If timing is everything, public relations professional and native Memphian Devin James’s recently released memoir “Inside Ferguson: A Voice For The Voiceless” may be the must read book of the season, and potentially a primer of our times.
The book was Aug. 14th thru Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other Internet outlets. A compelling promo video is available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pzigt_Ma0A.
Three days after “Inside Ferguson’s” release, James was in Memphis to support a rally for Darrius Stewart, the 19 year old who was killed in a deadly encounter with Memphis police officer Connor Shilling in July. James spoke with The New Tri State Defender about what he hopes the book will accomplish.
The provocative title is not a grandstanding slogan pitch from James. His company, the Devin James Group, had been hired by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to serve as a consultant to the city of St. Louis when the news erupted that Ferguson, Mo, police officer Darren Wilson had shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Brown. The awful incident has become the Emmitt Till moment of our times, serving as the perfect example to many that a black male’s life is still considered cheap and expendable by America’s law enforcement system.
In the midst of the erupting melee of protests, riots and public discourse, James became a news item himself, landing on CNN, MSNBC and other major media outlets when he was fired from the situation. A spokeswoman reported to media that the group cut ties with him after revelations that he’d shot and killed an unarmed man a decade ago during what he now describes as a home invasion and attempted robbery. A jury convicted him of reckless homicide in 2006. The book is his view of what it felt like within the cauldron.
“The book is part autobiography, part memoir and mostly history. It’s based on my experiences and the experiences of the people with my company the Devin James Group during the incident,” said James.
“It talks about how St. Louis county leadership brought in my firm to bridge the gap with the outraged black community. We had no idea of the fight we were getting into. It gives the readers a behind the scenes look at some of the battles that were waged, not only in Ferguson but with Missouri’s government that the media could not capture.”
He frames flashpoints in Ferguson as an object lesson of racism’s active influence in everyday American life.
“Why can’t this society understand what we mean by social inequality? They can’t understand that things are still not fair when it comes to social equality because they have the viewpoint of white privilege. What I really hope for the book to accomplish is to move us from anger to action, and especially in the legislative arena. There has to be real policy change, and we have to come together to create action to prove what the Black Lives Matter movement really means in today’s world.”
“Inside Ferguson” gives a “take no prisoners” approach when James explores the dynamic of his being fired during the incident, offering a blow-by-blow view into how white-owned firms were, according to him, incompetent in addressing the Ferguson situation. Chapters on his encounter with CNN lead anchor Anderson Cooper, Ferguson officials and residents place you in the moment as the narrative backspins a story the nation is still dealing with.
It also becomes very emotional in many places as it describes the looming breakdown of the city’s attempt to engage with the community’s feelings.
“We’re asking St. Louis for a lot. You have to remember that this is where the Dred Scott decision was made. We have to find a way to abolish the insulated concept of society too many whites have in their minds about our culture. It can’t be done right away, it’s a tough issue for this society to tackle. It will have to start with increasing their level of consciousness about what really exists,” James said.
“During the work in Ferguson I wasn’t the only person putting these things right there in their face but they weren’t getting it. So when you think about places like St. Louis where there is no real civil rights history their mentality is still hundreds of years behind, you have to take those things into account.”
In the tale behind the scenes, James also hopes his own story will serve as a backdrop of the discussion about the African-American community, crime and redemption. Among the acknowledgements he gives in the book’s opening, he cites (Tennessee) District 86 representative Barbara Cooper, whom he says was a vital link in turning his own life around. While giving his personal story in detail, the book discusses the differences in crime, punishment and rehabilitation for black offenders, which he can comment on from personal experience.
“I’m a former felon, so being in the box so to speak, I can speak of how society influences you in one direction or another,” said James. “Number one, it’s tough being a black man. At some point in your life, your race, your background and the opportunities before you are going to have very real impact on your place in life.
“There’s still a war on poor black communities. And it’s not just in Ferguson. It’s all of America.”