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A few years in, ongoing work of Forward Through Ferguson still urgent – and difficult

Forward Through Ferguson catalysts (from left) Yinka Faleti, Karishma Furtado and David Dwight discussed their organization’s newly released assessment of progress toward racial equity in the St. Louis region.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For members of the Forward Through Ferguson team, the past few years have been full of work that feels important and exciting – and also excruciatingly slow.

The organization this week unveiled its “State of the Report,” a tool that aims to quantitatively track progress toward racial equity in light of the initial Ferguson Commission, and in only five of 47 key areas does the data suggest significant change thus far.

“There’s definitely frustration in [the ongoing work] and always a hope that things can be more urgent,” David Dwight, senior strategy and partnerships catalyst, said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “At the same time, I think we’ve had to find excitement in those who are implementing the calls to action from the report [and] to see the way that our region has taken on racial equity.”

While talking with host Don Marsh and fellow Forward Through Ferguson colleagues Yinka Faleti and Karishma Furtado, Dwight recalled how the region’s overall conversation has changed in the four years since Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was killed by a local police officer on Aug. 9, 2014.

“We had to drag people into having this conversation [a few years ago],” Dwight said. “We’d be the person in a meeting, in a forum, who was saying, ‘Are we going to talk about our deep racial issues?’ And nowadays we see, across the region, leaders are talking about it. Just in this past election, so many candidates were talking about these equity issues and had solutions to fix it.”

Faleti, the lead catalyst and executive director for Forward Through Ferguson, called Wesley Bell’s stunning upset in the primary race for St. Louis County prosecutor an indication that people want change.

“I think that what happened in Ferguson was on the minds of many voters,” Faleti said. “I think that a lot of people in this region are looking for change and want things to be different than they have been, and I think the election of Wesley Bell was a clear signal.”

Faleti and Furtado, the data and analysis catalyst, both emphasized the importance of celebrating the progress that has occurred while also recognizing there’s a long way to go when it comes to addressing racial inequity.

“In the last couple years, while we haven’t necessarily seen all the calls to action being implemented, what we have been seeing is a marked improvement in many of those principles of the work,” Furtado said. “So people are getting better at radically collaborating – they’re getting better at radically listening. They’re understanding what racial equity is and how to apply a racial-equity lens into their work. And they’re starting to think more in terms of systems and policies as opposed to programs.”

At the same time, there are other areas where there’s been not just a lack of progress but even a regression.

“We absolutely have work to do [locally], and we have work to do at the state level,” Faleti said. “Even when we make progress in this region, for example, on the minimum wage, where this region voted to increase it and the state voted to roll it back – things like that fly in the face of the Ferguson Commission calls to action. We know that a living wage is important for people to be able to thrive and to survive and to live and to do.”

Another example of regression, Dwight said, has to do with Senate Bill 5.

“[It] had important recommendations that made it so that we couldn’t have exorbitant fines and fees from residents just to prop up small municipal governments and also really did some work around ensuring that there weren’t conflicts of interest amongst judges and prosecutors who would play different roles in different municipalities,” he explained. “But the Supreme Court [of] Missouri actually slashed some of those.”

As the organization looks toward next steps, Dwight added, the focus will be on local investment.

“In so many sectors across the region … people are growing in their understanding of racial equity and wanting to implement it, and so we’ve really focused in for the next three years on what are the policies that we can see the most systems-wide impact on,” he said. “One of them that we’re really focusing in on is about out-of-school suspension and really making sure that our school environments are places where kids can thrive and not ones where they’ll be carted and put on the path toward prison.”

Related Event
What: First of three informational meetings on the State of the Report
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018
Where: St. Louis County Library Indian Trails Branch (8400 Delport Dr., St. Louis, MO 63114)

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 EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally 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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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.