Dear Lou: Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge 

Dear Lou, I was born in 1969, one year after the Fair Housing Act passed, making housing segregation and discrimination illegal. Moving from St. Louis City to Pagedale in 1974 meant following the American dream for my parents and so

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Dear Lou, I was born in 1969, one year after the Fair Housing Act passed, making housing segregation and discrimination illegal. Moving from St. Louis City to Pagedale in 1974 meant following the American dream for my parents and so many others. And so, the magic began. Through the eyes of my youth, my childhood was like a fairytale. The community looked out for and were accountable to one another.

Unfortunately, I would later understand that this shielded existence was far from our region’s racially influenced narrative:

• The myriad of municipalities in St. Louis County and resulting fragmentation had been a historic tool to control the racial composition of neighborhoods through racially restrictive deed covenants, indentures, and ordinances.

• Despite the legal end of segregation and redlining, the value of our homes would continue to be suppressed. As such, my parents would never build meaningful housing wealth that could be leveraged to finance college for their children or passed on as generational wealth like their majority counterparts. • Disinvestment would occur through the decades as business owners sought more affluent communities. The combination of low housing values, middle class flight and commercial decline would result in perpetually fewer resources to fund our city services and schools and a decades-long fight to restore vitality.

I am 52 now, and the vestiges of our racial past still loom large today. The home I currently own is in a municipality with a now-illegal racial covenant which historically only allowed people of color to dwell in a domestic capacity. Imagine what it feels like to read that the home I currently occupy was not meant for me simply because of the color of my skin. And during the 2018/2019 school year, the highest-spending majority White district spent $8,412 (nearly 40%) more per student than the highest-spending majority Black district and 2.4 times (about $18,000) more per student than the lowest-spending districts. Have we contemplated the compounding impact of this inequality over decades to communities of color? As a member of the Missouri State Board of Education and former member of the Normandy School Board, this challenge weighs heavily on me.

I am determined to do all I can to bring about the structural and systemic change required. 𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐨𝐩𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐦𝐬 𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞 An awareness of the interconnectivity of housing, education, and employment systems is emerging. Purpose-driven initiatives such the St. Louis Anchor Action Network are bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address inequities through efforts to increase employment, income, health, and wealth building.

Our region has made other inroads, such as our Cortex Innovation Community a myriad of new residential and commercial developments. Yet despite this progress, too many people experience generational poverty in racially segregated communities with inequitable access to opportunity. This has an ugly genesis in segregation and racism—the ugly truths we talk around and choose to omit to avoid pain, shame, and guilt. 𝐒𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞 𝐠𝐨 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞? To move forward and repair the harm, we have to 𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐤 about our ugly racially biased past, the long-term restriction of resources to communities of color, and the harmful impacts that linger to this day. Despite our challenges, I have faith in us because we St. Louisans have a unique superpower: our philanthropic spirit of giving.

Our spirit of giving can:

• Propel us forward to invest in our fellow residents and apply an equity lens to everything from schools to infrastructure. • Help ensure that zip codes are no longer determinants of health, economic, academic, and other important outcomes for our children.

• Drive workforce development, increase population growth, and attract international investment. • Ultimately fuel my most fervent wish: For St. Louis to become a unified region where everyone can thrive. We can accomplish so much together by leaving our agendas at the door and working to heal the fractures that divide us. But we must first be willing to face the truth of our past and work with and learn from people whose views differ from our own. I am proud to be part of organizations that are expanding cultures of inclusion and to take action with coalitions of civic-minded partners.

I love St. Louis’ distinctive yet very American commitment to giving and uplifting others. I look forward to channeling that spirit toward revealing truth and healing, removing structural barriers, redesigning systems, and aligning resources to support and strengthen all our residents. I cannot wait to see the magical experiences our children and grandchildren will have because of our work now.

With love, hope, and optimism,

Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge,

Normandy school district graduate and current resident Member of the Missouri State Board of Education Board member of Beyond Housing Principal, Edward Jones


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