ST. LOUIS, MO: In the wake of societal unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and the surrounding metropolitan area, a group of communicators is working together to highlight and foster positive change.
On Monday night, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced during an 8 pm local time press conference that no criminal charges would be levied against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown. Chaos erupted outside the police station immediately following the prime-time press conference – police threw smoke bombs and pepper sprayed protestors, cars were set on fire, and local businesses were vandalized.
A volunteer group of about 20-25 St. Louis-area communications professionals from a range of disciplines came together to launch STLForward.com about three weeks ago, along with the @StLouisForward Twitter handle and hashtag #STLForward, said Brian Hall, CMO of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.
He described the group as "committed communications stakeholders very passionate about this community’s ability to succeed."
Hall said the group released a series of public service announcements to local media, one featuring Michael Brown Sr., where he asks for peace and "for his son’s legacy to be one of incredible change and advancement for equality throughout this community."
"Peaceful protesting is the key to us moving forward," added Hall. "To heal we need to have open and robust dialogue."
The group’s efforts are to deter violence and figure out ways to approach issues thrust into the national spotlight in the days following Brown’s untimely death.
According to the website, STLForward.com serves as an "informational portal" created by volunteers who are "focused on creating enhanced levels of transparency to help the region move forward through the creation of a new standard of inclusion for all residents."
Aaron Perlut, partner at St. Louis-based firm Elasticity, is part of the volunteer group and said the efforts are "not out of the ordinary for typical crisis response management."
He added that some of the work includes supporting Ferguson’s city manager with media inquiries and providing media training as needed.
In September, PRWeek reported that Elasticity was contracted by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership for communications work. Perlut confirmed the agency’s only involvement regarding the Michael Brown case "is simply volunteer efforts."
The STLForward effort is open-ended, both Perlut and Hall said.
"This is not a case where we can measure this in hours or days," explained Hall.