Race relations didn't keep me away from St. Louis; they brought me here

Race relations didn't keep me away from St. Louis; they brought me here

The old courthouse in downtown St. Louis became the setting for our latest We Live Here podcast. TIM LLOYD | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

Editor's note: This is Kameel Stanley's inaugural article for St. Louis Public Radio's We Live Here project. We asked her to introduce herself.

Two things have consistently come up since I moved to St. Louis a few weeks ago.

Namely, my roots and my race.

“Are you from here?” Is the question I get almost immediately after meeting someone. (I’m not.)

And then, after the other get-to-know-you inquiries have been answered, the conversation turns to race relations.

It came up in a conversation I had with a woman at a food truck festival in Tower Grove Park. It came up in the grocery line. It came up with the guy who installed my internet service.

Some people have even asked, boldly, why I would ever come here, given what happened in Ferguson a year ago.

All this should not be that surprising, I suppose.

Race relations is on a lot of people’s minds. And it is why I’m here.

Earlier this summer, I left my job as a newspaper reporter at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida to move back to the Midwest (I was born and raised in Michigan) to take a job here at St. Louis Public Radio.

Clearly these issues aren’t unique to St. Louis or Ferguson or, really, most cities in America.

But I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the state of things in the St. Louis region — while a reflection of the country’s long and tangled history with racial inequity — feels intense; maybe even more intense than in Tampa Bay, where I investigated racial disparities in policing and reported on racial tensions in city government.

The Dred Scott memorial was one of the first places our new We Live Here co-host, Kameel Stanley, went when she first got into town. TIM LLOYD | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

The Dred Scott memorial was one of the first places our new We Live Here co-host, Kameel Stanley, went when she first got into town. TIM LLOYD | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

The difference — and maybe the key — is that there is so much conversation in St. Louis about this topic.

This week’s show kind of became my introduction of the area.

Our journey started at the historic courthouse downtown. And, because we’re nerds, we ended up at the library, where Tim Lloyd took me just days after I got into town.

Tim actually was there to moderate a forum about racial justice that instead turned into a giant community conversation.

People like Terrell Carter, a former St. Louis City police officer turned college professor, author and minister, told stories about getting passed up for jobs. Many other people expressed frustration about the divisions in neighborhoods that persist. Others talked about dealing with trauma.

Because we didn’t have an endless amount of time that evening, we encouraged people to write down their feelings about race relations. Dozens jotted down anonymous answers to this question: “If I were to describe race relations in St. Louis, I’d say …”

Here is a sampling of the responses:

“We have a lot of work to do.”

“The races are divided by housing for the most part; a partial exception is the central corridor. They are also divided by mode of transportation.”

“No one is radical enough in their hearts to have disruptive love. The future of racial justice must be intersectional.”

“Nonexistent. The races in St. Louis don’t have relationships. We just tolerate each other because we continue to live on a modern day plantation. It does not exist.”

“It is deeply rooted. It is complicated. Most people don’t recognize it in themselves.”

“Toxic to children.”

We thought it would be a good idea, since I’m new in town, to fill one out too. So here’s mine.

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