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Thanksgiving Brings Hope for Better Future in Ferguson

Pastor Tommie Pierson preaches during a Thanksgiving service that discussed the reaction in Ferguson, Missouri, to developments in the Michael Brown case, Nov. 27, 2014.

After several days of violence and tension, Thanksgiving brought a measure of calm to Ferguson.

The St. Louis, Missouri, suburb drew global attention when the shooting in August of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer resulted in protests that turned violent. On Monday, a grand jury announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting Michael Brown, resulting in more violence.

But as residents have reflected upon what's happened, they've begun hoping for a better future.

Pastor Tommie Pierson's Greater St. Mark Family Church in St. Louis is near a beauty shop that was burned to the ground in Monday's violence. The church has served as a designated sanctuary since August, when violence first broke out in Ferguson. Protesters gathered at the church for training in nonviolent action.

Plea for understanding

At the sparsely attended Thanksgiving morning service, Pierson said that "the road has not been easy" for Ferguson residents, and that there are things that outsiders need to understand about the community.

"I hope that the commission that the governor has set up will understand that you cannot expect me to act the way you act when I haven't been exposed to the level of education that you have been exposed to," he said, referring to a panel that will study police tactics in the community.

The congregation hung on his every word. Pierson said burning down one's home in anger is foolish — a message local resident Marrie Magee understands well.

"The first QuikTrip that got burned, that's where I used to go to every morning" for coffee, she said, referring to a local convenience store.

She cannot go there anymore, but she hopes that the tragedy of a destroyed neighborhood will result in a police force that reflects the racial makeup of the community, and that both police and the community will learn how to treat each other better.

This is a hope shared by others, like Loretha Cain, a college student who attends Greater St. Mark every Sunday.

"I feel like some people feel like they have to be negative in order to get attention," she said, "but I feel that if we do things that are positive, we can show other people that we can learn from this situation in a healthy manner and hopefully it allows our community to grow together instead of falling apart."

Optimism on commission

Pierson has high hopes for Governor Jay Nixon's investigating panel.

“I know a number of the people on the commission," he said. "They're good people ... men and women of faith. And I think that faith will rise to the occasion and allow them to do what is in the best interest of the people.”

Meanwhile, the protests that started in Ferguson have spread across the country. Many hope that will lead to a change in attitudes on a larger scale.