In the wake of the Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, several Shaw Neighborhood residents got together to figure out how their neighborhood could respond. Supported by the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association (SNIA), the neighborhood began a series of “Shaw Conversations” early in October of 2014. On October 8th, one week after the start of “Shaw Conversations”, VonDerritt Myers was shot and killed by a St. Louis City Police Officer in the Shaw Neighborhood. Residents were understandably upset by the incident and many had very different views on this issue. Accordingly, Shaw Conversations transitioned from “what does Shaw need to do about Ferguson” to “what does Shaw need to do about Shaw”. In April of 2015, SNIA and the community decided that more productive conversations would come from an outside facilitator. NCCJ St. Louis was invited to lead these conversations and provided a new outlook and professional resources to encourage positive communication in the community.
Over the past two years, NCCJ has lead conversations based in best practices and quality education. On one occasion, NCCJ’s program director, Dewitt Campbell taught LARA to Shaw residents and moderators for Next Door, a social media group for neighborhood discussions. LARA stands for “listen”, “affirm”, “respond”, and “add”, and promotes healthy dialogue amongst people whose ideas differ, and is especially useful when having conversations about tough topics like the police shootings that started the Shaw Conversations. This lesson in LARA later proved its usefulness, when two residents had very different viewpoints engaged in a constructive dialogue, and both residents admitted that they had never listened to the rational reasoning of a viewpoint other than their own. In the end, they were both able to better understand where each other was coming from. NCCJ is proud to support Shaw Conversations, and the Shaw neighborhood, in its efforts to tackle difficult topics, and invites other neighborhoods to make similar efforts to bridge the differences that separate us.
Shaw Conversations are scheduled for the third Wednesday of each month from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Missouri School for the Blind. The mission states, “Shaw Conversations are frequent and ongoing opportunities for open and honest conversations among ALL Shaw Neighborhood residents regarding issues of social inequality.”