SCSU Social Responsibility Student Organization member Britton Mikkelsen made her way back to St. Cloud after spending a week in Ferguson, Mo., aiding in the community rebuilding process through alternative spring break program “Operation Hush or Help.”
Mikkelsen caught an earlier train to Ferguson the first Saturday of spring break, though she still didn’t make it in until about 11:30 p.m. She arrived with about 50 to 60 other people. About half came from Atlanta, Ga. with the NAACP, and the other half with the program she came through.
Mikkelsen said that when she was on her way to Ferguson, friends of hers were asking what the city was like, asking whether it looked “war-torn.”
“People were kind of surprised by how normal the community was,” she said. It was as people were expecting a “war zone” when they got there, she said.
“What was happening with a lot of the spring breakers was our parents were expecting us to get hurt, arrested, [or] pulled into protests.” Mikkelsen said that other than the evening the two police officers were shot, there weren’t many protests, and the ones that did go on were peaceful.
Having arrived late in the evening, she didn’t mingle much, because her work was to begin Sunday morning.
That following morning her group headed off into the community and began the day by registering voters for the upcoming local election. She said her group spent the morning talking with people coming in and out of local businesses to help with registration.
“It was definitely a learning experience, because a lot of it was spent on teaching, and a lot of it was spent on community work,” Mikkelsen said.
They continued into the afternoon with canvasing. Later on, after turning in for the day, she said the group took the evening to reflect on the day’s work.
Much of their work in Ferguson surrounded voter registration, but she said they also dedicated time to community polling projects, which aimed at identifying what the spring breakers, as well as the city, could do to help the community. Projects ranged from cleaning up garbage, food sharing and helping with community gardens.
Wednesday morning they gave themselves the chance to step away from community work for a few hours to catch up on school work. Mikkelsen said the majority were students, ranging from high school seniors to graduate students.
Mikkelsen said much of the late afternoons and evenings were dedicated to workshops or listening to speakers, including professors from nearby universities and past city officials, talk about issues revolving around race.
The next morning she said the group’s lead organizer decided to focus on a community polling project that day to continue focusing on the needs of the community, mainly due to the shooting of the two police officers late the night before. Around lunch, they put the poll to work. They canvased, and talked to passersby and families.
“I think the biggest take-away is that it’s a community,” she said about Ferguson. “We were somewhere safe, we were in the community talking to people.”
Mikkelsen said the biggest issue the community wanted to address was garbage cleanup, but also wanted to see food sharing. Food sharing programs bring fresh fruits and vegetables to families and people of the community that don’t have access to them, or can’t afford them. Mikkelsen said she hopes to take part in programs like this over the summer, where she would return for another week in Ferguson.
“Some of us are trying to go back on the same week, so we can see each other,” she said. Mikkelsen’s roommate was from New York, she said, but she was able to work with people from all over the country.
“Not everyone can forget about Ferguson,” she said. “Because it’s St. Cloud…and it’s all these other cities around the country.”
“I think it’s easy to try and forget Ferguson and what’s happening, but I don’t think everybody can, and I don’t think we should,” she said. “Because if we forget, we allow it to happen in our communities.”