St. Louis is a place of contrast and contradiction. Home to abundant cultural attractions, a thriving art scene and dedicated sports fans, St. Louis is often touted as a “great place to raise a family.” Yet, it is also defined by deep and painful racial inequities. St. Louis consistently ranks as one of the most racist communities in the country, and people cite this reputation as a reason to pass on a job offer that requires relocating to the area or to avoid the area altogether.
We are stuck in pattern of segregation and social inequality, unable to turn the page on our past and become a more integrated and equitable region. Our challenges with racism are well-documented, consistently protested, and even at times appropriately prioritized by key civic institutions and leaders. Why then – despite evidence, pressure and leadership – is change NOT happening?
The Urgency of Now
On the heels of Ferguson and the Stockley verdict, the urgency to tackle these problems has increased ten-fold. The Ferguson Commission challenged its readers to question who the status quo was working for and the cost of maintaining it. Inspired by the many Black leaders who have carried this conversation forward, more and more St. Louisans are speaking up and standing up for change. There has never been a better time to connect the dots of good intentions and individual efforts into a powerful movement for real, lasting change.
We Stories believes St. Louis has what it takes to change – the leadership, the knowledge, the skill, and the enduring commitment of so many of its citizens. As the willingness of individuals transforms into a force of collective political will, our community can become a place that all our children are proud to call home.
And we know that it means something to be parenting at this time, in this place. We Stories believes that regional change will come, when White families join the fight for racial equity in a meaningful and sustained way.
We Stories has broken ground in this unique space, the early years of family life – an accessible window when parents are making choices about where to live, who to befriend, and what to prioritize, and children are at a formative stage when bias forms. The beauty of engaging at this particular stage of life is that We Stories can affect real change in two generations. Children are raised with an appreciation of diversity and an understanding of race, while parents are taught to lend their voices to racial justice causes in our educational, political and civic environments.
Catalyzing New Advocates
Through our programming, We Stories has engaged HUNDREDS upon HUNDREDS of White parents in the conversation of race and equity. The Family Learning Program teaches families how to use picture books as a tool to talk to their children about race and jumpstart ongoing and meaningful family habits that counteract racism. We hear time and time again how transformative the experience is for parents as they realize this journey isn’t just about the kids. Talking with their kids is a place to start, a way to begin an intimidating conversation in a concrete and meaningful way. The next step is to join with others to foster a real revolution – to approach the feeling of being “stuck” in a segregated St. Louis, and develop the energy and momentum to make lasting change.
In a very short time, We Stories has mobilized a population of parents that many existing programs have failed to reach. The relationships being built, and the conversations evolving, have the potential to herald a time of real transformation in the St. Louis region. The We Stories community is quickly becoming a strong force for change. Families are showing up as allies and advocates at their schools and childcare centers, workplaces and faith communities, and leaning into tough conversations with family members, friends and neighbors at the dinner table and on the playground. These parents are thirsting to contribute to racial equity efforts in our region, and to reach more and more individuals.
The Next Chapter
The building interest in the We Stories program, compounded by the number of recent incidents involving racial strife in the St. Louis region, makes this a pivotal moment in the fight for equity. People who were once unaware of racism are starting to ask questions in new ways. The opportunity to engage with these interested individuals and turn them into active advocates is now! But We Stories needs to have the capacity to nurture a large population of invested, interested parents.
While we have evidence of change, what we don’t have yet is critical mass — the kind of region-wide momentum needed to change both the narrative about race and the municipal and regional policies and practices that keep us stuck.
In just a few short years, We Stories has engaged nearly 1000 families in St. Louis. But to create the kind of regional change we need — before We Stories kids become We Stories parents — we need to scale the organization. We need to reach more families, faster, and we need to provide them with more resources and more support. And we need your help to get there.