Local leader returns from trip to Ferguson

Posted Monday, August 18, 2014 --- 8:55 p.m.

A local leader is back in Madison after a busy weekend in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Johnson, CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, knows the Ferguson area well. He once was the Vice President of the Saint Louis area NAACP and YMCA.

A colleague in Ferguson asked Johnson to come down for the weekend to provide leadership to the tension-filled community.

"I was born after the civil rights movement but I felt like we were living during that era," Johnson said.

While in Ferguson, Johnson attended rallies, spoke to community members and leaders, and met with Michael Brown's family.

"It was heartbreaking... To meet the mother and to meet the father, I was in tears. I can't imagine losing my son to the streets like that," Johnson said.

He also started a fundraiser to raise money for Brown's siblings to attend college. A president of a university, which remains a secret at this point, offered to give the Brown kids a free ride to school.

Out of the violence and tensions, Brown said several lessons can be learned. He hopes this will send a message to create better mentoring programs and better relationships.

"We need to bridge the gap between young people and law enforcement. Our young people have to trust the police and our citizens have to trust the police," he said.

Johnson said he's received criticism from some for going to Ferguson. He feels the community of Madison often supports other communities in need, and hopes others will come to Madison if this city ever faces a similar situation.

While speaking to community members in Ferguson, Johnson encouraged people to have open hearts, open communication and open minds to overcome the tensions.

"This is not about being black. It's not about being white. It's a humanitarian issue," he said.

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