I did a double-take while driving by the group of protesters at the corner of a busy intersection near a strip mall.
"Quick, take a picture," I told my daughter, who I was driving to a theater class. About 10 people were standing on either side of a large Black Lives Matter banner. They were holding signs that said: "Racism is not patriotism," "Pro-black does not mean anti-white," "We stand with Charlotte," "Stop killing children" and "White Silence = Violence."
All the protesters were white.
I was in a predominately white, affluent area that votes deep red. This is Todd Akin country, home base of the Missouri Republican representative who lost a senate race to Claire McCaskill when he said that women who are victims of so-called "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant. It's also within 10 minutes of Ballwin, Missouri, where a police officer was shot in July.
It's the last place I'd expect to see anyone demonstrating in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Later, when I examined the picture I'd had my daughter take, I found a link to the group's Facebook page: West County Community Action Network -- We Can. Who were these fish out of water, and what were they trying to accomplish?
The group started nearly two years ago with a group at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Chesterfield, Missouri, who felt compelled to act after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
"I got woke," said Jake Lyonfields, 24, a health care consultant who was raised in the county and worships at Emerson. He marched in the streets of Ferguson, but he realized he wanted to speak out in his own community.
One of the organizers, Lauren Lyerla, 51, says the group has been holding vigils weekly in various parts of west St. Louis County since October 2014. There are about three dozen active members in the group, which has expanded beyond the church, and about a dozen show up for the weekly protest.
"It can be really painful to hear every week the racist things being said to us," Lyonfields said. They estimate that about of the quarter of the reaction is negative. People might make an obscene finger gesture or yell at them as they drive by. Only a few people have gotten physically in their faces with insults.
"My favorite is when they say, 'All lives matter, a-hole!'" Lyerla said. Others question why they are even trying to raise the issue in their outlying suburban communities. They think, "I'm far enough out west that I don't have to look at it or think about it," she said.
But the dedicated activists also hear some supportive comments. Some people bring them hot chocolate in the winter and Gatorade in the summer. Others, like plant engineer Nicole Greer, see them and feel compelled to say more.
When Greer, who is African-American, first spotted the group, she told her 19-year-old daughter, Syndi Jackson, that they had to go express their gratitude.
"These people are out here going hard for us," she told her daughter. Their interaction led to both of them joining as volunteers and now leaders within the group. She said a passerby shouted "white power" at her when she joined a vigil.
The members decided to take their activism beyond the street, and started doing research on local police departments and school districts, reading up on policies and disciplinary data. They attend school board meetings to advocate for ways to break the school-to-prison pipeline, which begins with black and brown students being disproportionately suspended from school.
"Ferguson is everywhere," Lyonfields said. "The data shows it."
Greer said that her daughter was a top performer in a predominately white school district and they had to deal with issues related to race.
"I know there are issues because we have lived them," she said.
Group members have had several meetings with local police departments, one of which has agreed to include implicit bias training in the training protocol for its officers.
"Most white people in West County were entirely ready to let the race question drop once the (Darren Wilson) non-indictment announcement came," Lyerla said. People asked her why they were still out there. She said that an aspect of her own privilege is that other white people may listen to her more than they will people of color.
"I have access to a person's attention," she said. She sees her job as continuing to listen to African-Americans' experiences and amplify their voices.
"We provide some discomfort to some people who are entirely too comfortable in their white privilege," she said. "And maybe we provide some hope to those who agree with us and felt entirely alone out here."