“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help- Psalm 121:1”
DELUX Magazine sat down one-on-one with some of St. Louis’ most vigilant community organizers. Since the re-awakening of injustice within our city and across the country, there have been people who have stepped up, and spoken out.
People equipped with bold, unapologetic voices, ready to create an equal playing field for everyone who calls themselves a citizen of the United States. These people stand on the front lines, hoping to effect change today and for the future. Activism is not easy, nor is it for the faint at heart. Still, these young people grab it by the reigns and stand strong in the face of adversity.
Check out who we caught up with next in our series of VOICES OF THIS GENERATION.
DELUX: Tell our readers who you are and the role you have been playing in the community organizing and protesting?
SW: I’m Rev. Starsky Wilson. I’m president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, pastor of Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community) and former leaders of the Ferguson Commission. Since the Ferguson Uprising and the Stockley verdict, I’ve been working to be a supportive presence for young leaders; providing resources, access, and connections when appropriate and putting my body on the line when it may be helpful.
DELUX: What prompted you to become involved with community organizing and social justice issues?
SW: My life story and sense of calling are seasoned with the tragedies that come from growing up in under-resourced, over-policed communities. I lost my older brother and my youngest uncle to community violence within blocks of one another and where I lived in Dallas, Texas. So, early on, I committed to live a life that made a difference in the public square. I studied political science and the scriptures in preparation for life of ministry committed to social justice and informed by liberation theologies.
DELUX: Tell me about some of the social injustices have you witnessed here in St. Louis?
SW: In the Fairground Park and College Hill neighborhoods around Saint John’s Church, I witness the results of outward migration motivated by racial bias and benign neglect as vacant lots take up spaces where families used to thrive. The ghosts of the Fairground Park race riot which occur when the public pool was integrated still haunt the community.
Through our work at Deaconess Foundation, we see the psychic impact on students of growing up in educational environments with resource officers and metal detectors where recreation areas and media centers used to be. Perhaps the greatest injustice in our region is the great disparity in the number of Black children sentenced to detention and suspension far outpacing their white peers.
During the Stockley protests, personally being herded by St. Louis Metropolitan Police with 142 other citizens exercising our right to free speech and assembly was an injustice. But, it pales in comparison to the questionable police involved killings which we continue to gather to build resistance against.
DELUX: What are your thoughts about the culture of St. Louis? The police department? City Hall?
SW: St. Louis’ culture includes many assets. A charitable spirit. World-class institutions of higher education. Unique and diverse arts and entertainment options. Yet, the systematic fragmentation reflected in racial divisions, proliferation of small municipalities, non-profit organizations and school districts threaten to strangle whatever new life is possible in the region.
Civic culture is always reflective leadership. Our lack of responsiveness to an active public and increased civic engagement is problematic. The politics of City Hall has become the politics of policing as the only element of public safety, North versus South divide-and-conquer and white progressives pursuing corporate interests over African American elected officials disconnected from Black people. In this environment, it is no wonder the issues of child, youth and families cannot get a hearing or actionable policy change.
DELUX: What do you feel are some of the issues you see occurring among races here?
Black citizens and their children are disproportionately affected by out-of-school suspensions, the low minimum wage, lack of competition in legislative districts, the influence of big-money donors like Rex Sinquefeld in local politics and under-developed public transportation options to get to available jobs.
DELUX: What are the misconceptions you feel a lot of people have about one another in St. Louis?
SW: We have so effectively “othered” one another that we cannot conceive of the humanity of people unlike us. The misconception is that people on the South Side, the North Side, in the County or on the other side of the river don’t eat, sleep, breathe, hurt and cry just like we do.
DELUX: Let’s expand outside of St. Louis, what do you feel this country’s issue with Black people may be?
SW: Implicit bias and externally expressed prejudice have unfortunately intersected in our national political consciousness as fueled by demagoguery from the highest office in the land. Historically, though, our story of origins based upon the Anglo-Saxon myth pervades our contemporary thinking about the value of non-white people. This unfortunately and often unconscious commitment to a hierarchy of human value. It’s deeper than most know or could imagine.
DELUX: What are some things or actions you feel will need to take place here in St. Louis before real change can be seen?
SW: It seems to me, we must invest more deeply in civic engagement, community organizing and policy advocacy to shift the systems that continue to produce disparities in life outcomes. This not just for institutional philanthropies, like Deaconess. Personal and family budgets need to support social justice organizations, faith communities fighting for systems change and youth groups learning public leadership. I personally believe the 3,000 citizens who came out to inform the Ferguson Commission Report also deserve the respect of elected officials, who should take the calls-to-action as their blueprint to build a better region.
DELUX: We’ve all heard the term “Stay Woke” a lot lately. What does it mean to you?
SW: It means make sure you’ve got good marching shoes, a valid voter registration card, a library card, a good study Bible, the phone number to jail support, a copy of ‘The Politics of Jesus’ and an encryption app on your phone.
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