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Letter from the Co-Chairs

Dear Partners in Change,

This report is presented with an understanding that it reveals difficult, uncomfortable truths about this region we call home. It should be read with an understanding that there are ways to address these issues, and that there are people of goodwill who want to address these issues. Perhaps most importantly, addressing these significant challenges will take all of us working together to find common ground. This is our opportunity to realize that we don’t have to see eye to eye to walk arm in arm.

We are very grateful for the work contained here and
the many people who contributed to the work. We are particularly thankful to have had the opportunity to co-chair the commission. We have worked hard to be good partners on this journey. It has been our privilege to learn from and serve alongside one another. The two of us came to this work because Governor Nixon asked us, and because of a shared faith based on love and grace, committed to peace and justice. We believe these principles, regardless of your faith perspective, compel all of us to engage and to act.

The commission hopes that you will engage more deeply the more you learn. You will find things you didn’t know. You will find things you don’t agree with. Understanding our disagreements has been part of our process as a commission. But we, like so many in our region, know that we must first listen to understand them and keep listening. We know we must confront our reality and then have the courage to act. And all of us must find ways to engage, regardless of where we live in the region.

So often throughout this process, friends, family, neighbors and colleagues, knowing of the work of the Commission, have asked, “What can I do?” Well, there is something for all of us to do.

In this letter, while communicating with our region, we also want to speak specifically to those who are in political, civic and business leadership roles, to those who live in well resourced communities, and particularly to those who are motivated by your moral imagination or other reasons to engage in the process of reconciliation, healing and change. You have a particular responsibility to deploy and leverage the opportunities we have been given.

We are struck by the fact that but by the privilege of the place and circumstances of birth, some of us personally experience the very troubling and incredibly difficult circumstances described in this report. Others find them hard to believe.

It is also appropriate that we directly address youth, activists and organizers, those directly affected by social conditions this report explores and who live daily under weight of the inequities it attempts to address. We’re here as a commission because people went to the streets or spoke up in many other ways, seeking significant change. The commission has added a focus on the need for that change, and defined what we believe some of that change should look like.

To drive change, we will all need to continue striving. Our civic, business and not-for-profit community have incredible capacity. Our grassroots organizations and advocates have tremendous energy. Taken together, there is capacity for remarkable transformation. We are an incredibly generous and giving region that has seen great progress in many areas. With appropriate alignment, this capacity points to the opportunity for a brighter future.

But, the reality described in this report shows where we still have a great deal of work to do. It shows that we have a responsibility to seek and demand change from the accountable bodies named in this report.

We have attempted to identify specific things you can do—to learn more, to act, to voice your support or dissent, and to find ways you can join to be part of the solution. We hope that as more and more people read and engage with the report, the number of ways to connect, and the number of things you can do, will grow. We plan to update this digital report so that it is an evolving, vital engine for engagement and impact. Even if you don’t agree with something in our report, there is plenty of work here. We want you to join us, to be part of this work with us.

Our commission strongly believes that a better, more unified, more equitable St. Louis is not only possible, but worth pursuing together. And we hope that you will understand what we have come to understand. We have discovered that ‘once you know, you can’t unknow.’

Again, we express our condolences to Michael Brown, Jr.’s family and friends, who continue to feel great pain at his loss. The expressions of the grief and pain of our community from far too many tragic events has led us to confront the deep realities of violence, of systemic racism, of inequity.

Regardless of one’s view of what happened that day in Ferguson, the events of August 9, 2014 revealed deep and divisive problems in our region. While not unique to our region, this is our reality. It catapulted our community into the national and international spotlight.

Now we have the opportunity to do something with these events, to do something with this moment in our history. For the commission, this is a responsibility we have undertaken with appropriate solemnity.

Through the commission’s work, we have embarked upon an experiment in inclusive democracy. We have insisted on being more than a ceremonial body, because our very existence is an admission that our region is not equitable for all. We believe this inequity makes us weaker, and we are capable of doing better. We understand that we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to address these issues.

During this process it was frequently moving, and often inspiring, to hear from those who shared their stories and lifted their voices. We hope that with this report, we honor their belief in us, and the democratic process.

While it is important for us to express our appreciation for the hundreds of people who have engaged in the process and advanced it, it is also important for us to acknowledge that while we talked to a lot of people, we didn’t talk to everyone. We know there are perspectives out there that we didn’t hear, and we are sure there are people out there who don’t yet feel heard. To them we say, we’re still here. We’re ready to listen whenever you’re ready to speak. Even after the Commission is no longer in existence, this report outlines a continuing process for more listening, collaboration and action.

In 2013, as we prepared to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday, leaders debated whether or not to engage in community-wide planning, in a wide assessment of the region. Increasingly, civic leaders said no, and it didn’t happen. But on August 9th, young people said yes. We have a Commission because our region’s youth, through their actions, demanded that we rethink things. Youth voice brought us to this moment.

Mothers and fathers, extended families, faith communities, neighbors and leaders need to be there to support their hopes and dreams. We want to see our children and every citizen living peaceably, protected and safe without harassment. This requires intentional action to build positive relations between community members and police.

To be faithful to this moment, we must respond and work together with young people to bring about change for their generation, and the next. Leaders are dealers in hope. The commission’s challenge to the leaders of this region – no matter how, where, or who you lead – is to engage in the hard work of creating real hope.

We particularly challenge the elected leaders in our state and in our region. We say to them:the commission has provided the needed place for focus on these critical issues at this difficult time. Much of the work identified here is public policy work for which elected bodies and officials are accountable. The St. Louis region needs your leadership and your commitment.

Because for St. Louis to get better, to become more fair, to become more equitable, to become more just, it will take all of us. We can do this. We can be better.

Forward (through) to a better tomorrow,

Rich McClure                                    Rev. Starsky D. Wilson
Co-Chair                                             Co-Chair