Ferguson Freedom Fighter Mildred Clines
by Derecka Purnell
“Everybody is heard. Everybody wins.”
Mildred Clines’ locs sat in a high bun on her head. Like mine, but more regal. She stood proud and eager to bridge the race and class divide in the room. This was my first time attending the Neighborhood Police Steering Committee in Ferguson, MO. Mildred facilitated the discussion around how the group should make decisions. She advocated for consensus building instead of popular vote.
Mildred was a protestor during the Ferguson uprising after a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in
2014. Black Ferguson residents were usually in the minority in representation, voting power and having a voice at the table. This community steering committee was an opportunity to amplify the lost voices, she explained. Popular vote could drown them out.
“With consensus building, we don’t have to rush to make a decision,” said Mildred. “We can work to understand each other, learn how we got here in the first place, and build trust in our community.”
She gently won the hearts and minds in the room. Who is this person?
Mildred is a social justice advocate, proud Ferguson resident, mom, and grandmother. She’s worked at a local utility company for more than 20 years. At the end of her shift, you can catch her in her work bomber jacket at the Ferguson City Council meetings, attending the St. Louis County Council meetings, testifying in federal court about the Ferguson’s consent decree progress, or at any number of other community forums in the area. I learned about Mildred’s third shift by accident: at night, she and another Ferguson resident drive around to pick up homeless people to find shelter and food. She didn’t attend meetings for a week because she caught the flu and didn’t want to tell anyone. Now, she is running to serve her community’s families in an upcoming local school board race.
Mildred represents the best of what Americans can be: “woke,” hardworking, compassionate, and engaged. She comes from a long line of women who fought to make our country into a democracy that it claims to be.
Ida B. Wells. Fannie Lou Hamer. Ella Baker. These women were not dedicated to simply building their followers; they were dedicated to building people and communities. Grassroots organizing by everyday, ordinary people will get us free. I am so grateful that Mildred Clines will get us closer to freedom.