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How do the routes we take every day contribute to oppression? A conversation with Tabari Coleman

Tabari Coleman
Tabari Coleman

Tabari Coleman is not originally from St. Louis. His father was in the Air Force and the family traveled all over the country and even to Guam with him.

“I had the chance to be around a whole bunch of different cultures,” Coleman told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “[St. Louis] is more segregated than any place I’ve lived.”

Coleman has now lived in St. Louis for almost 15 years and serves as the project director for the A World of Difference Institute at the Anti-Defamation League. He is also one of the speakers slated for this weekend’s Mumuration Festival, giving a talk titled “Routes and Roots Contributing to Oppression.”

More information about the festival itself here.

Coleman said he came to the topic of his talk after working with the Missouri History Museum on a St. Louis maps exhibit a few months ago.

“I had the opportunity to put a social justice perspective to how communities are divided,” Coleman said. “I think about commute, routes, places that we frequent, places that we avoid and how that might contribute to challenges these communities face.”

Coleman has been thinking about these challenges, how people stick to their same daily routes, ever since he learned about the “Delmar Divide.”

“I’ve been thinking about how divided our community is, how people who live two miles from a certain neighborhood may never have been to that community,” Coleman said.

This was a hard world to come to terms with when Coleman first came to St. Louis.

“The fact that I had never lived in communities where it was predominantly black or white, where people stayed in their own spaces, that was hard for me, with my friendships, with my relationships,” Coleman said. “Conversations, disconnects about experiences that black folks were going through that others didn’t know about.”

Coleman’s role with the ADL is to engage people around such issues and to host “courageous conversations” that tear down misconceptions or preconceived routes through life. Although some have become fatigued with the idea of conversations around race, urging for more action, Coleman thinks such conversations are still critical.

“Had our grandparents started having these conversations, they would be easier for us to have today,” said Coleman.

Coleman hopes that his talk at Murmuration will spur such conversation and, perhaps, lead people out of their everyday routes that contribute to oppression.

“[Oppression] isn’t too strong of a word, in the way racism isn’t too strong of a word or sexism isn’t too strong of a word,” Coleman said. “We shy away from it because we are concerned with wanting everyone to feel good about things — but not everyone feels good.”

Coleman also hopes to draw connections between the worlds of science and art and the world of activism.

"I want to make sure I'm contributing to a world that allows [my children] to be all of themselves and to feel whole and full."

“What I’ve always valued about scientists and artists is that they make mistakes and they get back up and they learn from those mistakes … I think there is a lot we in the social justice community can learn from that,” Coleman said.

While hosting such conversations, he said, can be exhausting, he does it as his contribution to making the world a better place for his kids.

“I have a 3-year-old daughter who is bi-racial,” Coleman said. “I do this for her. I do this because I have a son who is 19 and bi-racial. I want to make sure I’m contributing to a world that allows them to be all of themselves and to feel whole and full. I’m putting in my time, putting in my work, there is no choice in this matter.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.