Blog author and our St. Louis Executive Director, Brittany Packnett, demonstrates #DONTSHOOT on Wednesday in Ferguson, Missouri.

Education Didn’t Save Mike Brown

The air is thick here in Ferguson.

Here, in my hometown, only 12 minutes from my house, the air is thick with racial tension, mounting distrust of authority, flowing tears of a community in grief and civil unrest and frustration with consistent injustice.

The air is also thick with tear gas.

By now, you’ve seen national news reports that tell you what I’ve known all my life: North County can be especially dangerous for black folk. Black men. Young black men. Young black men like Mike Brown.

Last Saturday, our young brother Mike, in whom his mother had placed her hopes and dreams, was murdered at the hands of someone meant to serve and protect, but who for decades has only been seen as one who intimidates and terrorizes.

Years earlier, my brother’s first encounter with police brutality occurred in a neighborhood with an eerily similar reputation, directly adjacent to Ferguson. My father, a well-respected Pastor and College Professor was thrown against the hood of his imported car and beaten as my brother watched, screaming and crying from the backseat.

My brother was 5.

That was 20 years ago.

In those 20 years, the story has remained the same. Strike that. The story has actually changed. It is now deadly.

For me, this means the anger which has been brewing for 20 of my 29 years of life has surfaced. It climbed to a peak when Mike was shot down like an animal, left to lie in the street for 4 hours. And when, after having breakfast on West Florissant to show solidarity and love to a strip that had been looted the night before, I was told that my stalled car wouldn’t be towed from a heavily policed area at 10 am,that rage grew..

And when I learned of the horror of young men armed only with cell phones being commanded to drop to their knees to then be sprayed with tear gas, and a pregnant woman being smashed into the pavement on her stomach for sitting in a car, that rage practically exploded.

I believe in non-violent civil action. I know that riots solve nothing. But I understand what Dr. King meant when he told Mike Wallace “a riot is the language of the unheard,” nearly 50 years ago. And in a community long overlooked, underserved, and continually harassed by law enforcement, the pressure finally burst the proverbial pipe.

But amidst my righteous rage, another, perhaps oxymoronic feeling emerged.

Love.

I feel love for our resilient children who face this harsh world every day.

I have love for our brave students who press forward toward the mark of the high calling even when they can’t see it. Students who demand the very best from us and who deserve nothing less.

I have love for our babies who lead lives that matter even if the world keeps telling them the opposite.

Because I listened to Dr. King when he also told us that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The air is still thick in St. Louis. We’re still fighting for our dignity and demanding a fair shot.

But revolutionary love can begin to help us see our way through the fog, toward justice.

We must affirm the greatness and potential of our children every single day, because the world is showing them far too often that their lives don’t matter.

Education didn’t save Michael Brown. Racism killed him. There seems to be only one solution - end racism.

And so we must love our students enough to face the uncomfortable fact that, while issues of inequitable education, unemployment and poverty contributed to this crisis, racism is the cause for Mike’s death and the reason young black men are disproportionate targets of excessive force daily.

We must love our students enough to engage in the hard work of active anti-racism, confronting our own biases and ensuring that we dismantle deadly systems of racial dominance and oppression.

We must show our students the kind of revolutionary love that expects the most from them and demands the most of ourselves, as we determine to be actively anti-racist adults who build empowered children.

It’s what Michael would have wanted and what he deserved. “’Everyone else wanted to be a football player, a basketball player,” said Gerard Fuller, who had known Brown since second grade at Pine Lawn Elementary School. “He wanted to own his own business. He’d say, ‘Let’s make something out of nothing.’”

Here at home in St. Louis, we will press forward in love to honor him.

A native St. Louisan, Brittany Packnett is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from American University. She began her career as a third grade teacher in Southeast Washington, D.C. as a member of the 2007 Teach For America corps. Determined to make her students’ voices heard by critical policy makers, she moved to Capitol Hill and served as an education and domestic social policy legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Wm. Lacy Clay of Missouri, her hometown Congressman. Brittany continued in education policy work as a director of government affairs for Teach For America’s national team, advocating for the work of our teachers and students across the country and building champions for educational equity. As the daughter of educators and community leaders, Brittany is thrilled to have returned home to lead Teach For America — St. Louis as Executive Director, and fervently believes that St. Louis will one day be a center of access, equity, and freedom for every child.

This post originally appeared on Pass The Chalk, Teach For America’s blog.