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Forward Through Ferguson sets sights on 2039 for equality in metro St. Louis

People protest against the criminalization of poverty in downtown St. Louis in on July 21, 2016.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Forward Through Ferguson said the St. Louis region can and must close social, health and economic gaps by 2039.

Forward Through Ferguson is encouraging locals to imagine a St. Louis devoid of racial inequity by the year 2039.

That year will mark 25 years since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The non-profit group released a preliminary action plan on Wednesday, in which community leaders and residents considered benchmark goals for the next three years. A full report will be available in June.

Board member Adelaide Lancaster said she believes the city of St. Louis and the region can and must close social, health and economic gaps over the next 25 years.

“The work that we have ahead of us to create a racially equitable region is generational work, it is long-term work, it is systemic work,” Lancaster said. “We know that we need at least that amount of time to make a market difference on the life outcomes for folks across our region.”

'... inequity already costs us'

Lancaster also said creating equal opportunity for everyone in the region will pay off for the local economy.

Forward Through Ferguson cites a 2015 report from the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis that estimates the gross domestic product of the St. Louis region, which includes parts of Illinois, could have been about $151 billion dollars in 201 — if not for an income gap among white and non-white groups. The center estimates that’s 10 percent higher than what the local economy actually produced that year.

“There are a lot of ways inequity already costs us,” Lancaster said. “I think some of those costs, we’ve become so accustomed to them that they are seemingly invisible.”

Forward Through Ferguson, formed in an effort to continue work laid out by the Ferguson Commission, discussed three action strategies at the Wednesday meeting:

  • Supporting policy changes
  • Measuring racial equity
  • Creating a system to sustain long-term work

Battling gaps and disparities

Gaps in household wealth and incarceration rates in the region are some of the issues the plan aims to address. Other disparities include life expectancy and infant mortality rates.

The cost of inaction is so much greater than the cost of action. — Adelaide Lancaster, Forward Through Ferguson

Lancaster noted the differences between Clayton, an affluent municipality in St. Louis County, and areas north and east of the Jeff Vanderlou neighborhood in St. Louis.

“There’s an 18-year life expectancy gap between people who live in 63106 and 63105,” Lancaster said. “And I think that that is a pretty startling number knowing how manageable and accessible and relatively small our region is.”

The organization plans to continue to promote civic engagement, advocate for the elimination of punitive measures in schools, create cohorts, release annual reports and support the city’s Equity Indicators initiative.

Measuring equity

The city of St. Louis hired Cristina Garmendia in January to manage the initiative and develop a tool that measures equity.

“We’re following the priority areas set out in the commission report,” Garmendia said. “There are 24 data points that we’re committing to collecting annually in each of those areas: Youth at the Center, Opportunities to Thrive and Justice for all.”

Forward Through Ferguson members have looked to other cities for models of what they are trying to achieve including Portland, Oregon, and Buffalo, New York.

David Dwight of Forward Through Ferguson said he believes, though, the equity action plan in St. Louis can become a model for others.

“This is a huge opportunity for St. Louis to really emerge as a national leader,” Dwight said.

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.