7 Ways You Can Help People in Ferguson Now

You don't need to be local to assist the Missouri community's healing.

(Photo: Reuters/Jim Young)

Nov 25, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

After a night of heartbreak and heated protests, locals in Ferguson, Mo., spent Tuesday sweeping up broken glass and clearing away other debris. Plenty of Americans who don’t live in the community are asking themselves what they can do to help Ferguson rebuild and heal. Here are seven ways that you can make a difference from a distance.

1. Send a message of condolence to Michael Brown’s family

On Monday night the St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s shooting, but the teenager’s parents are still grieving the loss of their son. Messages of sympathy or support can be sent to the Brown family through the NAACP website.

2. Share resources for teaching students about what's happening in Ferguson

Students who have seen the news or heard about what’s been happening in Ferguson need their educators to speak knowledgeably and appropriately about Brown’s death, the grand jury decision, and the subsequent protests. “Teachers may be faced with students’ anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and questions,” wrote Julian Hipkins III at the Zinn Education Project. “Some students will wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and intimidation are all too familiar.”

The project, which provides resources for teaching history in middle and high school classrooms, has lesson plans, videos, and other information on topics relevant to the struggle in Ferguson, such as the history of racism, the militarization of police, and police brutality. Educators in your circle can also benefit from your passing along some dos and don’ts of teaching about Ferguson.

3. Donate to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library

Schools are shuttered in Ferguson, but on Tuesday the Ferguson Municipal Public Library kept its doors open to provide educational programs to the city’s children. But thanks to recent budget cuts, the library needs the public’s support to hire more staff—there’s no children’s librarian—and add to its collection of literature on civil rights and recovering from trauma.

4. Fund a DonorsChoose project for a classroom in the Ferguson-Florissant School District

As of this writing there are 23 DonorsChoose.org projects waiting to be funded in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. Many teachers working in schools that have been identified as “highest poverty”—more than 65 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch—have posted projects in need of support on the site.

“To explain our model, when a project reaches its funding goal, we ship the materials to the school. Donors get photos of the project taking place, a letter from the teacher, and insight into how every dollar was spent. Give over $50, and donors will also receive handwritten thank-yous from the students,” says Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer for the nonprofit.

Thirty-seven classroom projects in the Ferguson-Florissant School District have been funded through DonorsChoose.org since Aug. 1. “When donors support classrooms in Ferguson, Mo., through DonorsChoose.org, they can trust that their tax-deducible donation will go straight to the direct classroom they supported,” says Bisbee.

5. Support the St. Louis Food Bank

High poverty is a serious problem in Ferguson—about two-thirds of kids enrolled in the Ferguson-Florissant School District qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. A donation to the St. Louis Area Foodbank can help ensure that families in the community have food to eat, especially welcome as the holidays approach.

6. Help fund the legal defense of Ferguson protesters

Over the past few months dozens of protesters have been arrested. A donation to The Ferguson Legal Defense Fund can help bail them out of jail. And, as we noted after the August protests in Ferguson, the National Lawyers Guild and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment can also use your support.

7. Finally have that conversation about race

Because we live in segregated neighborhoods and tend to have segregated social networks, talking about race with someone who looks different takes a little effort. Also, it can feel scary. No one wants to admit to harboring racist or prejudiced feelings. But unless we open ourselves up to listening to each other and to having the tough conversations about race in America that we usually avoid, it's pretty likely that people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds will keep misunderstanding one another.