“I'm just so concerned about this election—it’s so troubling on so many levels,” she told me. “There is not a candidate that I feel speaks clearly for me and my family.” Thanks to events like the Brown killing, her concerns have shifted, she said.
“You wouldn’t believe how much stress the black community is under,” Jackson said. “Every mother worries about her son. Every wife worries about her husband. Even little children we worry about. If you sit with a group of women for any length of time, that’s where the conversation will go. We are out in the streets shouting and yelling, and nobody is hearing us.”
In the sparsely populated chapel, about 40 congregants swayed along to the hymns. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back,” they sang. The church’s regular pastor, Traci Blackmon, has been a prominent voice in the activist community, serving on the Ferguson Commission, meeting with Obama at the White House, and being named to the president’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
On this Sunday, Blackmon was absent, attending an out-of-town conference; an assistant pastor named Kimberly McKenzie was filling in, a colorful scarf draped atop her black robe. Her sermon began with a meditation on the new movie Birth of a Nation and the Nat Turner story. “Why does the setting of this film sound so familiar to what's going on today?” she asked. “Even in the midst of being beaten, starved, humiliated—men, women and children being raped and murdered—black and brown folk, they still trusted and believed in God,” she cried.
McKenzie moved on to politics. “I am so disgusted with this presidential election, more so than any other in my time,” she says. Without naming Trump, she launched into a tirade against a certain candidate who gropes and attacks women. “We cannot allow the next president to be someone with no regard, no respect, for anyone who doesn't look like him or who doesn't share the same socioeconomic status!” she said, to cheers.
In urgent tones, she exhorted the congregation to register and vote. “Don't let any excuse stop you from voting!” she said. Like many black churches, this one will conduct a “Souls to the Polls” drive to get out the vote, a church official told me.
One of the congregants cheering McKenzie's words was Alicia Street, a 31-year-old Ferguson resident wearing intentionally ripped jeans and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. After the service, she told me the Michael Brown protests, which she participated in, gave her a new awareness of race issues. “Ferguson gave many people voices that have not had a voice,” she said. “It awakened a lot of people in this country to what is going on with African Americans. It woke a lot of people up.”
Street was conflicted about the presidential election. “I'm not with her, I'm not with him,” she said. “I will vote, probably for neither one of them. I don't like Donald Trump, period. I don't like what he stands for. Hillary Clinton has the experience, but she's just trying to get elected.” She didn't think Clinton would do anything to help her community.
Since the protests, Street said, she hadn't seen anything change. “I have yet to see the police really do anything to solve the issue,” she said. “They just want to push it under the rug and move on.” I asked her if she was still hopeful.
“I have hope,” she said, “because we're going to keep fighting.”