IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ferguson residents pick up the pieces

Karen Gold paints on a boarded window of her store in Ferguson, Missouri, on Nov. 26, 2014.
Karen Gold paints on a boarded window of her store in Ferguson, Missouri, on Nov. 26, 2014.

FERGUSON, Missouri — Seventeen-year-old Molly Rodgers couldn’t paint over all the destruction on the streets of downtown Ferguson, but she was willing to try. With a set of brushes and a few bottles of paint, Rodgers set out to do what little revitalization she could, using the boarded-up window at Cathy’s Kitchen as her canvas.

Her message, in pink and white cursive letters: “Love will win.”

Once a quiet, suburban home to a quaint, historic downtown, Ferguson now represents an entire movement, with much of the city roiled over the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. by a white police officer. And as the city wrestles with the image that its streets now symbolize, many residents remain eager to bring back elements of Ferguson’s roots.

RELATED: Michael Brown’s mom responds to Darren Wilson remarks

Rodgers, a high schooler from nearby Hazelwood, said she considers Ferguson her home as well. She joined in the protests and agrees the area needs change. But, Rodgers says, the message being conveyed during the day, as residents try to rebuild their community, is just as important as the one at night, when the crowds of vocal protesters reach their peak.

“A lot of the situation is everyone screaming their opinion and not listening to the person next to them,” Rodgers said standing outside Cathy’s Kitchen, easel in hand. “Opinions are valid and these are real issues so we just all need to think about what other people have to say.”

The diner’s owner, Cathy Jenkins, came out to inspect Rodgers’ work as crowds gathered around the boarded-up entrance. “Oh man, that is awesome,” Jenkins said with a wide smile. “You know what? It was just a board at first. Now, it’s a statement. And I think we’re all trying to make one right now.”

Days earlier, Cathy’s Kitchen was victim to the waves of destruction that took place after a St. Louis grand jury decided to not charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. But a busted-in window at the local food joint paled in comparison to the havoc on other local business just down from the Ferguson Police Department, where rowdy crowds set many buildings ablaze. 

Protests have taken place almost nightly in the more-than-100 days since Brown’s body was left lying in the streets for hours. But just as the demonstrators come out night after night, so do many of the city’s residents the following mornings, to dust up the broken pieces left behind.

With a broom in hand and her young kids in tow, 38-year-old Emily Davis was out on S. Florissant Ave. Wednesday to repair what damage was made the night before. “This is my community,” Davis said. “And I truly think Ferguson will make some changes. I hope it will trickle down elsewhere.”

RELATED: Ferguson protests continue across the nation

Residents like Davis have grown accustomed to seeing the swarms of journalists and news cameras ascend on her town to cover the unrest. But for Rodgers, all of the attention took her aback.  “I was just going to come to paint,” she said. “I didn’t know people were going to be looking. I just wanted to leave messages.”

Since Jenkins' diner is near the police department, swirls of media-types rushing in and out of town have become a part of her everyday life. And despite the constant crowds, as a business-owner and concerned resident, it's something she has embraced. “I’m thankful of the media coming out and showing that we’re not just floating, we’re swimming,” she said. “We need Ferguson residents, we need America to see that after all of the devastation, we’re still living."

“And that’s what we do,” Jenkins said before turning back to her work, “is survive. And thrive.”