You can be a tough nut to crack.
Like many of those born here, to understand you, I had to learn about you. About your history, your policies, and the forces that shape your economy. That zip codes can exist within miles of each other, but the residents of each might as well live in different worlds. It wasn’t until much later that I understood how you became that way. You’ve gotten in your own way, sometimes, St. Louis, and blocked your own progress by keeping people locked out of opportunity.
My family experienced the impact of your racial segregation up close, and I knew the isolation it imposed as one of the very few Black children at my school and in our neighborhood. And now, I have devoted my life to helping you build equitable health outcomes for all—not just the few in privileged zip codes.
What would it be like if we lived—not in different worlds—but in the same equitable world? I don’t think it’s as complicated as some make it out to be. I’ve talked about you so much and for so long that I can quote myself now: you don’t have an innovation problem. You have a distribution problem. You are not at a loss about how to develop healthy residents who enjoy safe living environments, jobs, and schools. It’s not rocket science. We make up stories about how people can make it out of your darkness with hard work. But your structures are rigged.
You can’t wait anymore to change it. Don’t wait. If we wait to change a critical mass of hearts and minds, we’ll be waiting another century. No single person, family, politician, or business can do it alone.
But ask yourself: why is your charity necessary in the first place? It’s not enough to just be generous. The rules of the game have to change. We can’t just program and social service our way out of inequity.
I encourage you to grow. It’s easy to get complacent, comfortable, and unwilling to change or accept external ideas about how we could be. It’s almost like you have an “allergy” to outside methods or ways of being sometimes. “Where did you go to high school?”—what could be more provincial than that?
I have hope. Your major institutions, many of which have announced commitments in the right direction, are leading change—like the 2030 jobs plan. I am encouraged by your St. Louis Anchor Action Network, comprised of 16 large organizations devoted to improving economic outcomes in a 22-zip code geography that has faced disinvestment for too long. They understand their collective power, and are banding together in service, not just of their individual ambitions, but for our region, our home, as a whole. Not every city has that.
I am also encouraged by your Once and for All effort from Beyond Housing which is opening hearts and minds to why investing in your most under-resourced communities is the key for moving the entire region forward and creating stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis for all.
I am heartened by your people, who are willing to have conversations about reorganizing the logic of our systems and structures to ensure the health and well-being of everyone, regardless of race or zip code.