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Remembering Michael Brown

August 9, 2017, 6:11 PM UTC

Today is the third anniversary of Michael Brown’s death; three years since his mother, Lesley McSpadden, had to identify his bullet-ridden body, grief-stricken and bereft, unaware of the extraordinary events still to come.

The incident tore at deep wounds that were both specific to Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown lived, but also spoke to the broader experience of being black, young, and vulnerable in America. “He was no angel,” the New York Times unfortunately declared. “He could have been our son,” said many in response.

Brown’s death stirred something deep inside people who watched the story unfold on television and social media. (For more, click through for this short video from Fortune’s Stephen Valdivia.)

“It was the image of an African American kid, shot down, and left in the street. You personalize that,” Bernard Tyson, the CEO of Bernard J. Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, a health care company with nearly $60 billion in annual revenue told Fortune. He left the ‘it could have been me,’ unsaid.

But it has also stirred something in the Ferguson community, who has spent the last three years laboring under the weight of the world’s gaze.

“There are definitely two towns here,” a volunteer from the “I Love Ferguson” campaign told me recently. “But this is a great community, it’s not what people think.” The campaign started in the weeks after Brown died, with an “I Love Ferguson” window placard. They now sell buttons, t-shirts, caps and other items. There’s even an annual golf tournament.“We’ve got merchandise in every state and thirty countries,” he says. “The money helps local businesses,” he said, then leans in to whisper. “You know a lot of them didn’t have fire insurance.”

The work continues. Since Brown died, there have been elections, a new police chief, and often contentious debates about resources and justice. But, there are signs of hope.

Centene, a health care and claims processing firm, opened a truly beautiful state-of-the-art call center.

The QuikTrip gas station that burned down is now the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, a $5.8 million partnership between the National Urban League and the Salvation Army. Among other things, it will administer an initiative called Save Our Sons, which provides job training and other support to young men-at-risk in the Ferguson area.

There is also a relatively new Starbucks. It has become a community hub, part of a commitment the company has embraced to help create jobs and opportunity for communities that might otherwise be overlooked on corporate road maps.

It was there, one rainy April afternoon, that I met Amber, who was about to graduate with a degree in health care management from a local college. She was with the Urban League’s Monique Williams-Moore, who has been running job-readiness programs in the area, including a unique one created with Starbucks to give promising kids with complicated lives a chance to learn customer service and team work. She’s even held coding classes in the Ferguson Starbucks’s dedicated community room. Her goal is to get local youth ready to enter a world which may not be ready for them. “We need local employers to be comfortable hiring our kids,” says Williams-Moore. “And our kids need feel ready to put down whatever is going on in their lives, and become productive members of the workforce.” She looked at Amber and beamed.

Amber, 20, has a dream of opening a clinic to help people with sickle cell anemia. She has it, too. “I’ve been really sick, but I made it,” she says of her upcoming graduation. Her mother died a few years ago, the father of her two-year-old died of the disease shortly after their daughter was born. She went to Normandy High School, walking the same halls with Michael Brown, who she says was sweet. “Like warm, a comforting presence,” she says, clearly used to answering questions about him. Williams-Moore helped her get into a special college program that lets her go to school at night, sometimes bringing her child along.

Amber has a message to all the activists, corporate donors, program designers and educators who are helping to provide the additional support that the community desperately needed in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. It’s working — at least in her case.

But the absence of Michael Brown, Ferguson’s most famous son, is still keenly felt.

“Tell people that we can flourish in our own community,” says Amber. “I don’t want anyone to think that they have to leave Ferguson to get what they want out of life.” What she wants is the power to make things better for her neighbors. “What [Williams-Moore] says is that she’s just planting seeds. Well, I’m the seed, and I’m not the only one.”

On Point

Susan Wojcicki responds to the now famous Google anti-diversity memoSusan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive officer, is clearly a successful woman in tech - which is what makes her strongly worded response to James Damore’s anti-diversity manifesto even more powerful. She starts by describing her own fraught path. “I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings,” she says. But she doubles down on the argument that this is a conversation worth having. “What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles?” she asks. “Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author?” A must read.Fortune

The Trump administration is determined to roll back decades of protections for “minorities”
This Bloomberg piece provides a grim tally while highlighting the deepening divide that is making normal discourse on the subject feel unusually thorny. The anti-diversity rhetoric is emboldening employees – not unlike the author of the Google memo – to share their once unpopular views more publicly. "Diversity is a way of justifying discrimination -- hiring people based on their race, and that’s a violation of federal law," a lawyer at the conservative Heritage Foundation told Bloomberg. "That’s what the prior administration wanted to ignore."

Heavier Asians seem more American, new study finds
The study was conducted at the University of Washington (and published by Psychological Science magazine) found that heavier Asian Americans are more likely to be perceived as "American" than skinnier ones, and that thinner Asian people were more likely to have their citizenship called into question. "We found that there was a paradoxical social benefit for Asian Americans,” said the author of the study. “Extra weight allows them to be seen as more American and less likely to face prejudice directed at those assumed to be foreign." Click through for the methodology and then just throw up your hands.
Angry Asian Man

Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi: “I felt he was saying, ‘I might hit you.’”
The television host and author testified earlier this week in an ongoing suit against four Boston-area Teamsters who attempted to extort the producers of Top Chef for driving jobs. The men swarmed Lakshmi’s vehicle, calling her a “towel-head,” and a “c-nt.” The star reported being “petrified” in riveting testimony. There were more than 940 reports of potential bias incidents involving the targeting of Muslims between April and June, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) last month. 

The Woke Leader

Ta-Nehisi Coates: There is no need to reserve judgment on HBO’s “Confederate”
The very premise of the show is the problem, the famous essayist and author asserts, and one that makes a wait-and-see approach unacceptable. “We do not need to wait to observe that this supposition is, at best, dicey,” he says. What do the creators mean by “what would the world have looked like…if the South had won?” he wonders. What they really mean, he says, is the “white” South, the people who lost the chief engine behind their wealth. “The symbols point to something Confederate’s creators don’t seem to understand—the war is over for them, not for us,” he says. In addition to being a “shockingly unoriginal idea,” it joins a canon composed of white people wishing away the liberty that was so hard won, and yet never fully realized. “African Americans do not need science-fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that that ‘history is still with us.’”
The Conversation

How to avoid social media hate
Meredith Clark offers an interesting filter for anyone who wants to avoid being “myopic” when they publish anything online: The Talese Test. Named for Gay Talese, who horrified audiences last year with an unfortunate exchange with a black female New York Times writer, it encourages anyone who writes about diverse topics to seek feedback from people with lived experiences and to employ empathy in writing.

In the war on race, the children suffer most
Last year Yamiche Alcindor interviewed the parents and caretakers of some of the children who have lost loved ones in the controversial, and highly publicized, police shootings in the last few years, and finds traumatized children and families unable to heal. On this difficult anniversary, it's worth a look back.“They are aware of what’s going in the world, of how you can leave your house and you can very well end up in a body bag,” says the sister of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody.
New York Times


Far too often in America, women of color [are assumed to not] fit the archetype of leadership. Women of color are doing incredibly important work … and we can’t do that to scale if we continue to erase women of color from the larger conversation on women [in leadership].
—Brittany Packnett