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Age: 19
Hometown: St. Louis
Cause: Helping victims of Ferguson riots

When riots erupted Nov. 24 after a grand jury declined to indict policeman Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, dozens of businesses in Ferguson, Mo., suffered damage. Among the victims was Juanita Morris: Fashions R Boutique, her 28-year-old business selling “church women suits,” was burned to the ground. That same night, Eric Lee — a resident of St. Charles, Mo., near Ferguson — decided to help.

Eric Lee and friends came to the assistance of Juanita Morris. From left to right: Jeffrey Lu, Alex Conway, Morris, and Lee.

Where were you when the decision was handed down?

I was at school. I’m a freshman at UNC [University of North Carolina]. A friend texted me when it was announced and I watched the news that night online.

What made you decide to get involved? Do you have a history of activism?

The beginning of my senior year in high school, a lot of African-American, low-income students transferred into my white, middle-class, suburban school. I saw conflicts, and I became somewhat of a spokesperson in support of the transfer students. They were from the same district Mike Brown attended.

Late that night, UNC's Black Student Movement held a vigil on Main Street. I stayed a couple of hours, came back, and was about to go to bed when it occurred to me that I was going to go home for Thanksgiving soon and there might be something I could do.

How did you choose to help Juanita Moore?

I went through media outlets and police stations to find all the stores ruined by the unrest. I created a spreadsheet and picked the ones that seemed like they were family owned because I thought people would have more sympathy. That narrowed the list down to about eleven.

I called them all. A lot of lines were disconnected, but Juanita picked up the phone. She said she was scrambling to get in touch with customers who had had things in there for alteration. I told her I was a college student and I had a plan to raise money. Originally she was skeptical; she thought I was trying to make money. She probably got a lot of calls.

So you started raising money through GoFundMe. Why did you use that site?

I had friends who used GoFundMe, and they said it worked if you did the right pitches. It has a lot of traffic compared to other crowdsourcing sites, but their 8% fee is higher. So it was a tradeoff.

What was your pitch?

I took my inspiration from a statement Juanita issued to her customers after her store burned down. Essentially, she wanted everyone to know she wasn’t angry. She was not losing hope.

How did you make donors aware of your page?

We created a mass email, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. We contacted news outlets, celebrities, agents — anyone who might help us.

What’s your goal?

Juanita estimated $20,000 for an online store while the property is being reconstructed. She had a website, but I don’t think the online shopping function works. We’re hoping to start one for her on Friday. This morning she ordered supplies. We’ll help. We’re publicizing through our Facebook and Twitter pages.

How much have you raised?

On December 2 we hit $20,000. Donations are still trickling in.

Have you spent your own money on this campaign?

I haven’t had to. I think I was the first donation — $20. But all the webpages are totally free. The main investment was time and money.

Any plans to continue this or another campaign?

I finish finals on the 12th. On the 13th I’ll start volunteering with clean up and reconstruction.

And I want to reach out to families in crisis. I’ve already talked to my friends. Just being young, we’re connected to social media that a lot of older people wouldn’t have access to. Twitter is an extremely powerful tool, especially when you have an emotionally powerful story like Juanita’s. Social media is very, very powerful. People spend a ton of time on it, their attention is already there. It requires little time to retweet and spread the word. It’s a lot easier than going door to door.

For donations, go to http://www.gofundme.com/fashionsr

Interview by Joan Caplin