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Improved racial equity in St. Louis region could boost economy and voter turnout, says report

Manuel Pastor and the Rev. Starksy Wilson speak on the two reports at the Deaconess Foundation. Sept. 20, 2019.
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

A new report points to ways in which racial equity and common interests can move the St. Louis region forward. The report was highlighted at an event held Thursday morning by the Deaconess Foundation.

“Changing States-Building Power on the Frontlines: Missouri,” from the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, examines how Missouri can improve racial equity in the electoral, judicial and corporate arenas.

“When you bake equity into your strategy among community development, then you lend yourself to regional growth in a more fulsome way,” said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation.

The “Changing States” findings show Missouri is making strides toward greater equity in the three key areas, but a stronger effort to increase participation, particularly in voter turnout is essential.

The report says 46,000 black Missourians who voted in 2012 did not vote in 2016. The reduced voter turnout has been linked to a lack of ballot issues that engaged black voters; issues such as racial justice and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished by treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly, according to their circumstances. — Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute

Wilson said greater minority voter turnout depends on making sure activism translates at the ballot box.

“In as much as we were the center of uprising in 2014,” Wilson said. “I think folks have not told the story enough of the shift from activism to organization, the base building that’s been done in order to impact primarily the electoral arena for reform in criminal justice.”

Economic benefits

Improved equity might also have an effect on the economy. That’s according to Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of California and one of the authors of the “Changing States” report.

“If you are making sure that people can re-enter from the prison system and actually get into employment;  if you’re making sure that immigrants can start new businesses and be welcomed; if you are closing the wage gaps, you are generating economic growth,” Pastor said.

Pastor said he sees some progress in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. The economy can reap the benefits from an equitable society, one in which communities accept social conflict and protests, he said.

The Rev. Starsky Wilson was one of the speakers at the Deaconess Foundation. Wilson is also the CEO of the organization.
Credit The Deaconess Foundation
The Rev. Starsky Wilson was one of the speakers Thursday at the Deaconess Foundation event. Wilson is also the CEO of the organization.

Activating ties

Pastor said the population growth of demographic diversity in the St. Louis region won’t match the same levels in states such as California anytime soon, due, in part, to California’s growing Latino population.

That doesn’t mean progress is impossible.

“I really want to be clear that demography is possibility but it is not destiny,” Pastor said. “The fact that you’ve got slow-moving demography doesn’t mean you can’t activate the ties between white farmers and black residents in the cities about the common goals that they have, and opportunity in the state.”

“Follow the Leader,” a report released Tuesday by the Deaconess Foundation, listed several ways local organizations are working to increase philanthropic organizational leadership across racial lines.

The report counted 152 black-led nonprofits in the St. Louis area. The report encouraged more diversity in the nonprofit arena, specifically by supporting more leadership roles for minorities as well as investing in black-led organization building.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.