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Incarnate Word Academy students want "Peace for All"

With students coming from 44 zip codes in the St. Louis metropolitan area, Incarnate Word Academy has become a melting pot for discussion of all things Ferguson.

The all-girls Catholic school is in the north St. Louis County suburb of Bel-Nor, about five miles from West Florissant Road in Ferguson, where demonstrations have taken place since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

When school reconvened in August, students came together to form a new club called Peace for All, a group for students to come together to talk about Ferguson in a safe environment and to focus on a message of peace, said seniors Ericka Scott and Hannah Moll.

"We all come from different backgrounds here at Incarnate, and we don't all live in Ferguson ... but we know that it's affecting all of us," said Ericka, who lives in Florissant, about 10 minutes from Ferguson. "Peace is something that needs to go beyond Ferguson, it's something that needs to be prevalent all the time no matter what's going on. So in St. Charles, where there may not be riots going on, people need to know there needs to be peace and justice for all."

Earlier in the semester, the school held an assembly to discuss what was going on. Since then, students have continued that conversation and also have performed service activities, including a food drive to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson.

Hannah Moll is a Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parishioner and lives about a mile away from West Florissant Road. She's had to reroute her morning drive to school to avoid protesters and said people have been anxious in the months following the shooting, but she sees it as an "opportunity that we need to get to know each other and just come closer together as a community — and promote peace and justice for all."

As an African American, Ericka Scott said she feels life has changed for her since Ferguson. She identifies with the passion of the protesters, as long as what they're doing is peaceful. "I understand where the anger is coming from. I do," she said. "But we've got to channel that anger in another way. I feel like there's this approach to pushing past police because (some think) all police are bad. But that's not the case. That's making generalizations and I don't like that."

"Being an African American, it's different when things like this happen," she said. "Because you don't always feel equal when you're out and about. I feel like (people) look at me and are wondering if am I one of those protesters that are out there being violent? I don't agree with the violence."

Incarnate Principal Molly Grumich noted that there are 22 students who live in the 63135 and 63136 zip codes and five staff members who live in or near Ferguson. Grumich is one of them — she lives just a few blocks from the Ferguson Police Department. Her younger sister, Susie Clark, the school's director of special events, also lives in Ferguson.

Grumich called the situation "history in the making" and noted that it presents an opportunity for students to talk about this as they live through a historical moment.

"I want part of their conversation and their dialogue to understand that it is important that all people are treated well," said Grumich. "That's been the message since day one. That's what our mission is, to treat all people with human dignity. As an educational institution, it's important that whether (students) live in Chesterfield or St. Charles or Ferguson, that that's the message they hear from us."

Last week, as the school held a prayer service ahead of the anticipated grand jury decision, one student told Grumich that "our job here is to learn, and we need to protect that ability to learn. And then when (the decision) comes up, that we're listening and open to one another." 

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