Lunch & Learn with Cristina Garmendia
December 7, 2021
A Tale of Two Cities: Affordability in the St. Louis Region
At this meeting sponsored by the Women’s Voices Affordable Housing Task Force, Cristina Garmendia, gave us an informative overview of the “St. Louis Affordable Housing Report Card.” The report, she explained, quantifies the need for affordable housing in the St. Louis region and provides guidance on how to assess the impact of programs and policies. Garmendia, founder and principal at URBNRX, worked with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Coalition to produce the report.
She encouraged us to view the full report at the website www.affordablestl.com. The report contains detailed information and many interactive maps. For example, the researchers found that the St. Louis region needs 35,000 affordable units, she said. The report details racial disparities, with 55% of the region’s Black renters facing housing cost burden versus 39% of White renters. Garmendia pointed out an urgent need for home repair funding, another area of racial disparity. Black applicants for home improvement loans were twice as likely as White applicants to be denied loans in 2020, the report revealed.
How Women’s Voices Can Help
Garmendia recommended that we take a “deep dive” into the report, which identifies issues that we can support. “Nothing changes without pressure from groups like Women’s Voices,” she said, voicing her hope that we can raise people’s awareness of the need to help the many families who need adequate housing. For more information go to www.affordablestl.com.
Lunch & Learn with Adam Flores and Aaron Williams: Racial Justice and the Arts in St. Louis
November 8, 2021
Speakers: Adam Flores, community outreach and education manager for the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival; Aaron Williams, co-founder of 4theVille, a community-based arts organization created to restore pride in the legacy of The Ville.
Flores and Williams described their collaboration to use the arts to revitalize a once-thriving African American community which has declined because of racist policies that drained resources and students from the area. In September, Shakespeare in the Streets organized an original play, The Ville: Avengeance!, and more plays are planned for the future. By involving diverse arts and community groups and residents, the plays exemplify how the arts build community and bring people together.
When Sumner High School, the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi (1875), was facing closure, the Shakespeare Festival and 4theVille stepped up. They conceived a plan for a curriculum that provides students with four arts “pathways”: theater arts, dance, music, and visual arts. As a result, Sumner will remain open, and a variety of St. Louis arts and other organizations will offer the classes and other assistance.
The speakers emphasized that their efforts go far beyond honoring the past. Their goal is to bring people and businesses back to the area with good educational resources, home ownership opportunities, and needed businesses.
How Women’s Voices Members Can Participate
Williams encouraged us to engage with 4theVille on social media; mention Ville activities on our own social media; take a 4theVille tour; and attend events in The Ville to learn what the community needs and how you can contribute. Addressing our possible fears of going to an unfamiliar community, Flores said we need to go to new places in order to break the racial divide. He said he became comfortable in The Ville by spending time in the community, listening to the residents, and getting to know them and building their trust.
Additionally, volunteers are needed to help with a community drop-in event on Saturday, November 20 to clean up this historic building by volunteering in-person or donating supplies.
Meet at Summer High School at 10 a.m., Sat. Nov. 20
4248 Cottage Ave, St. Louis, MO 63113
Park on the street on the north side of the building. There is also a lot on the west side.
Tasks will include basic cleaning and waste removal; bring work gloves.
Volunteers will be socially distanced in different spaces and should wear masks.
Contact Adam Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Snacks and basic cleaning supplies for this event are also welcome. Carol Wofsey, co-chair of the Women’s Voices Racial Justice Committee, is collecting items through Friday, November 19. Contact her at email@example.com for drop off information.
Lunch and Learn with Shannon Koenig: A Look at the Local Landscape for Affordable Housing
September 28, 2021
As executive director of the St. Louis County Housing Authority, Shannon Koenig oversees the authority’s mission to provide decent, safe and affordable housing in St. Louis County. She explained the role of governments in providing affordable housing for cost-burdened households—those who spend more than 30% of income on housing. She said one in four households in St. Louis County is cost burdened, which means they have less money for other needs such as food and health care.
In the 1990s, she said, government efforts to provide affordable housing shifted from public housing to private housing, which is often built by a private developer or development team using the low-income housing tax credit program. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers federal block grants and funding for housing.
On the state level, the Missouri Housing Development Commission provides loans to buyers, rental assistance, and low-income housing tax credits to developers. The Missouri Department of Economic Development also receives block grants for community development. The non-government Missouri Workforce Housing Association, which includes developers, construction companies, and others, also has an interest in developing low-income housing.
On the local level, municipal jurisdictions may administer HUD funding. Continuum-of-care networks of nonprofits can also provide money for housing, as can local governments’ Affordable Housing Trust Funds, created when federal financing is not adequate to meet needs. Local housing authorities in Missouri cities and counties (130 in the state) administer HUD housing programs. The St. Louis County Housing Authority focuses on linking with other service providers to expand access to affordable housing, ensure equal housing opportunity, promote self-sufficiency, and improve families’ quality of life by, Koenig said.
To expand affordable housing availability, she encouraged Women’s Voices to focus on increasing the participation of landlords throughout the area in the voucher program. Also important, she said, is to work with local communities to ensure that their zoning laws permit affordable housing. To overcome NIMBY (not in my backyard) objections, she advised us to speak out about the needs of workers who cannot afford to live in the communities where they work.
Lunch and Learn: The Truth about the 1619 Project
June 10, 2021
The New York Times Magazine began the 1619 Project in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery, in a special issue containing essays on aspects of American life that have their roots in slavery and its aftermath. Go to the Racial Justice page of this website for more information on how to obtain the 1619 Project essays. Speakers: Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, PhD, Superintendent, and Christina Sneed, MA, Coordinator of K-12 Social Studies & 6-12 English Language Arts, School District of University City. Jai’ Den Smith, 2021 graduate of University City High School
“We were not indoctrinated; we were captivated.” These words from student Ian Feld* were directed to Missouri legislators who wanted to ban the teaching of the 1619 Project. Dr. Hardin-Bartley said that because the project has been attacked as no other text, she is speaking out. Her message was clear: The project can be a valuable tool to bring about change. “This is about our children and making sure they have voice and have choice and space and the educational environment to navigate complex, diverse, and sometimes gut-wrenching text in a way that can be purposeful and meaningful.” The project is part of the School District of University City’s commitment to help students “become amazing adults that will one day lead and be in many of the roles we’re in today across the world.”
Fortunately, no parents objected when University City High School launched the project in an AP English class taught by Christina Sneed in 2020. The superintendent explained the reasons for supporting the project: Students today are grappling with huge societal issues and information on social media. “We’re not in a bubble, so in lieu of student’s grappling with them in isolation, it’s important to provide space to have conversations in a healthy productive way,” she said. Importantly, the project “recognizes the significant burdens placed on people of color because of what this country has done historically in the past.”
In addition, the 1619 Project presents correct information about the historical contributions of enslaved people to the building of America’s economy , Christina Sneed said. She pointed out that the content is no more controversial than other works that students read by authors such as Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King Jr. Because it presents a valuable point of view, “students understand who they are, how they fit in the world around them, and the power structures that exist in our society.” As Ian Feld, who is White, demonstrates, the diverse classmates developed bonds and spoke their truth in a helpful way so that all felt valued, Dr. Hardin-Bartley said.
Student Jai’ Den Smith praised the 1619 Project: “The class brought us closer together; we learned about ourselves.” Black students learned about their past and its connection to the present, and White students learned about their privilege. They had space to talk about things they normally wouldn’t discuss at school, she said. “It opens your eyes. It’s all true and needs to be discussed. It makes you aware of where we are today and none of it is coincidental. It’s all a ripple effect from slavery.” She said every school should dedicate a semester to the project.
Students in her class created individual projects based on what they had learned. Smith produced a documentary where friends told their personal stories of facing discrimination because their hair doesn’t fit with European beauty standards. Many of her fellow students said the film helped them and they felt heard because they were able to speak about the subject.
“The richness of the experience for our students makes this the gold standard for a unit of study,” said Dr. Hardin-Bartley. “This is what learning should look like.” As the students go to universities all over the country, she said, they will take their experience with them and it will impact how they act as scholars and human beings.
The speakers expressed hope that all children will have the opportunity to experience the 1619 Project. “See what your district is doing and talk with your schools,” Dr. Hardin-Bartley said. She advised approaching school board members and school administrators individually at first rather than in a large meeting and to focus on the project’s benefits to students. She noted that the students’ writings from the project are the most powerful she has seen in her 25 years in education. Students in about 25 public and private schools in the St. Louis area, including the mostly White Kirkwood district, have used the 1619 Project, she said.
*Important links to more information and resources:
- Ian Feld’s column: Ian Feld: University City students were captivated, not indoctrinated, by 1619 Project | Guest columnists | stltoday.com. Another important quotation from the article: “ It’s appalling to many students like me that something so valuable, something so critical of traditional teaching should be banned simply because it paints an unpleasant picture of the past that still exists in today’s world. The effects of slavery are not confined to the past, just as tears in the fabric of a quilt are not eliminated by sewing torn pieces back together.”
- Goals and learning activities for teachers: Sneed’s AP Lang Course 1619 Project (google.com)
- The 1857 Project, a special issue of the Gateway Journalism Review that chronicles the history of racial injustice in St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois: The 1857 Project Curricular Resources | Pulitzer Center
- Tony Messenger’s column: https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/tony-messenger/messenger-missouri-republicans-embrace-racism-and-censorship-in-trying-to-ban-the-1619-project/article_436f824d-d6be-5917-82f6-35e241a9973c.html
- Using the 1619 Project in the classroom: Ed Prep Matters | AACTE Blog Teaching the 1619 Project – Ed Prep Matters | AACTE Blog
- New York Times series on how slavery has transformed America: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html
- Foster care: another legacy of slavery: sfonline.barnard.edu/unraveling-criminalizing-webs-building-police-free-futures/toward-the-abolition-of-the-foster-system/
- Kirkwood School District experience: The Kirkwood Call | The 1619 Project
- Webster Groves School District experience: Webster Groves adopts equity-focused social studies curriculum | Education | stltoday.com
- School District of University City article: UCHS AP Students Publish Projects on Racism and St. Louis History (ucityschools.org)
- Women’s Voices Member Jeanette Mott Oxford offers discussion guides to podcasts on the 1619 Project. Request them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lunch and Learn with Dr. Molly Metzger
March 5, 2021
Housing Justice in St. Louis County: Recent Developments, Future Possibilities
Introducing our speaker, Barbara Finch, co-chair of the Women’s Voices Racial Justice Committee, explained that Dr. Metzger’s presentation marked the launching of “Hold the Door Open,” an initiative of the new Affordable Housing Task Force. Dr. Metzger, a senior lecturer at Washington University’s Brown School, focuses on local, state, and federal housing policies.
The St. Louis region is facing a housing crisis, Dr. Metzger said, and advised us on advocacy approaches as we work for solutions. In 2019, about 107,000 households in St. Louis County were “housing cost burdened,” meaning that they spent more than 30% of their income on housing.
To gain people’s acceptance of affordable housing in their community, she said, it is important to explain that today’s crisis is the product of our nation’s shameful history of explicitly racist government and real estate policies such as red-lining and restrictive covenants, not the failure of individuals in need of assistance.
Dr. Metzger advised that advocates show how housing solutions benefit everyone and make communities healthier and more prosperous. She recommended “Piecing It Together,” a publication of the Frameworks Institute, as a resource for messaging that works. Possible local solutions she suggested for advocates include:
- Community benefits agreements–legally binding contracts specifying benefits a developer will provide
- Inclusionary zoning that allows multi-unit developments
- Community land trusts by which the community controls the land and sells the housing at a moderate price
- Affordable housing trust funds in which local revenue is devoted to housing
Metzger advised participating in coalitions such as the Community Builders Network, and audience member Laura Arnold, Webster Groves councilwoman, offered to describe efforts of organizations in Webster Groves. Contact her at email@example.com for more information.
If you are interested in Women’s Voices “Hold the Door Open” initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lunch & Learn with MO State Senator Brian Williams
February 19, 2021
Reforms Help Police and Community: SB 60 and SB 61
“George Floyd, “Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Michael Brown should all be alive today.” With these words, Sen. Brian Williams explained why he is committed to police reform that addresses systemic racism and police practices that endanger the public and police. He has spoken to police associations, officials, activists, and groups across Missouri to explain that reform is a public health priority. “If we don’t address this together, more lives will be lost,” he insisted.
Two bills he has introduced in the Missouri legislature—SB 60 and SB 61—have wide support, he said, because they protect the safety of both the police and civilians and build trust between them.
SB 60 protects police from citizens who take the law into their own hands, and it enables officers to report colleagues’ misconduct without suffering repercussions. It allows police discretion in bench warrant arrests whereby, for example, an officer could assign a person a new court date rather than taking them to jail.
SB 60 also contains de-escalation training, no-knock reform, and a chokeholds ban. SB 61 streamlines the process for expunging a criminal record for a nonviolent crime.
Sen. Williams is optimistic about getting the bills passed by the Missouri legislature. The St. Louis County Council unanimously supported SB 60. He urged Women’s Voices members to speak out about the bill’s benefits for police and communities.
For more information about the bills, submit email to Sen. Williams staff at RobertLarbuthnot@senate.mo.gov.
Lunch & Learn with Dr. Art McCoy
January 12, 2021
Schooling Successfully During and After COVID-19
Dr. Art McCoy, superintendent of the Jennings School District, said COVID-19 demands a new approach to school and learning. Jennings was the only district in St. Louis to resume in-person schooling in July 2020, and it has had no student coronavirus cases.
McCoy said Jennings’s successful operation is based on guidelines from Harvard, MIT, and Johns Hopkins universities to minimize virus transmission: 30 square feet of space for each student, face coverings for teachers and students, intensive cleaning and disposable utensils.
Adapting to COVID-19 has shown the need for innovation in education–a paradigm shift from traditional learning approaches, McCoy said. In the future, learning will occur in a variety of locations and by other ways besides computers–for example, in apprenticeships and job-sharing programs. McCoy described a Jennings program in which high school students earn money while working with Habitat for Humanity, and the district provides service training projects for students living in homeless shelters.
COVID-19 also has highlighted students’ needs that volunteers can help with. Needs include no-contact food and grocery delivery pickup at the school, clothing, gift cards for food (McDonald’s, Steak & Shake, Pancake House, Cracker Barrel are nearby), and coaching to show them possibilities for their future lives. For more information, contact Dr. McCoy at 314-653-8000, www.Jennings.schoolinsites.com.