Ferguson, MO - A small St. Louis suburb was put on the global map after the August 9, 2014 killing of Michael Brown by local police officer Darren Wilson, the subsequent local unrest, and massive nationwide protests that continue to this day.
Tensions remain high. The release of a scathing DoJ report highlighted deep-seated racially biased beliefs and practices at the Ferguson Police Department, something the local community has long known about and suffered from. The recent shooting of two police officers during a protest rally reignited tensions in a city that is still at the epicenter of a national debate over race and policing.
But Ferguson's story isn't just one of protests over questionable police practices. St. Louis' history of racial disparities is emblematic of many other US cities' past and present. On any given day, one can see the multitude of systemic and structural problems laid bare by the recent events.
I visited Ferguson twice in the fall of 2014 - not in search of "newsworthy" images but to spend time with the people whose struggle is often rendered invisible in the media frenzy. Beyond the protests, much more is palpable: The resilience of a community that hopes for the best and prepares for the worst. People that somehow find the strength to act to make things better, often purely by faith. In a world that keeps questioning the meaning and purpose of #blacklivesmatter, this community has always known they matter. And that is what I wanted to show: People that care deeply. Have immense pride and joy. Love hard. Whether the world's cameras are on them or not.
The following is a joint edit of the work I produced on behalf of MSNBC and Open Society Foundation.
Protestors carry the American flag during a nightly march that began as a vigil at the Canfield Green Apartment complex and ended with a rally at the Ferguson Police Department on Oct. 11, 2014.
Michelle Smith from neighboring Florissant, MO, and her children during a vigil in front of the Ferguson Police Department on Oct. 9, 2014.
Steven Nelson, an employee of The Original Red's BBQ, takes a smoke break on Oct. 10, 2014. The business on the corner of West Florissant Ave and Canfield Drive epitomizes the many ups and downs the city has seen in the months following the Mike Brown incident. Red's BBQ was looted and burned during the August riots. The owner later reopened, determined to stay in the community. The business was then damaged again in November 2014, during the unrest following the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson. The combination of the damage and the decline in customers ultimately killed the business. Red's permanently closed in January 2015.
Kai Mason visits the strip of destroyed businesses on West Florissant Ave. with his parents on Dec. 14, 2014. The family lives in Benton Park now but has many relatives in Ferguson.
Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, visits her son’s memorial at the Canfield Green Apartment complex in Ferguson on Oct. 10, 2014. Unidentified individuals had set the memorial on fire on Sep. 23 but local activists rebuilt immediately.
Artist and bakery owner Cbabi Bayoc visits the Vonderrit Myers Jr memorial site with his kids in St. Louis' Shaw district. An off-duty St. Louis police officer shot and killed Myers Jr. three nights ago, who police say fired a gun at the officer before the officer returned fire. The fatal shooting led to violent protests in the neighborhood and reignited tensions across St. Louis. Cbabi and his family live and work only a few blocks from the scene. "This could happen any day to any one of us. The fact is that people no longer trust what we are being told about these incidents."
A group of young steppers perform in front of the Mike Brown memorial on Canfield Drive. Oct. 11, 2014.
Gloomy fall skies near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
A young girl plays peekaboo during Sunday service at Wellspring Church in Ferguson. The church is only two blocks away from the police department and has been at the epicenter of the unrest.
Anthony Johnson, a resident of Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson, walks his daughter Aries home. The community on Canfield Drive has been impacted in several profound ways. A blockade and curfew after the August unrest severely limited people's mobility and access. Some were not able to get to work and as a result lost income or even their jobs. The few nearby shopping options for basic staples have now been even further limited due to the destruction on West Florissant Rd. While many residents support the protests and continue to demand justice, many also long for a sense of normalcy to return.
An emotional Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, leads a march from her son’s memorial on Canfield Drive to the Ferguson Police Department on Oct 11, 2014. McSpadden is accompanied by her husband Louis Head.
A group of children hang out in front of a section of the Canfield Green Apartment complex. October 11, 2014.
Re. Willis Johnson gathers his thoughts before his sermon at Wellspring Church.
Cbabi Bayoc at his SweetArt Bake Shop in the Shaw neighborhood of St, Louis, MO on Oct. 10, 2014. After the Mike Brown killing and subsequent months of unrest, the shop became a community conduit for tough discussions about race and police profiling. Cbabi hosted "Cupcakes and Conversation" as the informal meetings were called, after hours on Fridays. The killing of Vonderrit Myers in October and the grand jury decision in November meant that tensions in the Shaw didn't ease, so Cbabi continued to offer his shop as a safe space for anyone who needed it. “The best thing I can do is be here in the open and offer a space to talk and not be cooped up in the house watching it all on the news or out in the streets,” says Bayoc.
Residents at Canfield Green Apartments witness the arrival of Ferguson police on the evening of October 11, 2014. "At times, it can feel like we're under siege in our own neighborhood," one resident says.
Pastor Willis Johnson before the beginning of his Sunday service at Wellspring Church. Johnson has been among the most vocal and proactive clergy in Ferguson, being engaged in the protests, co-organizing interfaith initiatives such as "Moral Monday" in October 2014, and opening his church as a safe haven for protesters and residents during the worst of the unrest.
A protester raises his fist chanting "No justice, no peace" during a nightly march toward the Ferguson Police Dept. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Pallbearers carry a mock mirrored coffin during a demonstration in front of the Ferguson Police Department on Oct. 10, 2014. Police smashed the coffin with their batons when it came too close to the police line.
Christopher Williams enjoys a tender moment with his daughter Lena during Sunday service at Wellspring Church. Dec. 7, 2014.
Cbabi Bayoc paints at a live arts event at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center, St. Louis, MO. On the night of the grand jury announcement, Bayoc finished a painting he began in late September at the corner of W. Florissant and Canfield Drive, near the site where Mike Brown was killed.
The Father Figure represents both Michael Brown Sr. and Tracey Martin, the fathers of Michael Brown Jr. and Trayvon Martin. It's a representation of his concerns about the national events that continue to hit so very close to home. "I often worry about how the world perceives me when I leave the house; a danger, a potential threat. It doesn't consume me, but it's something you think about daily," says Bayoc.
A police officer faces protesters in front of the Ferguson Police Department building on Oct. 10, 2014.
Kai Mason shows off his dance skills to his parents Jasmine Bell and Terence Mason after dinner. Kai goes to City Garden School in St. Louis' Shaw district, which became its own hot zone of protests after the nearby killing of Vonderrit Myers in October 2014. City Garden used the tumultuous events to launch a series of conversations among parents and staff called "Colorbrave" to challenge bias and racism. "The intent is to highlight the need to be color brave rather than color blind, as we commit to dismantling systemic inequities, it says on the school's event flyer.
Protesters picketing the intersection of Ferguson Ave. and South Florissant Ave, blocks away from the Ferguson Police Department. October 11, 2014.
Protesters confront the police line in front of the Ferguson Police Department on Oct. 10, 2014.
Cathy and Jerome Jenkins are the owners of Cathy's Kitchen, a soul food restaurant one block away from the police department. During the night of riots following the grand jury decision, neighboring businesses were vandalized, but a group of protesters protected Cathy's Kitchen from the same fate. Only minimal damage occurred. "Ferguson is a tight-knit community and we help each other," said the couple. "But we are disappointed that after months of preparation and a state of emergency declared days before the decision, no police or national guard troops were here to protect our businesses. As residents, we always supported one another. But it seems the system still has to catch up. They dropped the ball on the community. We are overwhelmed by the support of the people but it's also been a reminder that we are all we got."
Spoken word poet and activist, Marcellus Buckley, aka "Ferguson's Poet", during a nightly vigil in front of Ferguson Police Dept. on Oct. 9, 2014.
Ferguson Police arrive at an apartment on Canfield Drive to investigate a domestic altercation that triggered a 9-1-1 call. October 11, 2014.
Anthony Johnson at home with his daughter Aries on Canfield Drive. Ferguson, MO October 11, 2014.
Protestors marching on Ferguson Ave. with the Ferguson Police Department as the ultimate destination for the night. Oct. 11, 2014.
Terence Mason ensures his son Kai doesn't miss a spot during bath time. "Kai is five now, but one day we will sit down and have 'The Talk' with Kai re. how society will perceive him as a young black male, and how to behave in public to minimize unforeseen harmful encounters. It shouldn't be something he should face, but unfortunately that will be our reality and we have to prepare him for it." December 10, 2014.
Educator Peggy Hull facilitates a youth workshop called "Future in Action" at Wellspring Church. She promotes the development of healthy self-esteem and personal accountability. She aims to create a safe space for kids to share their experiences re. the events in Ferguson and across the country. Dec. 9, 2014.
Barber Christopher Williams with his longest-term customer, Melidor, a 70-year old retiree. Williams has been cutting Melidor's hair for 14 years now. "Change happens slowly and gradually. It takes a lot of patience and hard work. And it's not glamorous. After all the media are gone and people stop talking about Ferguson, we'll still be here working."
Cbabi Bayoc at his SweetArt Bake Shop with his daughter Jurni. On the wall are paintings Bayoc created as part of his "365 Days with Dad" project, for which he painted one image of black fatherhood each day for a year. The urgency of his work has given him national notoriety but it's now gone way beyond art. “It’s not just art for art’s sake. All of this has definitely changed my brush stroke. I just look at my own two boys and my girl and realize just how easily they could be taken," says Bayoc.
Weekend shoppers at the Target store on West Florissant Ave in Jennings, MO, about a mile and a half from "ground zero." On the surface, commercial activity has returned to normal but tensions are still palpable.
Peggy Huff and her "Future in Action" class take a break during Sunday School at Wellspring Church. December 7, 2014.
A nightly demonstration led by the Brown family winds its way down Ferguson Avenue on Oct 11, 2014. It converged with another group of protesters in front of Ferguson Police Department.
Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart and congregation from Christ Missionary Baptist in Memphis TN pray and sing "We Shall Overcome" at the Mike Brown Memorial on Canfield Drive.
Mubaarik Sulaimaan and daughter Ayo at the corner of West Florissant Ave. and Canfield Drive. The Mubaariks hail from Memphis TN and have been driving to Ferguson every weekend since the August unrest. The family owns a t-shirt company and has been selling activist themed t-shirts for many years. "We drove to Florida for Trayvon Martin or Jena, LA after the Jena Six case. Mike Brown is just another reminder that this could have been any one of us."
A mother and her son in front of the Ferguson Police Department during a nightly protest on Oct. 11, 2014.
Terence Mason in his old neighborhood on West Florissant Ave. Both he and his partner Jasmine Bell still have family in Ferguson whom they visit regularly. The strip malls are busy with shoppers again but the scars of the past months are clearly visible. "I honestly don't care if black lives matter to anybody but black people in the future," says Terence. "Once we learn to truly love ourselves, we will matter. We have always mattered to us."