At a gathering of St. Louis-area community leaders this week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heard directly from frontline educators and pastoral leaders about the profound racial and socioeconomic inequities that they encounter in neighborhoods and schools throughout the region.
Reverend Traci Blackmon hosted the community meeting at Christ the King United Church of Christ, about six miles from Ferguson in Florissant, Mo. Blackmon is on the Ferguson Commission to be a part of the healing work that changes the “systemic and structural challenges” of Ferguson, the community where a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager, sparking protests, unrest and a national conversation on race.
In a panel with community leaders, Clinton was able to hear firsthand about the challenges in the community.
Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, who presides over the nearby Jennings school district, shared her methods to success with her students by providing for the basic needs of her community.
“The first thing that you have to know in order to serve any child you have to serve the whole child,” Anderson said.
Anderson has implemented mental health therapists, pre-kindergarten, food pantries, washer and dryers, and pediatricians all over the district. Anderson had to cut back on staffing to afford many of the extra supports. “You have to remember that schools are now the center of the community,” Anderson said. Education Week profiled Anderson for her community schools work in its 2015 Leaders To Learn From report.
“I’m so glad she talked about the whole child,” Clinton said, “and working with the whole family and providing opportunities for parents to be involved so that they are partners with teachers and what you’ve just said and the results you’re getting should be a wake-up call about what’s needed.”
Jason Purnell, an assistant professor at Washington University shared his findings from his study “For the Sake of All.” Purnell and other researchers discovered an 18-year gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks living less than 10 miles from each other in Missouri.
President and CEO of Beyond Housing, Chris Krehmeyer, shared his 24:1 initiative with Clinton and the audience.
“We believe in the notion that home matters,” Krehmeyer said. “We think you should focus on housing, health, jobs, economic development and education and do it altogether intentionally and say how do they connect?”
Krehmeyer has built homes, grocery stores, movie theaters, retail stores and more to create communities that have a chance to thrive.
Clinton said she has hope for the future and youth “but despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from over.”
“We must do all we can to make sure our communities respect law enforcement and that law enforcement respects the communities they serve,” Clinton said. “And we need to come together for common sense gun reforms that keep our communities safe.” Clinton also stated the Confederate flag “shouldn’t fly anywhere.”
Also, Clinton wants to address the injustices of mass incarceration of people of color and immigrants to sustain the prison business.
“In 2014, there were 1,100 back children sent from schools to the juvenile system,” Blackmon said. “In that same year, there were only 63 white children who had that same result. I again say that this is a race issue.”
“We should start by giving all of our children the tools and opportunities to overcome legacies of discrimination, to live up to their own God-given potential,” Clinton said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.