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News & Press: National Philanthropy News

A Year After Police Shooting, St. Louis Offers Lessons in Rebuilding

Wednesday, August 12, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz
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August 7, 2015

Chronicle of Philanthropy

There’s a vacant lot in Ferguson, Mo., where last August a QuikTrip was looted and burned.

The Urban League plans to open a job-training center next summer on the now-iconic site, where the convenience store was destroyed in the angry uprising after a white police officer killed black teenager Michael Brown Jr. In many ways, the empty plot symbolizes the struggles nonprofits and foundations in St. Louis face as they work to turn Ferguson into fertile ground for change.

Local nonprofits say they are up to the challenge, although finding a unified voice has proved elusive.

Donors are unsure of how to help the residents of Ferguson, a suburban area beset by poverty, racial tension, and a lack of economic opportunities. Some nonprofits with little or no presence in the region allegedly took advantage of the crisis to raise money for themselves, and corporate donors have favored projects that some local leaders say fail to tackle the issue of race head-on.

"These things are not going to turn around quickly," says Robert Hughes, president of the Missouri Foundation for Health. The region’s problems are so difficult, he says, because they have accumulated over "a significant history that’s deeply rooted in our institutions, behavior, and the way we interact with each other."

Even so, St. Louis foundations, nonprofits, businesses, and individuals are devoting time and money to dismantling unfair systems and creating a community where everyone can thrive.

"The incident was tragic, and the change that could result from the community sector could be transformative," says Diane Drollinger, chief executive of the city’s Nonprofit Services Center, which provides training, leadership development, and consulting.

With the subsequent violent deaths of other African-Americans in Baltimore, Charleston, Cincinnati, and elsewhere, calls for that kind of transformation have grown increasingly urgent. Making change happen in St. Louis has required organizations to look hard at their shortcomings, collaborate in new ways, and seek innovative ideas from overlooked sources.

"Everyone realizes the stakes are high," says Amelia Bond, president of the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation. "No one organization, no one donor can do it alone. It’s going to take a community."

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