Reckoning with Enslavement’s Legacy:
Thursday, May 12
Speaker: Rev. Jeffrey Harrison, SJ, project coordinator for the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project of St. Louis University and the Jesuit Central and Southern Province. When he is working in St. Louis and not on international assignments, Fr. Harrison is in residence at St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in the Ville.
The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, like many religious orders, held people in slavery from the colonial era until the abolition of slavery in 1865. The enslaved helped establish and sustain Jesuit educational institutions across the United States, including Saint Louis University and the former St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant. Fr. Harrison described the work of the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project begun in 2016.
The project’s goals are to uncover the enslaved people’s stories and honor their memory. Using sacramental and census records and other sources, the researchers have identified about 70 people the Jesuits enslaved in the St. Louis region between 1823 and 1865. The project works to locate descendants to provide them with the discovered information, learn from their family stories, and chart a course moving forward. Learn more at:
Still Behind Bars: Criminal Legal Reform
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Speaker: Shawntelle L. Fisher, founder and leader, The SoulFisher Ministries
In theory, inmates who have “paid their debt to society” are able to return to the community and create a fulfilling and productive life. In Missouri that is far from true. Ex-offenders face a multitude of barriers to employment, education, housing, food support, and voting rights. Many never overcome the obstacles. But Shawntelle Fisher is the exception. As a convicted felon for floating bad checks as a teenager, she “couldn’t get a job at MacDonald’s,” but instead got several college degrees and founded a successful nonprofit devoted to helping women and men become productive members of their communities after prison.
“Some 95% of those who go to prison come home,” Fisher said, explaining why support services are urgently needed. SoulFisher Ministries’ programs focus on the keys to success: education and access to services:
- ENAL (Educate Now to Achieve Later) after-school tutoring program
- AGAPE (Adult General Academic Program of Education
- Fisher Transitional Living for Women
“A criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty,” Fisher said. She urged us to support the Clean Slate Initiative, a national bipartisan effort to enact policies that automatically clear eligible criminal records. In Missouri, expunging a record is a complicated, expensive process. Several states have already adopted Clean Slate, and one bill has been filed in the Missouri legislature. Citizen support will be needed to get it passed eventually in Missouri.
To learn more about Fisher’s experience and her organization’s programs, go to The SoulFisher Ministries.
Rung for Women: Helping Women Climb the Ladder Toward Economic Self-Sufficiency
Thursday, March 10, 2022
Speakers: Lisa Weingarth, vice president, institutional advancement, Rung for Women; Rhonda Gray, vice president, strategy & innovation, Rung for Women
Rung for Women, an organization uniquely focused on the economic advancement of women, opened one year ago. The founders’ goals go beyond just helping women get jobs, which can often be low paying and unstable. Gray explained their vision: to launch women into careers that allow them to become financially independent and accumulate wealth for their families and communities. The program stresses preparing women for six high-potential career paths: technology, geospatial, advanced manufacturing, health sciences, business acumen, and trades.
Rung for Women is free. Applicants must be at least 25 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. At Rung’s facility, members have access on-site to coaching, classes on such topics as financial literacy and health, and a supportive network. Rung also partners with other organizations to provide a variety of opportunities.
At this writing, Rung is serving 65 members, and 21 have obtained new jobs or promotions, with an average salary of more than $46,000. The need is great: one thousand women applied when the program began.
Women’s Voices members can help Rung
Weingarth outlined many volunteer opportunities for Women’s Voices members. She encouraged us to share our experience through such activities as:
- One-on-one mentoring
- Leading workshops on skills such as salary negotiation and interviewing
- Advocating with legislators on policies such as equal pay, paid family leave (for both men and women), and affordable child care
- Contributing financially: Rung is funded by donations and grants.
Beyond Bathrooms: The Painful Story of Transgender Discrimination
Thursday, February 10, 2022
Speakers: Christopher Lewis, MD, co-director, Pediatric Transgender Health; director, Differences of Sex Development Clinic; and assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Samati Nioymchai, HIV/AIDS case manager, Washington University. Rabbi Daniel Bogard, co-rabbi, Central Reform Congregation.
As Missouri legislators are considering proposals designed to stigmatize transgender kids and limit access to medical therapies, our speakers corrected the harmful misinformation behind these bills.
To help us understand the complexity of sex development, Dr. Lewis explained that many genetic, chromosomal, or hormonal conditions affect our biological development. These processes make it difficult to know why individuals identify as a gender different from that assigned at birth, he said. But regardless of the scientific cause, they should be supported with access to well-accepted treatments such as agents that delay puberty and allow them time to explore their identity and consider future steps.
With that background, we gained more understanding when Rabbi Bogard gave us a picture of his family’s personal experience. At a very young age, his own transgender son said he wished to be a boy. The family chose to allow him to make his own decisions. Now he is thriving in elementary school with supportive teachers, classmates, and family.
Rabbi Bogard noted that the suicide rate of transgender children goes down when they have one affirming adult in their life. That fact, he said, demonstrates why the legislature’s prejudicial bills are tragic and dehumanizing. “The bills allow people to have conversations in public about the humanity of my child.”
Advocating for policies that respect and protect transgender kids is frustrating, said Samati Nioymchai. Year after year, parents go to Jefferson City and “hit a brick wall” as Missouri legislators do not listen to them, he said. Advocates are frustrated because the bills are unnecessary “solutions in search of a problem.” For example, “women’s sports are not under attack,” he said, and for years, the NCAA and the Olympic Committee have allowed athletes to play as the gender they identify. He urged us to help by monitoring bills HB 2399 and HB 2649, providing testimony and/or calling our Representatives and Senators.
We can contact our legislators by phone or email, and written testimony is currently being accepted by the House. You can find contact information here.
Here are links to help you take action:
- Research House Bill 2399 and House Bill 2649.
- Support Rabbi Bogard’s week-long camp for transgender children. Learn more at: http://www.campindigopoint.org/ and https://stljewishlight.org/arts-entertainment/st-louis-jewish-leaders-create-summer-sleepaway-camp-for-lgbtq/
- Submit testimony to the Missouri legislature at: https://house.mo.gov/WitnessTestimonyFAQ.aspx#:~:text=ONLINE TESTIMONY,submitting an electronic witness form.
Healing the Heart of America: Visions for a New St. Louis
January 13, 2022
Speakers: City of St. Louis alderpersons Tina (Sweet-T) Pihl, 17th Ward, and Megan E. Green, 15th Ward.
St. Louis’s population has been declining over the past 50 years yet the United States population has doubled. Pihl and Green examined how progressive cities across the country can inform their vision for how St. Louis can become a place where people want to live and raise their families.
They identified three critical systemic problems that they believe a citywide comprehensive plan can address: lack of affordable housing, public safety, and education.
Affordable housing. Three months into her first term in office in 2021, Phil created the first Equitable Development Contribution by renegotiating a developer’s tax incentive. As a result of this measure, which has been used in Boston, the developer contributed $1.8 million for affordable housing repair. Green said inclusion ordinances, standard in most cities, are needed in St. Louis to require that a percentage of new units be allocated for affordable housing.
Public safety. The speakers advocated collective approaches to address crime.In the 17th ward, Phil said,a public safety group is helping residents understand each other, and Green said the Cure Violence program has succeeded in other cities and needs to be expanded in St. Louis. The city needs a central command center to triage 911 calls to the most appropriate responder, such as police or social services, she said. More drug treatment programs are needed; most petty theft is drug related, she added.
Education. Early childhood education is urgently needed, as is a city education plan, both speakers said. District schools and charter schools are largely performing at about the same level, Green said, but their competition is putting them in “a place of mutually assured destruction.” In the past 20 years, she said, the city’s school-age population has dropped 40%, yet even as schools are closing, others are opening without any plan as to where and what type of schools are needed. “We need to be more strategic, so district and charter schools aren’t cannibalizing one another,” she said.
What can Women’s Voices members do? Boots on the ground—community organizing, marching, Pihl advised. She pointed to the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative as an example of a grassroots initiative that brought together residents, social service agencies, and others to get resources from the city. Green urged contacting alderpersons and testifying at public hearings. Speakers said to monitor legislation and committee meetings at Welcome to the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen (stlouis-mo.gov).
Limiting Access to the Trigger: Guns, Trauma and Suicide Prevention
December 9, 2021
Speakers: Kristen Mueller, MD, assistant professor, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Katie Ellison, MA, MS, NCC, project director, Safer Homes Collaborative
Our speakers explained the significant role of guns in suicide:
- More than 60% of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, of people age 10 to 34.
Despite these grim statistics, suicide is preventable, they stressed. Safe gun storage is key, said Ellison, whose organization works with the gun-owning community, including shooting ranges and gun shops, to promote the storing of guns unloaded and locked—in some cases away from home. She said a map showing ranges or shops that will store guns should be available in March 2022 at www.saferhomescollaborative.org.
Ellison said other preventive measures are also available: counseling; conversations with people who may be at risk of suicide; and advocacy for societal changes such as universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and child access protection laws.
Mueller described CALM (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means), a free online training course primarily designed for mental health professionals. Available to all, it may benefit others in contact with people at risk for suicide, such as social service and health care providers. The course covers how to identify people who could benefit from counseling and how to work with them and their families to reduce access to lethal methods.
Mueller said patients who received CALM counseling indicated better gun storage plans; and professionals who took the course reported more confidence in their ability to recognize warning signs of suicide and counsel on reducing access to firearms. See more information at: www.sprc.org/resources-programs/calm-counseling-access-lethal-means.
Mueller and Ellison recommended the following help sources when a person is at risk or in crisis:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
- Text MOHELP to 741-741 (Free, 24/7, Confidential)
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255; press 1
For more information on the extent of suicide in the U.S. and on identifying persons at risk for suicide, watch the recorded program here.
Voter Sabotage: Will YOU Be Able to Vote?
November 11, 2021
Denise Lieberman, a nationally recognized voter rights lawyer, is director and general counsel for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition (MOVPC). At Washington University she is the faculty director of the Voter Access and Engagement Initiative and an adjunct professor of law and political science.
Mo Del Villar is legislative associate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri. She is responsible for working with elected officials and community organizations on issues related to the rights of Missourians.
After the 2020 election had the largest voter turnout in our history, the Big Lie led to intensified efforts to sabotage elections. In 2021 more than 400 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 49 states, attempting to change who runs elections, who counts the votes, and how votes are counted and certified, Lieberman reported. The bills’ themes include enabling partisan state legislatures to overturn election results, limiting local election officials’ autonomy to administer elections, making it difficult for people to vote, and enabling partisan audits without basis or safeguards, she explained.
In Missouri, bills that restrict access to voting are likely to be introduced in the coming legislative session, Villar warned. Voter ID laws would adversely affect 200,000 Missourians; other bills would limit early voting and make absentee voting more difficult. In the last session, a bill was introduced that gave the Missouri legislature the power to overturn election results.
Freedom to Vote Act Can Stop the Sabotage
The U.S. Senate could safeguard our elections by passing the Freedom to Vote Act. Lieberman said it has the votes to do so if it changes the filibuster rules. This vital act:
- Protects elections officials from interference
- Allows voters to use a variety of identification cards
- Bans partisan gerrymandering
- Ensures early voting for federal elections
- Makes election day a public holiday
- Requires same-day registration by 2024
What We Can Do
- Frequently contact federal and state legislators in order to pass The Freedom to Vote Act and oppose restrictive bills. (More information here). Speak out in letters to the editor.
- Join with the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition (MOVPC). Call in to their weekly sessions and participate in their events.
- To fight disinformation about voting, distribute Women’s Voices’ door hangers and cards to friends and neighbors. Order yours here.
Don’t Get Fooled Again: Navigating Today’s Social Media
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Jennifer Slavik Lohman is co-founder of the St. Louis Area Voter Protection Coalition, In Every Generation Inc., and Indivisible St. Louis. She organized Missouri’s largest-ever election protection field programs in 2018 and 2020. Anat Shenker-Osorio is principal and founder of ASO Communications and host of the Words to Win By podcast. She works as a consultant to campaigns around the world, and her research is profiled in many media, including the New York Times, Atlantic, and Salon.
“If you can get the citizens of a democracy to no longer agree on what is objectively true in the world, then you have conquered them with all the strength of an invading army.”– Neil deGrasse Tyson
This quote sums up why social media is a danger to our democracy, Lohman said. Disinformation on social media was used to deter people from voting in 2015 and we are seeing its consequences in families and school board meetings, she noted.
How does this happen? Lohman explained that at some time everyone has fallen prey to three evils:
- Misinformation, which is unintentional, usually the result of an honest error or mistaken belief.
- Disinformation, which is deliberately spread. It includes outright lies to divide people (e.g., the “Big Lie,” COVID-19).
- Manipulation, which uses disinformation and sometimes genuine information to distort or exaggerate controversies to appeal to our emotions and affect our decision making.
Lohman emphasized the danger of unwittingly passing on disinformation, thus spreading it further on Facebook. “Don’t engage with negative content.” Do not comment, reply, share, forward, click on an emoji, or retweet—even to disagree, she warned.
Lohman cited red flags to beware of:
- Posts that urge you to copy and paste information, especially if they claim to contain secret or insider information.
- “False equivalence” arguments that claim to present both sides while ignoring actual evidence.
- Faked images and video. All photos and videos can be altered by editing, misattribution, and mislabeling; or they can also be created outright.
- T-shirts. Manipulated photos of celebrities or others wearing T-shirts with fake messages on them.
- White supremacist messages used to recruit adolescent boys on gaming sites, meme/joke sites, and media platforms like YouTube.
- Messages that target people of color and immigrants.
Lohman challenged us to be proactive and:
- Be self-aware. Everyone has fallen prey to toxic content.
- Consider leaving social media (you can save past Facebook content).
- Be skeptical of heart-warming/inspirational content and of the words “everyone is saying.”
- Post truthful information instead of responding to lies.
- Lobby legislators for regulations.
- Educate ourselves on www.checkology.org and www.knowdisinfo.org.
How to Tell Our Truth
Sharing her research on effective messaging, Shenker-Osario explained principles that Women’s Voices members can use in speaking with legislators, writing letters to the editor, or conversing with voters:
- Say what you are for. Don’t focus on telling someone to “stop” something; instead make affirmative demands. (Research proved that pro-Biden ads were more effective than anti-Trump ads in the election.) Organize positive events that a support a common goal as opposed to negative events such as an anti-Trump rally.
- In ads and other messages, lead with a value broadly shared across our differences, then shift to who created the problem and how it violates our shared values, and then close with a vision for the future we can achieve when we act together.
- Talk about divisive issues. “If we don’t talk about an issue, the other side’s message is all people hear.” Polling research showed more positive response among people of all political preferences to ads that specifically mentioned race, she said.
- To persuade our allies and marginalize our opposition, craft messages that show how we are better off together. Use positive social media content.
Shenker-Osario participates in Democracy Briefings every other Wednesday at 2 p.m. central. You may sign up here.
Environmental Racism: Alive & Well in St. Louis
September 9, 2021
Speakers: Jeanette Mott Oxford has been an advocate, educator, writer, and organizer on issues of poverty, health, housing, racism, human rights, equality, and campaign finance reform in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri since 1983 and is a former Missouri legislator. Myisha A. Johnson, a St. Louis community organizer involved in tenants’ rights and environmental impacts on low-income communities, is co-founder/director of Community First Plus+, a new housing and environmental justice organization. Both speakers are members of the Metropolitan Congregations United Environmental Justice team.
Our speakers opened our eyes to the under-acknowledged environmental racism resulting from historically racist policies in St. Louis City and the surrounding region.
Environmental racism, they said, is evident in areas where communities of people of color are not as protected from environmental and health hazards as majority-White communities and where residents do not have equal access to policy-making processes that affect their home environments. Facts make clear the extent of environmental racism in St. Louis:
- Black households’ energy costs far exceed the city median.
- Black residents are twice as likely to lack access to healthy food.
- Most illegal dumping occurs in majority-Black neighborhoods.
- More than 90 percent of vacant properties are in majority-Black communities.
Multiple factors are disproportionately harming Black St. Louisans, including:
- Air pollution due to nearby industrial facilities, highways, and building demolitions. Black children in St. Louis make many more emergency room visits for asthma each year than White children do.
- Food apartheid (food “deserts”). Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables leads to higher rates of diabetes and hypertension.
- Lead poisoning. Black children in St. Louis are more likely than White children to test positive for lead in their blood.
- Transportation inequality.
- High electricity costs.
- Lack of code enforcement for factories and buildings.
- Substandard housing.
Here’s how you can stand with the Metropolitan Congregations United Environmental Justice Team and learn more about this issue:
- On Facebook, accept MCU’s calls to action and invitations to events.
- Subscribe to MCU’s newsletter at https://mcustlouis.org.
- If you are a member of a faith community, introduce MCU representatives to your pastor or appropriate committee chair.
- Contact our speakers for more information: Myisha A. Johnson: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, 314-706-0337; Jeanette Mott Oxford: J-O@mcustl.com, 314-775-3261