FERGUSON, Mo.—Heralded as hope for economic empowerment of young black men, construction was launched Thursday on a job-training center where a QuikTrip once stood before being looted and torched a night after last summer’s police shooting death of Michael Brown.
The groundbreaking ceremony for what will become the Urban League Community Empowerment Center came 11 months to the day that Brown died roughly three-quarters of a mile away, spawning sometimes violent protests and a national “Black Lives Matter” crusade.
Business and Urban League dignitaries said the center means a possible pivot toward better times for Ferguson and its underemployed youth.
“(Last) Aug. 9 didn’t cause our problems; Aug. 9 exposed our problems,” Steve Sullivan, executive director of the Provident Inc. counseling service that will have an office at the center, told about 250 people who gathered under a tent for Thursday’s event.
It was not immediately clear how quickly the center might be built or exactly what it will cost, though the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis said regional companies have contributed more than $1 million toward the effort, which includes giving young jobless or underemployed men a month’s training.
The center also will house the local “Save Our Sons” program that arose out of the turmoil over Brown’s death. That program already has schooled 100 young black men and looks to do the same with 400 more over the next two years, matching them with area jobs.
Housing, rent, and utility assistance also will be offered at the center, along with mental-health services.
“Where scorched earth once was, we will have a facility that truly represents progress,” said St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a Democrat.
Thursday’s scene at the fence-enclosed property offered scant reminders of the scarred state—and a nexus of protests—it became when the QuikTrip there went up in flames a night after Brown’s death. Oklahoma-based QuikTrip later paid to demolish that building and rip out the underground gas tanks, then donated the property to the Urban League.