Look & Learn at EyeSeeMe Bookstore
November 23, 2019
We spent a delightful afternoon at the beautiful EyeSeeMe bookstore, choosing from the store’s wide array of books featuring African American characters, history, and culture. We bought books for kids on our own gift lists; and we were also able to contribute to a joint project of EyeSeeMe and A Red Circle to give books to students at Barack Obama Elementary School. As owner Pamela Blair told us in her welcoming remarks, the store’s books help children thrive by showing them positive images of African Americans. All people can learn about other cultures and their achievements, she added. Laura Horwitz, a founder of We Stories in 2015, described how her organization uses books to help white families discuss racism with their children. She encouraged parents to enroll in January for the We Stories Family Learning Program, which has served 900 families. To discover an amazing array of wonderful literature for all ages and races, visit a EyeSeeMe Bookstore at 6951 Olive Blvd., University City, MO.
Women’s Voices members to improve and maintain memorial to Rodney McAllister
November 7, 2019
Tucked away in a corner of Ivory Perry Park is a memorial to a little boy whose horrifying death shocked all St. Louisans when he was killed on March 5, 2001. It was the last stop on the “Grief, Love and Fury” tour that Bob Hansman conducted for WV members last October. A group of Women’s Voices members has “adopted” the memorial and will take over its maintenance. Read more here.
City Tour Startles and Enlightens Members
October 13, 2019
With this preliminary statement, tour guide Bob Hansman led 30 members and friends of Women’s Voices on a four-hour journey through the city of St. Louis, exploring places that we often read about and explaining why so many sites are the way they are today.
Hansman, who grew up in Affton and came of age during the civil rights movement, volunteered for the Head Start program and said he felt “embraced by the north St. Louis community.” Today, he teaches at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art and the Gephardt Institute for Civil and Community Engagement at Washington University.
In an effort to put the realities of St. Louis today into context, Hansman started the tour with an explanation of Mill Creek Valley, an area between Jefferson and Grand avenues where black families began to settle in the early part of the 20th century. Mill Creek Valley became a destination neighborhood, he said, until a combination of urban renewal and highway construction in the 1950s virtually obliterated it. “Mill Creek Valley was a foundational experience for blacks in St. Louis, “ he explained.
Hansman urged the group to look for “patterns” as he then took participants on a short walk through what is today called the “Pruitt-Igoe forest.” He outlined many of the problems that plagued the massive public housing high-rises before they were demolished in the 1970s. Today the site is owned by developer Paul McKee, who is seeking funds to build an urgent care center, and eventually a hospital, at the corner of Jefferson and Cass avenues.
The future site of the National Geospatial Agency was pointed out before the group headed to St. Louis Ave., where three museums devoted to black history (the George B. Vashon Museum, the Frederick Douglas Museum and the Griot Museum) are located. The Racial Justice Committee of Women’s Voices is planning a tour of these sites in the spring of 2020.
The tour then continued to the neighborhood known as “The Ville,” which Hansman described as “the second great black neighborhood in St. Louis.” In its heyday it attracted wealthier people and was known as “the crown jewel of African America in St. Louis.”
The house that was at the center of the Shelley vs Kraemer dispute, an argument about the legality of restrictive covenants that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, was pointed out, along with the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a noted health care facility that served blacks in St. Louis until it was forced to close in 1979.
Final stop on the tour was Ivory Perry Park, a serene enclave just north of Delmar Blvd. where many members of Women’s Voices have distributed gun locks in the Lock It For Love program. In 2001, 10-year-old Rodney McAllister was attacked and killed by a pack of stray dogs in this park. The group viewed the memorial to this child and talked about what they had seen during the day and how powerless they feel about making things better.
“If someone abandons you and drains your resources, do you still continue to love them?,” Hansman asked. Clearly, he still continues to love the city he calls home, but reminded us that his tour is sub-titled “the grief, love and fury tour.”
Lunch & Learn with Jamala Rogers, Noted Black Activist
September 24, 2019
Women’s Voices held a lunch and learn with Jamala Rogers at the Rowan Community Center, the headquarters of the Organization for Black Struggle. Jamala is a founding member of OBS and its executive director. Jamala gave Women’s Voices a statement to help WV determine its next steps toward racial justice: No support of laws, policies, or behaviors that negatively impact Black lives. “What might change for Women’s Voices’ work if it adopted this statement?” she asked. Several actions emerged in a wide-ranging discussion with the mostly white audience:
Educate ourselves about laws and policies that disproportionately affect African Americans in all communities. For example, black communities were allowed to decline as resources went to renovate white communities due to policies adopted by the city of St. Louis (see https://www.metrostl.com/2019/08/09/benign-neglect/). This practice continues to affect black communities throughout the region.
Read the St. Louis American to learn about current issues and find events to attend. “If you’re never in the community, you don’t know what’s needed,” Rogers said.
Learn about needs and then work on small pieces, she advised. “It’s too overwhelming to take on everything.”
Rigged, The Voter Suppression Playbook Screening and Discussion
September 17, 2019
Denise Lieberman, nationally recognized voting rights expert and civil rights lawyer, fielded questions from the audience at a showing of the documentary Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook. The fascinating movie details Republican efforts to suppress voting in the wake of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. “The fight for democracy is never done,” Lieberman said. But people have successfully fought for voting rights time after time in U.S. history, she said. She urged viewers to support “Vote 2020,” an initiative proposed to appear on the November 2020 ballot that would amend the Missouri constitution to make voting easier and more accessible to voters. Lieberman directs the Power & Democracy Program at the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, DC. Women’s Voices was a co-sponsor of the event at Eliot Unitarian Chapel.
Social Justice in Art
August 6, 2019
Women’s Voices members viewed artworks with social justice themes at the St. Louis Art Museum. The prints and photographs in the private exhibit, which was curated for our group, addressed issues such as poverty, war, and discrimination from the time of Rembrandt to Ferguson today. One of the pieces discussed was the Max Beckman lithograph “Hunger.”
Trip to Fort Sill
August 1, 2019
Women’s Voices members joined a group from partner coalition, Heartland for Human Justice, to protest family separation in Lawton, Oklahoma, home of Fort Sill. Read more about the trip here.
Visionary Voices: A Candid Conversation with Brittany Packnett
June 13, 2019
When it comes to changing our society’s unjust conditions embodied in the Ferguson Uprising in August 2014, Brittany Packnett takes the long view. In a discussion moderated by Fox 2 News anchor Shirley Washington, Packnett said the 400-day protest led to a heightened awareness across America of inequities and more open engagement on issues such as racism, gender, and policing. However, changes have been slow to come. Undiscouraged, Packnett said “it took centuries to create the current situation,” and it will take time and persistent work to change systems that harm marginalized communities. Many people, especially the privileged for whom the systems are working, resist and fear change, she said. Some groups are making efforts to deal with immediate problems, she said, but these don’t change systems because they don’t resolve the problems’ root causes. Community policing efforts, for example, “let people off the hook” because they don’t address systemic racial biases. “You shouldn’t have to know my child to treat him as a human being,” she said. Packnett says only imagination—imagining what might seem impossible—can dismantle inequitable systems. She cited the St. Louis Workhouse as an example. Instead of spending $16 million yearly to maintain an institution that criminalizes poverty and minorities because they cannot make bail, Packnett called for the city to imagine a city without a Workhouse, using the money instead for programs to help people build healthy lives. “No solutions that don’t include improving access to education, housing, health care, and jobs will ever be sufficient,” she insisted. An audience member asked Packnett’s advice for white allies. “See becoming an ally as a first step,’’ she advised. She encouraged listeners to do more than offer passive support and become “co-conspirators” who are committed to work actively to bring about change. “Ask the people who are most affected by an issue for their solutions,” she said. “Your work is to let them set the agenda and support it. Your work isn’t to lead but to push others forward. The risk you take [of backlash] pales in comparison to theirs.” See videos of the event, as well as a clip of Packnett’s comments to a group of Women’s Voices donors and leaders of partner organizations at a pre-event reception. Brittany Packnett is an advocate, activist, educator, and writer who works tirelessly to achieve a society that empowers everyone. President Barack Obama calls her a leader whose “voice is going to be making a difference for years to come.” A St. Louis native and alum of Washington University, Packnett has committed her life to justice as:
- An appointed member of the Ferguson Commission
- A member of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing
- A co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence
- A Fall 2018 Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics
- Teach for America’s vice president of National Community Alliances
For more about her many other activities, listen to Pod Save the People, a podcast she co-hosts, and visit https://brittanypacknett.com/. Shirley Washington is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist and native St. Louisan. In addition to being a Fox 2 news anchor, she hosts The Pulse of St. Louis and is the author of The Motherhood Club. Women’s Voices thanks our co-host organization, the Tuesday Women’s Association of The Ethical Society of St. Louis and the many sponsors who made this event possible! Special thanks to Shirley Washington for moderating this event!
Ann & Mike Konzen
Jane & Dwight Hardin
Mary E. Bickel & J. Terry Gates
Forward Through Ferguson
Incarnate Word Foundation
Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet
St. Louis Community Collage Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Lunch & Learn with Erica Williams, Executive Director, A Red Circle
March 27, 2019
When she founded an organization to reverse the effects of racism in north St. Louis County, Erica R. Williams named it A Red Circle because all people bleed red regardless of their skin color and a circle makes people feel safe and represents how a community’s needs are interconnected. The not-for-profit’s goal is to restore North County to a viable community where decades of systemic racism have created generational poverty and inequitable access to employment, education, healthy food, and housing.
At this time, Williams said, A Red Circle is focusing on educational justice and healthy food access. Its projects include the Healthy Community Market to open in May in the Village of Riverview; the North County Agricultural Education Center on vacant property in Pine Lawn; and the Education Advocacy Coalition to address issues such as discipline practices and school funding. In May, FOCUS St. Louis will honor A Red Circle with a What’s Right with the Region Award in the category of Emerging Initiatives. The award recognizes new organizations that are developing practical solutions, responding to identified needs, and serving as catalysts for change. Williams stressed that black issues have never been adequately addressed and it is time to correct inequities that our society should no longer tolerate. She encouraged the audience to learn more about A Red Circle and to donate money needed to support its efforts to heal the history of racial division.
Political Action Postcard Party
March 14, 2019
A group of 16 Women’s Voices members and guests gathered to write postcards to advocate for various bills working their way through the MO legislature. The advocacy committee provided specific information about bills likely to be voted on soon on a variety of topics. Topics included debtor’s prison, charter school expansion, minimum wage, SNAP benefits, gun-free zones and abortion bans.
For Akheem – film and discussion
February 22, 2019
Women’s Voices was proud to join with Eliot Unitarian Chapel and Vision for Children at Risk to present For Akheem, a moving documentary that has been shown at 75 film festivals across the world. The film follows the journey of 17-year-old Daje Shelton as she comes of age in her impoverished and violent North St. Louis neighborhood. Suspended after a school fight, Daje is offered a last option to obtain a high school diploma. Judge Jimmie M. Edwards sends her to an alternative school, Innovative Concept Academy (ICA), which offers comprehensive services to help students change course, and she eventually graduates.
Daje Shelton and Jeff Truesdell, executive producer, were present for a probing discussion following the showing. “It’s never too late to fix yourself,” Daje said. “I wanted to stop trying, but I kept trying.”
Truesdell said he wanted to make the film to show what local people are doing to make a difference in the lives of children. “We’re all deserving of opportunity,” he said. “The film was meant to give voice to those who are not heard.” Challenging us to take action, he said, “This is the story of all of us; this is our story.”
(Visit https://www.slps.org/Domain/46 to learn more about ICA, which is a collaborative partnership between the St. Louis Public Schools, the Family Court, and MERS Goodwill founded by Judge Edwards – who is now St. Louis public safety director – in 2009 to break the cycle of incarceration he saw in his court.)
Lunch & Learn with Urban League’s Michael McMillan
January 23, 2019
As president/CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Michael McMillan oversees 13 locations in the bi-state region. With a staff of 225 and 45 programs, the Urban League provides more than 100,000 people a year with education and services that empower them to improve their lives. McMillan said “our job is to stay in contact with the community and meet community needs.” He stressed that the league’s programs are inspired by listening to community members.
The Save Our Sons program, for example, came about as a result of conversations during the uprising in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown in August 2014. ”All the young men said they needed jobs,” McMillan said. As a result, the Urban League constructed the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center on the site of the QuikTrip store burned in the riot. Since its opening in 2015 the center has helped 500 men join the workforce, teaching skills such as interviewing and money management. McMillan emphasized that the center was built primarily by minority contractors. A second Save Our Sons office recently opened in North St. Louis in a facility renovated by minority contractors.
The Urban League also provides women with a wide variety of opportunities through its Save Our Sisters program. “Women tell us what they need,” McMillan said, and services include classes in financial literacy, running a small business, parenting, and many other concerns.
To learn more about all of the Urban League’s many activities and programs, see www.ulstl.com.