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Viewpoint On Ferguson: People Have To Understand The Other Side


And let's hear now from one member of the Ferguson community. Steve Sullivan runs Provident. It's a network of counseling and crisis centers in the St. Louis area that covers Ferguson. Sullivan wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that things will only get better if people work to understand the other side, whatever that might be. Mr. Sullivan is on the line with us. Thanks for joining us this morning.

STEVE SULLIVAN: Thanks, David, glad to be here.

GREENE: So you've lived in the St. Louis area, including Ferguson, most of your whole life. Is that right?

SULLIVAN: That's right. I spent probably the first 30-plus years of my life in North County Ferguson.

GREENE: And we're seeing these violent images coming from a community that you know so well. As you see this playing out, what do you think about?

SULLIVAN: Well, you know, we don't like how Ferguson looks to the world these days. But I really see some positive energy coming out of this. You know, right now, when we're still in these violent times, we're seeing a lot of finger-pointing, a lot blaming but there is an undertow of positive energy coming out of this that I think will survive for the long term.

GREENE: Tell me how you see that positive energy because, you know, what we see in the television images, it's so difficult to see that as an outsider right now.

SULLIVAN: You know, I'm a member of the Urban League as well. And in the first week following the Michael Brown incident, I spent a day down at Canfield Green with the Urban League, the apartment complex where Michael Brown was shot. And first of all, it was a very loving experience. There was no hate. There was no anger. It was a community coming together even in those days. But as young men came out of the apartments, what we heard was a need for some economic opportunities, for some jobs. And I'll tell you, although this hasn't met the made the headlines nationally, we've got some fine St. Louis companies like Centene that's already announced it's going to start a call center in Ferguson. Emerson Electric has come through with money. Express Scripts is a major U.S. corporation right on the border of Ferguson, and they're all coming to the table to see what they can do to bring jobs into the community. So we're on the right track to healing in those ways, in the economic ways.

GREENE: Let me just ask you about what you wrote in the Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis newspaper. You said people in Ferguson have to work to understand each other, which I hear is you saying right now, that's not happening. So what do you see next in the community?

SULLIVAN: Look, I've got friends on both sides of these issues. And, you know, I know some very dear and loving and kind white folks that I talked to that once they see violence, they just shut it off. They say, that's the end of the story. I'm not even going to talk about this anymore. And it's because people feel uncomfortable. And believe me, in no way am I condoning violence or burning down buildings, but we've got to get past that. I mean, we've got to understand that the violence is there because underlying all this, people are very angry. People are very upset. Now, we can turn that negative energy into positive energy. We can really get somewhere in healing the problems that are kind of underlying this whole last few months in St. Louis.

GREENE: But it sounds like actually being open to conversation is a big part of that.

SULLIVAN: Oh - being uncomfortable in your conversation. You know, going somewhere to sit down and talk to people that you would have never thought about before. I'm really hopeful we can really make this a better place.

GREENE: Steve Sullivan runs Provident. It's a network of counseling centers in the St. Louis area including Ferguson. Mr. Sullivan, thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.