2014 of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

Joseph Davis came to the school district in 2015 to become its superintendent because of Brown and the protests following his death.

Megaphone in hand, Davis led the crowd, which met at the Ferguson Farmers Market and walked about a half-mile south to the STEAM Academy at McCluer South-Berkeley High School.

“We see that systemic racism is part of the problem,” he said as the group gathered to march. “One of the remedies is we want to make sure every child in our community gets a high-quality education. We feel like that’s the reason for achievement gaps and other ills in our society.”

The district serves more than 11,000 children, 90% of whom are in a minority group.

Last year, the district closed three elementary schools amid declining enrollment and restructured the others, grouping preschoolers through second grade in the same buildings to focus more on early education.

Heather Coleman, 41, lives in Ferguson, graduated from Ferguson-Florissant schools, substitute teaches in a district elementary school and her nine children either graduated from or attend district schools.

“I love where we’re going and where we’re trying to go,” she said of the district. “Which is why we’re still here.”

But the problems are greater than the district, she said, as she marched up the road wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

“I love all the protests and I get it, but if the system doesn’t change, man, that’s almost like a slap in the face,” she said.

The crowd gathered on the bleachers at the high school, where Davis, school board president Leslie Hogshead and police Chief Jason Armstrong spoke.

Armstrong was sworn in as chief last July. He called the last two weeks in the wake of Floyd’s death “hell.” Some protesters have clashed with police there.

He loved Saturday’s sight of people gathering peacefully and urged people to help police and have more honest conversations with them.

“I’ll be the first person to admit — there are a lot of people in my profession who don’t want to see anything change,” he said. “That’s why I worked my butt off to get into a position of power where I can force things to change.”

Several Ferguson-Florissant high school students spoke, and some challenged the district to hire more minority teachers and offer more life skills classes. They praised the caring teachers and an inclusive, supportive community.

“We can bring the minorities of today to be the majorities of the future,” said Key’Mon Jenkins, a rising senior at the STEAM High school. He is a straight-A student who wants to study computer engineering.

Lotus MacDonald, a senior at McCluer High, spoke about using her white privilege to speak up for her minority classmates. She never has been followed around mall stores like her black classmates, she pointed out.

“I keep using the word ‘privilege,’ because part of my responsibility as a white person, most importantly a white ally, is acknowledging my privilege, something a large percent of white adults do not do,” she said.

“We are obligated to create a better society for everyone in the generations succeeding us.“

Following the speeches, the group knelt or bowed for 8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence to honor Floyd. That’s how long Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin kept his left knee on Floyd’s neck.

The scoreboard at one end of the field counted down the time until the buzzer sounded.

The crowd rose, and Davis thanked them for being there.

“God bless you,” he told them. “And God bless America.”

In St. Louis’ Hill neighborhood early Saturday evening, about 60 people gathered in Berra Park and then marched through the area.

At one point, there was a tense moment when a man driving a Jeep grabbed a marcher’s sign. But police defused the confrontation and the march continued peacefully, breaking up about an hour later after passing diners on restaurant patios.

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