Racial Justice

Read about our work on Criminal Legal System Reform here

Read about our work on Attainable Housing here

Why YOU Should Join the Racial Justice Committee

June 7, 2024

The 2023-2024 program year has been an exciting and dynamic one for the Racial Justice Committee (RJC) of Women’s Voices. Anne Litwin and Liz Sondhaus became the new co-chairs of the RJC in September, 2023 and hosted an organizing meeting in Venable Park where new goals and plans for the program year were developed by a committed group of members. The RJC’s focus is to 1) educate the public on structural racism, 2) engage members in advocacy to dismantle structural racism, 3) collaborate with other organizations to help raise our voices together against racism, and 4) support the work of our two task forces, the Criminal Legal Reform Task Force and the Attainable Housing Task Force. If these goals appeal to you, RJC is the group for you!

We had a busy program year in 2023-2024! Our accomplishments include:

  • Co-hosting a Racial Justice Film Series with Eliot Chapel
  • Hosting a tour of the Kaplan Feldman Holocaust History Museum for WV members
  • Hosting Gwen Moore, curator of Urban Landscape and Community Identity at the Missouri Historical Society, as our speaker on the racial wealth gap 
  • Collaborating with the Ashrei Foundation to recruit and train 70 new volunteers for the North City ID Clinics
  • Organizing a group to attend the Mary Meachum Freedom Center Celebration
  • Organizing a bus full of members for a Lobby Day to Jefferson City to support the Clean Slate bill (which did not pass – but will pass next year!)
  • Supporting the Criminal Legal System Task Force in their work on Pretrial detention 
  • Eliminating or reforming the cash bail and public defender representation
  • Partnering with the Freedom Community Center for the Courtwatch program
  • Meeting with Mayor Tishaura Jones about how to improve the treatment of prisoners at the St. Louis City jail.
  • Organizing a tour for members of Habitat for Humanity to learn about their method of creating attainable housing. 

We have a wealth of ideas to further our mission for the upcoming 2024-2025 program year. To succeed, this critical work needs everyone’s commitment. PLEASE JOIN US! Contact Anne and Liz at racialjustice@womensvoicesraised.org.

Member Input Requested as We Relaunch Racial Justice Committee

September 19, 2023

Liz Sondhaus and Anne Litwin, the new co-chairs of the Racial Justice Committee (RJC), invite YOU to join us as we identify projects and partnerships in the community that we can engage with and support to advance the cause of racial justice in St. Louis.

Please join us on Saturday, September 30, from 1-3 p.m., at Venable Memorial Park, 10630 Country View Drive, Creve Coeur, MO for community building and brainstorming – and snacks! Please RSVP to racialjustice@womensvoicesraised.org if you are coming so that we may plan accordingly. Even if you can’t make it, reach out if you’d like to be involved!

Women’s Voices Statement in Response to the Julia Ho Incident

August 13, 2021

Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice is appalled that a noose – an overt hate symbol- was hung on the property of Julia Ho in her Benton Park neighborhood. Clearly this act was meant to send the message that Ms. Ho and the Black construction workers on her property are not welcome. The incident is yet another example of the fear and prejudice that lie so close to the surface, and it serves to remind us of the tremendous work that is still needed. We recommit our efforts to build bridges, to examine our own white privilege, and to reduce personal prejudice as well as the systemic racism that has led to inequity in our society.

Two New Task Forces For Racial Justice Committee 

April 5, 2021

Do you know how many units of housing in your community are designated as “affordable”? Do you know how much multi-family housing is allowed in your town? Do your zoning laws mandate primarily large lots and single-family detached homes?

These issues and others will be studied by members of the new Women’s Voices affordable housing task force, which will work under the direction of the Racial Justice Committee. The new initiative, called “Hold the Door Open,” is designed to raise awareness about housing issues in the communities where Women’s Voices members live. A number of opportunities for advocacy are expected to arise as this new effort gets underway.

Also new under the Racial Justice umbrella next year will be a task force focusing on criminal justice reform. If you are interested in learning about how poverty has become criminalized, the difficulties involved in police reform, systems that are in place designed to penalize poor people, and local and state efforts to enact legislation to reform those systems, we encourage you to join this task force.

If you are interested in the broad category of racial justice, or either of the new task forces, email racialjustice@womensvoicesraised.org. More information will be coming this summer.

Racial Justice Book Club

Every other month, a high quality, carefully vetted book focusing on racial justice issues is selected for participants to read and discuss. Find the selections here and consider joining us at our next discussion. You can also see a list of the books we have already discussed.

Overcoming Obstacles to Create Community

“Overcoming Obstacles to Create Community” is an initiative of the Women’s Voices’ Racial Justice Committee. Read more here.

Racial Justice Committee Welcomes New Collaboration

November 2, 2020

In order to improve their effectiveness, members of the Racial Justice Committee have voted to pursue a collaborative relationship with Empower Missouri. Empower Missouri is a statewide organization that focuses on many of the same issues the committee is working on, especially criminal justice reform and affordable housing. WV members Anne Litwin, Mary Schuman, Mary Clemons, Lynn Lupo and Liz Sondhaus will represent Women’s Voices on Empower Missouri’s various committees.

“We are very excited to deepen our working relationship with your dynamic organization!” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, director of policy and organizing for Empower Missouri.

The committee is exploring collaborative relationships with other local organizations that address affordable housing and criminal justice reform.

Racial Justice Committee Tackles Housing, Criminal Justice Reform

September 29, 2020

Members of the Racial Justice Committee have identified criminal justice reform and affordable housing as the two areas they want to concentrate on during the coming year. As part of the committee’s goal to increase collaborative efforts with other organizations working in the area of racial equity, members have been evaluating potential partner organizations to determine if some of their work might benefit our efforts.

Final selection of these organizations will be made at the committee’s next meeting on October 23. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to delve into the issue of affordable housing. To build awareness for the need for affordable housing in the St. Louis area, the committee is examining the current affordable housing landscape, looking at what other cities are doing, and investigating ways that we might use our voices and advocate for improvements in affordable housing in St. Louis.

When we have learned more about this issue, we will be asking members to speak out and speak up in their own communities. This will be a new way of working for Women’s Voices. It may make some of us uncomfortable. If you’ve reached the point where you are willing to speak out about the need for more people to have a place to call home in your community, let us know at racialjustice@womensvoicesraised.org

Women’s Voices Address Passage of MO Senate Bill 600 (SB600)

July 7, 2020

Members of Women’s Voices are dismayed that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is signing SB600, a punitive, regressive crime bill that does absolutely nothing to further the cause of criminal justice reform. This bill will increase mandatory minimum sentences and the time that prisoners spend behind bars. It could add another 2,500 prisoners in the next 20 years, which will mean that Missouri will need more prisons.

More prisons do not result in less crime. We need thoughtful, intelligent solutions to improve public safety by funding improved education, health care, housing, and social services for those who are living in impoverished communities.

Already devastated communities, especially Black communities, will be further damaged by this unnecessary and hurtful legislation. Missouri lawmakers need to find a better way to serve their constituents.

Racial Justice Co-Chairs Urge Veto of SB600

July 4, 2020
Barbara Finch and Jenny Birgé write in the St. Louis American that we do not need more minimum mandatory sentencing! Read their letter here.

Ask Gov. Parson to veto SB600 – 573-751-3222

Women’s Voices Urges Gov. Parson to Veto SB600

June 30, 2020

Women’s Voices co-president, Ruth Ehresman, submitted a letter on behalf of Women’s Voices urging MO Gov. Parson to veto SB600. Read the letter here.

Women’s Voices Observes Juneteenth

June 19, 2020

Juneteenth recognizes the day Black slaves were legally freed. Women’s Voices observes June 19th in support and respect for our Black community of friends, allies, citizens, leaders and neighbors. We raise our voices with others to stop the inequities suffered for hundreds of years. May we all unite to create a safe, healthy, peaceful place for everyone.

Women’s Voices Addresses the Murder of George Floyd

May 27, 2020

George Floyd

It is with a combination of revulsion and outrage that members of Women’s Voices acknowledge the taking of another black life. The murder of George Floyd by four policemen in Minneapolis adds to the list of lives (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, etc.) brutally taken by those who are supposed to “protect and serve.” We are equally appalled by the self-styled vigilantes who stalk and murder innocent black men and boys (Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, etc).

People keep saying, “This has got to stop.” Indeed, it must stop. But it will not stop until our system of so-called “criminal justice” learns that a black life is every bit as valuable as a white life. It will not stop until young white men, armed with weapons of war, put down those weapons and learn that black lives matter.

These lives matter to us. We weep with our black brothers and sisters and re-commit our efforts to seek a better, fairer, most just society for all.

Women’s Voices Members Mourn the Loss of Ahmaud Arbery

​May 8, 2020

Ahmaud Arbery

Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice joins every other voice in mourning the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, who died as victim of racial injustice in Georgia on February 23. This was the innocent loss of life of an unarmed twenty-fiveyearold black man out for a jog. His death comes almost eight years to the day of Trayvon Martin’s death. What have we learned and what can we change? We must continue to speak out when we witness racial inequities, such as treatment or remarks that are race-based. And we must continue to raise our voices around laws that enable access to guns and exacerbate gun violence. Please join us as we mourn and protest another senseless, violent death in America.

The 1619 Project -The New York Times

August 18, 2019

“The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to re-frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

Access the entire New York Times Magazine devoted to the project here.

The New York Times Magazine, The 1619 Project, is available for purchase here.

Below are individual links to The New York Times Magazine (August 18, 2019) essays, followed by other links about the project.

>Listen to the hour-long show on National Public Radio’s 1A devoted to the project.

>Access the PBS Newshour’s discussion with Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad about his essay analyzing how American sugar production cemented slavery within the U.S. economy — and how its legacy endures.

>Listen to the New York Times 1619 podcast series on their website,or wherever you get your podcasts.

Missouri’s shrinking Medicaid rolls raise red flag on vetting process

August 19, 2019

“When Missouri officials announced earlier this year that more than 100,000 people, many of them children, had been dropped from the state Medicaid program, critics assailed the cuts as callous and unnecessary.

But House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said Monday that the cuts largely resulted from a new computer system’s ability to weed out enrollees who earned too much money to qualify for the program.”


“But others are skeptical of the claim that an improved economy is behind a decrease in eligibility. The state’s economy hasn’t improved enough in recent years to push so many recipients off the rolls, said Tim McBride, Washington University Health Economics professor.

“Most of those kids probably should be eligible for Medicaid unless their parents’ income doubled or tripled, but I don’t see evidence in other economic data to suggest that’s what’s going on,” said McBride, who until recently oversaw the state’s Medicaid Oversight Committee.”

Read the article here

St. Louis must invest in young, black males to grow

February 14, 2019

HomeGrown STL convened its annual summit on February 7 at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, where it’s based. Its focus was succinctly stated in the title of the policy brief released and discussed at the summit: “Social Mobility: The Necessary Focus of St. Louis Investment in Black Males.” …Their thesis is pretty simple: if St. Louis does not make major investments in improving the social mobility of young black males in the region, then it does not much matter what else does get the region’s investment and attention. Read more here.

Black Children In St. Louis Far More Likely To Visit The ER For Asthma Than Whites

January 14, 2019 – St. Louis Public Radio

The vast majority of St. Louis emergency room visits for asthma are from black children, according to report from Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office.

The Equity Indicators report found black children are 10 times as likely as white children to visit the emergency room for asthma-related health problems, making it the lowest-scoring indicator of the 72 measures studied by the city.

Read the full article here.

Department of Education Recommends ​Ending Discipline Polities that Protect Children of Color

December 18 – Forbes Magazine

A federal commission headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a long-awaited school safety report today that recommends, among other things, that the Department of Education abandon Obama-era policies aimed at protecting children of color from excessive discipline in school. The 177-page report says that disciplinary decisions should be left to classroom teachers and local administrators who should not have to follow guidance issued by the federal government….

…Research shows that when students are suspended, expelled or arrested, they are more likely to drop out of school and suffer negative consequences. Critics of discriminatory discipline, including the ACLU, have called it the “school to prison pipeline.”…

…A survey of superintendents found that only 16% had modified their disciplinary practices because of the Obama policy, but of those that made the change, 44% said it resulted in a positive experience and 4.5% said the experience was negative.

Two former Obama administration education secretaries, Arne Duncan and John King, criticized the commission’s report in a statement. “Today’s recommendation to roll back guidance that would protect students from unfair, systemic school discipline is beyond disheartening,” they wrote.

Read the full article here

Note: A report released in October, 2017 found that black students in Missouri were 4 times as likely to be suspended as white students. The report detailed the ways in which black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended, arrested and otherwise disciplined in Missouri schools. See here

Suspensions Are Down In U.S. Schools But Large Racial Gaps Remain

December 17, 2018 – NPR

Students in U.S. schools were less likely to be suspended in 2016 than they were in 2012. But the progress is incremental, and large gaps — by race and by special education status — remain.

The Child Trends analysis highlights findings that when a student disrupts class, a school can disrupt that student’s education — and his or her entire life. Research suggests suspension and expulsion, arrests and referrals to law enforcement, is associated with dropping out of school and going to jail. All of these consequences happen more frequently to black students, even in preschool.

Black high school students are still twice as likely (12.8 percent) to be suspended as white (6.1 percent) or Hispanic (6.3 percent) high school students.

Read full article here.

Note: A report released in October, 2017 found that black students in Missouri were 4 times as likely to be suspended as white students. The report detailed the ways in which black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended, arrested and otherwise disciplined in Missouri schools. See here


St. Louis’ poorest residents ask: Why can’t our houses be homes?

October 17, 2018 –

St. Louis is one of six communities the Center for Public Integrity is profiling this month on the eve of a critical midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Washington. These communities are connected by their profound needs and sense of political abandonment at a time when the Trump administration has declared the nation’s war on poverty “largely over and a success.”

Read the article to learn about the housing programs in St. Louis and why “some of the city’s poorest residents say the city is failing them.”

Members Attend Poverty Summit

September 20, 2018

Jeanne Bubb, Mary Clemons and Barbara Finch attended the “2018 Missouri Poverty Summit” on “Building Resilient Communities” which addressed the five components of poverty – economic and family security; education; food and nutrition; health; and housing and energy. The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis quoted author Bryan Stevenson, “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice,” and urged us to join her in the Poor People’s Campaign to bring about a moral revival in this country where 45% of women and girls experience poverty at some point in their lives. PaneIists agreed that government has a moral obligation to support the needs of the poor. Brian Colby, policy director of the Missouri Budget Project, pointed out that Medicaid covers expenses for the majority of the elderly in our nursing homes and pays for the delivery of the majority of babies born in Missouri. He asks, “If we love Grandma and like babies” why haven’t we expanded Medicaid? We may need a ballot initiative so the people have an opportunity to vote for expansion.

Dr. Jason Purnell of the Washington University Brown School emphasized that “financial health is physical health”. “If you want to lower my blood pressure, help me pay my electricity bill,” is a quote that speaks to the connection between poverty and health equity. In discussing the depth and damage from residential segregation Dr. Purnell said that “where you live determines how you live” and affects all the five components of poverty. Place matters when it comes to the value of your home, the quality of your schools, your physical safety and your ability to access healthy food.

Barbara Finch received an ovation for her comment on achieving resilient communities. She said that poor people are resilient; they have to be! What we need to do, she emphasized, is to “take our feet off their necks and change public policy.”


Letter to Clayton Mayor and Police Chief on Racial Profiling

July 19, 2018

On behalf of the 500 members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, most of whom live in the St. Louis area, we write to insist that the City of Clayton and the Clayton Police Department take ownership of the racial profiling of the 10 Washington University students stopped after leaving the I Hop July 7. Read full letter here.

Reflections on the 4th of July

The Obama-era guidelines encouraging affirmative action have been rescinded. Our board member Judy Arnold wonders: Does anyone realize that affirmative action has been around since the founders wrote the Constitution–for whites, that is. As Waking Up White (our racial justice book club selection for August) notes, the G.I. Bill, FHA housing policies, laws that protected realtors, Jim Crow, and many other policies gave whites a leg up. So why are we so indignant about trying to compensate African Americans for years of exclusion from those policies?

Read or listen to the NPR report about this issue here.


Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide

April 25, 2018

Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide is a 115-page community-driven report on segregation and housing in St. Louis, created in partnership with ArchCity Defenders, Ascend STL Inc., Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC), Empower Missouri, For the Sake of All, Community Builders Network, Team TIF, and others. The report presents an extensive history of our region’s use of segregation housing policies and practices and concludes with 11 key recommendations to dismantle our significant divides. Read the report here.

Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis

April 15, 2018

At our Nov. 2017 Women’s Voices program we learned that infant mortality is a racial equality issue in St. Louis where 2 out of 3 babies who die are African American. This article from the New York Times Magazine describes how “systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.” The author continues, “that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages…… Though it seemed radical 25 years ago, few in the field now dispute that the black-white disparity in the deaths of babies is related not to the genetics of race but to the lived experience of race in this country.” Read the article here

Important New Study on Income Disparity

March 19, 2018 – Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children….If this inequality can’t be explained by individual or household traits, much of what matters probably lies outside the home — in surrounding neighborhoods, in the economy and in a society that views black boys differently from white boys, and even from black girls.“

One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

Read more in this New York Times article

Black Panther and Black History

February 20, 2018 – Mike Jones of the St. Louis American writes that “Black Panther is not an action film produced to entertain the underdeveloped intellect of the American entertainment consumer. It is a serious work of art built on a black aesthetic that becomes your creation story as you watch it. Black Panther provides a balm in Gilead that will make you feel whole; it is inspirational and could also become transformational. It provides comprehensive, emotionally satisfying answers to those eternal existential questions all people ask: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? For the two hours of this film, we know what it feels like to be a whole human being.” Read the commentary here

No progress for African Americans on homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years

“Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,” there has been no progress in how African Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.” Read more here

Remembering Frankie Muse Freeman


We mourn the loss of Frankie Muse Freeman who died January 12 at age 101. Mrs. Freeman was a civil rights lawyer and activist and was the lead counsel in the 1954 case Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing. She was the first woman appointed to the US Commission on Civil Rights and was inducted into the Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. You can visit her statue, dedicated in 2011, at Kiener Plaza in St. Louis. Learn more about Mrs. Freeman and other local civil rights leaders at the Missouri History Museum exhibit, #1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis.

Statement on Stockley Verdict

We believe that the verdict finding ex-police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of murder is another troubling sign of injustice and racial divide in our community. Women’s Voices will continue to stand with those who have been unfairly treated by the justice system. We recognize and support the rights of people to voice their frustration and anger and urge law enforcement officials to respect this fundamental right. We have seen too much violence in recent years and hope that the demonstrations do not result in injury to people or damage to property.

After Charlottesville: Responding to Hate and Racial Divisiveness 

The Southern Poverty Law Center website has an excellent guide, “10 Ways to Fight Hate”. Take a look, you’ll find many good suggestions! Click here for the guide.

Women’s Voices wrote the following statement August 13, 2017:Members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice stand in solidarity with the peaceful demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA, who gathered on Aug. 12 to oppose the hate-filled rhetoric and actions of a group of white supremacists. Racism and anti-Semitism continue to plague our country and all too frequently lead to violence and acts of destruction. We stand with people of good will in every community and we pledge to continue our work for racial justice and understanding of this shameful legacy and its effects in our country.

Study Shows Average Black Family Would Need 228 Years to Build the Wealth of a White Family

August 8, 2016

An article about the study in The Nation notes, “Just as past public policies created the racial wealth gap, current policy widens it.”

From the article: It took 400 years of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized discrimination in the labor and housing markets to build the wealth gap that we see today. For example, by the time the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in housing illegal in 1968, people of color had missed out on decades of robust growth in the housing markets (and much of the next generation missed out on that wealth building in the 20 years it took to fully implement the law). “The racial wealth divide is how the past shows up in the present,” Chuck Collins tells The Nation.

Read more here.