Stefani Weeden-Smith, The National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis (NCCJ St. Louis)

On what’s missing from national conversation:

I think what is still challenging here is we all want it to be over fast. I think there is a belief for most folks you know, “why is this not over yet? Why can’t we just be over it?” I have much more of a long term type of view on that. It really is much more of spiritual practice. We have to keep on coming to it again and again. We have to continue to be able to have dialogue across difference and be okay with the hard stuff and be able to keep on being there. And I don’t know if we all, including myself, have the fortitude to do that.

I think that for me I would still love to continue to have dialogue across difference. I still find still that there’s this side and there is this side and I don’t see enough people having those conversations across difference. I feel like at the beginning of all this we were seeing a little more of that and really our work, NCCJ St. Louis, is for finding that space of compassion for the other.

On being black in America:

I guess it’s still those limitations. I look at all the conversations about “the talk” and though I feel the talk is necessary I look at the other end at how is it also it doesn’t allow young people to be free. It doesn’t allow them to be able to have a full range of emotions about things and I feel at some levels we’re asking, especially young men, to be like “this might be an awful situation but you have to suck it up and do all these things to make sure you stay alive.” And I think that’s something across the board that as a community we do in small and big ways. All the way to the president. And I struggle myself raising a five year old. I had a friend who really warned me she was like “you have to allow her to be free.” I was saying how there’s still my internalized stuff where I’m saying “I don’t want this to happen to her” so I try on some level to keep her small. I don’t think my white counterparts have to think about that. I think they let their kids be free and explore but in the back of my mind I’m still like “oh I don’t want the world to hurt her.”

On peaceful protesting:

I really would have loved even with the peaceful protests to be able to see the inspiring part of that. To see there’s babies, college students, older folks, people that came In from all over the world. People that opened their homes. I don’t think we saw enough of those stories. People mobilized. There was more of this “Ferguson is burning.” It totally misrepresented the possibilities of peaceful protests.

Ferguson is…was an amazing community to grow up in. Is amazing people with a lot of stories and families. Ferguson is and was the epitome of the United States. It is the story of many stories throughout the country. It is our cautionary tale.