Watch the videos. Read the letters.

“Dear Lou” was created to raise awareness for Once and for All, an effort to bring St. Louisans together around the need to invest in our under-resourced communities to finally address the root source of our region’s challenges and move all of St. Louis forward. By creating an ongoing conversation, it’s also a way to bring us closer together by bridging the boundaries that often divide us. Watch the videos and read the full letters in the video description.

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"Dear Lou": Adam Wainwright

Dear Lou, 

I came to you to lead Missouri Foundation for Health, where we work with others to achieve health equity across Missouri. That encompasses everything from reducing childhood obesity and firearm violence to pushing Medicaid expansion, focusing on infant vitality and women’s health, and more. 

I grew up in Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s and 70’s, where I was exposed to social justice movements and racial strife. I came from a family of nurses, police officers, ministers … people who live lives of service. I knew I would too. I have worked at nonprofit organizations for almost three decades.

Before I became a St. Louisan, I worked with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey, which spans the entire country. Here, what we do is just as important, and just as complicated. For so long, equality has been the great American ideal—and it has taken us far. But as we know, especially in my line of work, health equity is really our opportunity to go even further. To create a greater ideal. 

Saint Louis first drew me as the place that ignited calls for justice, dignity, and equity across the globe after Michael Brown's death. I still carry that heartache and awe with me. When I arrived, you charmed me with your rich, deep culture, your art, jazz, and innovative food scene.  

I have found strong leadership, interested in upholding the will of the people and working with communities to make their lives better. People who understand that health equity is the path to solving so many other problems, and that racism has no place, especially in the public systems that serve us all. That awareness and accountability—which are not everywhere—are important drivers for the change we all want to see. 

I have also found an abundance of kind, curious people here. They ask: Where did you go to high school? What brought you here? Do you have a dog? You really surprised me with your sense of neighborly charity. If one of your own has a problem, their neighbors, their communities, show up. That happens elsewhere too—but here, I see it so frequently. I know that if our systems work better for everyone, that spirit could go so much further, and that's what we're working to do. Remember, Lou—you can love people you don't know. 

Traditional visions of health equity teach us to examine issues as opportunities to work with others and help those who need it most, who then get labeled “needy.” But they aren’t needy. They're strong. They’re resilient. They’re brilliant, in so many ways. 

Is true health equity achievable here? Of course, it is. And it will happen because of the people of Missouri who deserve a fair and just opportunity to live their healthiest lives.

Dear Lou: You bring a tear to my eye. 

Sincerely,
Dwayne Proctor
President and CEO, Missouri Foundation for Health

Dear Lou,

I came to you to lead Missouri Foundation for Health, where we work with others to achieve health equity across Missouri. That encompasses everything from reducing childhood obesity and firearm violence to pushing Medicaid expansion, focusing on infant vitality and women’s health, and more.

I grew up in Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s and 70’s, where I was exposed to social justice movements and racial strife. I came from a family of nurses, police officers, ministers … people who live lives of service. I knew I would too. I have worked at nonprofit organizations for almost three decades.

Before I became a St. Louisan, I worked with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey, which spans the entire country. Here, what we do is just as important, and just as complicated. For so long, equality has been the great American ideal—and it has taken us far. But as we know, especially in my line of work, health equity is really our opportunity to go even further. To create a greater ideal.

Saint Louis first drew me as the place that ignited calls for justice, dignity, and equity across the globe after Michael Brown's death. I still carry that heartache and awe with me. When I arrived, you charmed me with your rich, deep culture, your art, jazz, and innovative food scene.

I have found strong leadership, interested in upholding the will of the people and working with communities to make their lives better. People who understand that health equity is the path to solving so many other problems, and that racism has no place, especially in the public systems that serve us all. That awareness and accountability—which are not everywhere—are important drivers for the change we all want to see.

I have also found an abundance of kind, curious people here. They ask: Where did you go to high school? What brought you here? Do you have a dog? You really surprised me with your sense of neighborly charity. If one of your own has a problem, their neighbors, their communities, show up. That happens elsewhere too—but here, I see it so frequently. I know that if our systems work better for everyone, that spirit could go so much further, and that's what we're working to do. Remember, Lou—you can love people you don't know.

Traditional visions of health equity teach us to examine issues as opportunities to work with others and help those who need it most, who then get labeled “needy.” But they aren’t needy. They're strong. They’re resilient. They’re brilliant, in so many ways.

Is true health equity achievable here? Of course, it is. And it will happen because of the people of Missouri who deserve a fair and just opportunity to live their healthiest lives.

Dear Lou: You bring a tear to my eye.

Sincerely,
Dwayne Proctor
President and CEO, Missouri Foundation for Health

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS40NzZCMERDMjVEN0RFRThB

"Dear Lou": Dr. Dwayne Proctor

Dear Lou,

Communities that focus on their challenges are defined by their challenges. Instead, I would like you, Lou, to be defined by your opportunities.

The history of St. Louis has been written by people who came from all over the world, painting a colorful tapestry of what this community has looked like in the past. When you explore the depths of St. Louis, you’ll find people from everywhere. And that’s one of our best, untapped strengths. I’m from Cameroon, and I relocated to St. Louis for work in 2002. This is the only home my children have known, and anytime we’ve thought about moving, our love for the region has outweighed any other location.

In the twenty years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I’ve seen great changes—and I’ve seen large setbacks. New additions like the upcoming soccer team and innovation in the Cortex Innovation Community change the dynamic of the city for the better. As well as the increasing focus on inclusive growth and the growing consciousness to create opportunities for the under-privileged to create greater success for all. 

St. Louis needs to be an international hub again, bringing people from all over the world to our community. We must be deliberate in welcoming new arrivals to this community. When someone arrives in St. Louis, they must be greeted by quality, affordable housing; opportunities to accelerate skill development for high-paying jobs; and an embracement of arts and culture from all over the world. 

We must also balance creating opportunities for immigrants to move to St. Louis while simultaneously addressing the underlying challenges that our existing populations face. By focusing on the opportunities, we can create a pathway from the welcoming process to prosperity that will extend all across the region. 

St. Louis, you truly shine when there is a need for people to come together. We saw this with the arrival of the Afghan community. Your citizens are known for their philanthropic attitudes, and volunteering one’s time is a community norm. Generations of St. Louisans are invested in supporting people—thank you! In a time when it’s common to hear what’s wrong with St. Louis, I’d like us to focus more on what’s right—and our history of volunteer work is a shining example of that.

The glory days of our past will not return. We must simultaneously focus on a better future by capitalizing on the current opportunities before us.

If we base our future on the structures we have built today, we’re limited to our current capabilities. Instead, I hope we can look to a future that is very different from our past. Together we can paint a picture of a new St. Louis region, one that celebrates and appreciates diversity and offers the opportunities we all need to grow.

That future will take work from all of us, and the benefits will impact everyone too. This is our greatest opportunity yet, and I believe we can rise to the challenge. Together. 

With optimism,

Arrey Obenson
President & CEO, International Institute of St. Louis
Author of Bridging the Opportunity Gap

Dear Lou,

Communities that focus on their challenges are defined by their challenges. Instead, I would like you, Lou, to be defined by your opportunities.

The history of St. Louis has been written by people who came from all over the world, painting a colorful tapestry of what this community has looked like in the past. When you explore the depths of St. Louis, you’ll find people from everywhere. And that’s one of our best, untapped strengths. I’m from Cameroon, and I relocated to St. Louis for work in 2002. This is the only home my children have known, and anytime we’ve thought about moving, our love for the region has outweighed any other location.

In the twenty years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I’ve seen great changes—and I’ve seen large setbacks. New additions like the upcoming soccer team and innovation in the Cortex Innovation Community change the dynamic of the city for the better. As well as the increasing focus on inclusive growth and the growing consciousness to create opportunities for the under-privileged to create greater success for all.

St. Louis needs to be an international hub again, bringing people from all over the world to our community. We must be deliberate in welcoming new arrivals to this community. When someone arrives in St. Louis, they must be greeted by quality, affordable housing; opportunities to accelerate skill development for high-paying jobs; and an embracement of arts and culture from all over the world.

We must also balance creating opportunities for immigrants to move to St. Louis while simultaneously addressing the underlying challenges that our existing populations face. By focusing on the opportunities, we can create a pathway from the welcoming process to prosperity that will extend all across the region.

St. Louis, you truly shine when there is a need for people to come together. We saw this with the arrival of the Afghan community. Your citizens are known for their philanthropic attitudes, and volunteering one’s time is a community norm. Generations of St. Louisans are invested in supporting people—thank you! In a time when it’s common to hear what’s wrong with St. Louis, I’d like us to focus more on what’s right—and our history of volunteer work is a shining example of that.

The glory days of our past will not return. We must simultaneously focus on a better future by capitalizing on the current opportunities before us.

If we base our future on the structures we have built today, we’re limited to our current capabilities. Instead, I hope we can look to a future that is very different from our past. Together we can paint a picture of a new St. Louis region, one that celebrates and appreciates diversity and offers the opportunities we all need to grow.

That future will take work from all of us, and the benefits will impact everyone too. This is our greatest opportunity yet, and I believe we can rise to the challenge. Together.

With optimism,

Arrey Obenson
President & CEO, International Institute of St. Louis
Author of Bridging the Opportunity Gap

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS5GNjNDRDREMDQxOThCMDQ2

"Dear Lou": Arrey Obenson

Dear Lou,

I was born and raised in St. Louis, as were my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We’re a multi-generational St. Louis family, with each generation intentionally choosing to live, work and raise our families here. Quite simply, we love and believe in St. Louis—it’s home. 

While times were obviously different for each succeeding branch of my family, I know there were defining moments for my ancestors, just as there were for me. 

I remember our neighborhood was connected to what seemed like a million other neighborhoods, and our parents sent us outside to play for hours at a time. We spent days riding bikes and playing baseball, pretending to be our favorite baseball players. Sometimes we rode out to Spencer’s 5 and 10. This not only built strong memories, but significant bonds within our communities. 

I also remember family outings, and my favorite was going to Cards baseball games one-on-one with my dad, then stopping at Ted Drewes for frozen custard on the way home. It doesn’t get much more St. Louis than that.

I was about 10 when I started noticing some differences in our community. My elementary school had kids from all over St. Louis, from the county to the inner city. It didn’t register until about fifth grade that some of my fellow students were waking up at 4:45 in the morning so they could attend a county school. 

They would tell stories about hearing gunshots and running into their parents’ rooms—but they spoke about it like it was a regular occurrence. I suddenly realized we inhabited very different worlds even though we lived in the same city. 

One of our biggest challenges today is the same as it was then—the disconnect between these two worlds. We need to work toward a unified vision and goal for what we want our community to look like, from downtown to the county to all the municipalities. 

There’s room and need for many voices to collectively figure out the end game and then work to achieve it as a cohesive region. A leader’s job is to help people achieve their goals to the best of their ability. As a business leader and community advocate, this issue is front and center with me.

I know some people are discouraged about the present reality in St. Louis, but I would encourage them to not give up hope. There are many people you never see or hear about who are working every day to make St. Louis a better place. And things are starting to happen that we never thought possible. Important conversations are taking place. People are acknowledging that we have to do this together because a rising tide lifts all ships. I’m extremely optimistic about our future. 

By nature, people can become hung-up on what happens day-to-day. You can feel like you didn’t make as much progress as you wanted, but every action helps. Real change in our city won’t happen overnight—it will take years to achieve. 

I want St. Louis to prosper in technology, to lead in the medical fields, to land Fortune 500 companies and build businesses. I also want us to not lose what made St. Louis great for me growing up. I want us to keep our values and ethics and sense of community. I want us to enjoy the moments.

I hope we can all take a step back and appreciate what we have already accomplished. And let’s not forget that we can have fun along this journey. 

I tell my kids it’s important to recognize our mistakes and to learn from them, but it’s also important to not be too hard on yourself. I want my kids to appreciate their growth and enjoy their journeys. Too often, as adults we think, “If I could just get there,” and we don’t pause to appreciate where we already are. While we work hard to address our challenges, we have wonderful, amazing things to take pride in.

My hope is this progression will be our generation’s next defining moment. 

Dear Lou, this is for you,

Peter Blumeyer
President – UMB Bank St. Louis

Dear Lou,

I was born and raised in St. Louis, as were my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We’re a multi-generational St. Louis family, with each generation intentionally choosing to live, work and raise our families here. Quite simply, we love and believe in St. Louis—it’s home.

While times were obviously different for each succeeding branch of my family, I know there were defining moments for my ancestors, just as there were for me.

I remember our neighborhood was connected to what seemed like a million other neighborhoods, and our parents sent us outside to play for hours at a time. We spent days riding bikes and playing baseball, pretending to be our favorite baseball players. Sometimes we rode out to Spencer’s 5 and 10. This not only built strong memories, but significant bonds within our communities.

I also remember family outings, and my favorite was going to Cards baseball games one-on-one with my dad, then stopping at Ted Drewes for frozen custard on the way home. It doesn’t get much more St. Louis than that.

I was about 10 when I started noticing some differences in our community. My elementary school had kids from all over St. Louis, from the county to the inner city. It didn’t register until about fifth grade that some of my fellow students were waking up at 4:45 in the morning so they could attend a county school.

They would tell stories about hearing gunshots and running into their parents’ rooms—but they spoke about it like it was a regular occurrence. I suddenly realized we inhabited very different worlds even though we lived in the same city.

One of our biggest challenges today is the same as it was then—the disconnect between these two worlds. We need to work toward a unified vision and goal for what we want our community to look like, from downtown to the county to all the municipalities.

There’s room and need for many voices to collectively figure out the end game and then work to achieve it as a cohesive region. A leader’s job is to help people achieve their goals to the best of their ability. As a business leader and community advocate, this issue is front and center with me.

I know some people are discouraged about the present reality in St. Louis, but I would encourage them to not give up hope. There are many people you never see or hear about who are working every day to make St. Louis a better place. And things are starting to happen that we never thought possible. Important conversations are taking place. People are acknowledging that we have to do this together because a rising tide lifts all ships. I’m extremely optimistic about our future.

By nature, people can become hung-up on what happens day-to-day. You can feel like you didn’t make as much progress as you wanted, but every action helps. Real change in our city won’t happen overnight—it will take years to achieve.

I want St. Louis to prosper in technology, to lead in the medical fields, to land Fortune 500 companies and build businesses. I also want us to not lose what made St. Louis great for me growing up. I want us to keep our values and ethics and sense of community. I want us to enjoy the moments.

I hope we can all take a step back and appreciate what we have already accomplished. And let’s not forget that we can have fun along this journey.

I tell my kids it’s important to recognize our mistakes and to learn from them, but it’s also important to not be too hard on yourself. I want my kids to appreciate their growth and enjoy their journeys. Too often, as adults we think, “If I could just get there,” and we don’t pause to appreciate where we already are. While we work hard to address our challenges, we have wonderful, amazing things to take pride in.

My hope is this progression will be our generation’s next defining moment.

Dear Lou, this is for you,

Peter Blumeyer
President – UMB Bank St. Louis

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS45NDk1REZENzhEMzU5MDQz

"Dear Lou": Peter Blumeyer

Dear Lou,

I know you have grown weary of the problems before you. I know that at times you are energized by the discussions on how to move you forward and at others times it all becomes overwhelming to the point that it’s easier to turn away. 

Do not look away.

Do not lessen your standards. Do not slip back into comfortableness and complacency, or lower your head in defeat thinking the problems are just too big to solve or that some things will never change.

Things can always change if enough people want them to. 

I believe your collective will to finally create the change our region needs is greater than ever. But this is a window in time. A moment we have arrived at together that we must capitalize on to the fullest. 

If we go forward half-heartedly, if we simply throw resources at our problems without truly understanding what is behind them and what is needed to really create change, this window will shut and we will go back to our former less courageous and ambitious selves. 

We have been talking about these same challenges for more than forty years. If we want a different result, we need to take action in a way that is far different and far bigger than what we have ever done before. 

Do not look away. 

Every movement begins with a call for change. 

This is not the time to be timid. This is the time to be bold. This is the time to think bigger and be audacious in our goals.

We don’t have a shortage of resources. We have a shortage of results.

Our organization Beyond Housing created Once and for All as answer to our growing call to change things for the better and to provide a real solution—a solution based on facts and common sense that we can all agree on and that benefits everyone. 

I am an optimist at heart. I truly believe our biggest challenges are our greatest opportunities. I would not be writing to you now if I didn’t wholly believe there is a real answer to our problems and that real change is within our reach. 

While I am optimistic about our future and our ability to create a better St. Louis for all of us, I am not naïve. 

I can’t promise you that everything we do will turn out perfect and wonderful. I can’t promise you that this change will come easily or overnight. What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if we keep doing what we’ve always done before, we’re going to get the same results. 

Do not look away. Instead, join us.

We’re looking for individuals who are tired of the status quo, who believe there is a better way and have the courage to take a new course of action. 

We’re looking for leaders with the ability to bring others on board and who want to leave a legacy of lasting change that will be felt for decades to come.

If that sounds like you, join us in creating a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis—once and for all. 

Sincerely,

Chris Krehmeyer
President and CEO – Beyond Housing

Dear Lou,

I know you have grown weary of the problems before you. I know that at times you are energized by the discussions on how to move you forward and at others times it all becomes overwhelming to the point that it’s easier to turn away.

Do not look away.

Do not lessen your standards. Do not slip back into comfortableness and complacency, or lower your head in defeat thinking the problems are just too big to solve or that some things will never change.

Things can always change if enough people want them to.

I believe your collective will to finally create the change our region needs is greater than ever. But this is a window in time. A moment we have arrived at together that we must capitalize on to the fullest.

If we go forward half-heartedly, if we simply throw resources at our problems without truly understanding what is behind them and what is needed to really create change, this window will shut and we will go back to our former less courageous and ambitious selves.

We have been talking about these same challenges for more than forty years. If we want a different result, we need to take action in a way that is far different and far bigger than what we have ever done before.

Do not look away.

Every movement begins with a call for change.

This is not the time to be timid. This is the time to be bold. This is the time to think bigger and be audacious in our goals.

We don’t have a shortage of resources. We have a shortage of results.

Our organization Beyond Housing created Once and for All as answer to our growing call to change things for the better and to provide a real solution—a solution based on facts and common sense that we can all agree on and that benefits everyone.

I am an optimist at heart. I truly believe our biggest challenges are our greatest opportunities. I would not be writing to you now if I didn’t wholly believe there is a real answer to our problems and that real change is within our reach.

While I am optimistic about our future and our ability to create a better St. Louis for all of us, I am not naïve.

I can’t promise you that everything we do will turn out perfect and wonderful. I can’t promise you that this change will come easily or overnight. What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if we keep doing what we’ve always done before, we’re going to get the same results.

Do not look away. Instead, join us.

We’re looking for individuals who are tired of the status quo, who believe there is a better way and have the courage to take a new course of action.

We’re looking for leaders with the ability to bring others on board and who want to leave a legacy of lasting change that will be felt for decades to come.

If that sounds like you, join us in creating a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis—once and for all.

Sincerely,

Chris Krehmeyer
President and CEO – Beyond Housing

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS5DQUNERDQ2NkIzRUQxNTY1

"Dear Lou": Chris Krehmeyer

Dear Lou,

I was born in 1969, one year after the Fair Housing Act passed, making housing segregation and discrimination illegal. Moving from St. Louis City to Pagedale in 1974 meant following the American dream for my parents and so many others. And so, the magic began. Through the eyes of my youth, my childhood was like a fairytale. The community looked out for and were accountable to one another. 

Unfortunately, I would later understand that this shielded existence was far from our region’s racially influenced narrative:
• The myriad of municipalities in St. Louis County and resulting fragmentation had been a historic tool to control the racial composition of neighborhoods through racially restrictive deed covenants, indentures, and ordinances.
• Despite the legal end of segregation and redlining, the value of our homes would continue to be suppressed. As such, my parents would never build meaningful housing wealth that could be leveraged to finance college for their children or passed on as generational wealth like their majority counterparts.
• Disinvestment would occur through the decades as business owners sought more affluent communities. The combination of low housing values, middle class flight and commercial decline would result in perpetually fewer resources to fund our city services and schools and a decades-long fight to restore vitality.

I am 52 now, and the vestiges of our racial past still loom large today. The home I currently own is in a municipality with a now-illegal racial covenant which historically only allowed people of color to dwell in a domestic capacity. Imagine what it feels like to read that the home I currently occupy was not meant for me simply because of the color of my skin. 

And during the 2018/2019 school year, the highest-spending majority White district spent $8,412 (nearly 40%) more per student than the highest-spending majority Black district and 2.4 times (about $18,000) more per student than the lowest-spending districts. Have we contemplated the compounding impact of this inequality over decades to communities of color? As a member of the Missouri State Board of Education and former member of the Normandy School Board, this challenge weighs heavily on me. I am determined to do all I can to bring about the structural and systemic change required.

𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐨𝐩𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐦𝐬 𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞

An awareness of the interconnectivity of housing, education, and employment systems is emerging. Purpose-driven initiatives such the St. Louis Anchor Action Network are bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address inequities through efforts to increase employment, income, health, and wealth building. Our region has made other inroads, such as our Cortex Innovation Community a myriad of new residential and commercial developments. 

Yet despite this progress, too many people experience generational poverty in racially segregated communities with inequitable access to opportunity. This has an ugly genesis in segregation and racism—the ugly truths we talk around and choose to omit to avoid pain, shame, and guilt.

𝐒𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞 𝐠𝐨 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞?

To move forward and repair the harm, we have to 𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐤 about our ugly racially biased past, the long-term restriction of resources to communities of color, and the harmful impacts that linger to this day.

Despite our challenges, I have faith in us because we St. Louisans have a unique superpower: our philanthropic spirit of giving. Our spirit of giving can:
• Propel us forward to invest in our fellow residents and apply an equity lens to everything from schools to infrastructure. 
• Help ensure that zip codes are no longer determinants of health, economic, academic, and other important outcomes for our children. 
• Drive workforce development, increase population growth, and attract international investment.
• Ultimately fuel my most fervent wish: For St. Louis to become a unified region where everyone can thrive.
We can accomplish so much together by leaving our agendas at the door and working to heal the fractures that divide us. But we must first be willing to face the truth of our past and work with and learn from people whose views differ from our own.

I am proud to be part of organizations that are expanding cultures of inclusion and to take action with coalitions of civic-minded partners. 

I love St. Louis’ distinctive yet very American commitment to giving and uplifting others. I look forward to channeling that spirit toward revealing truth and healing, removing structural barriers, redesigning systems, and aligning resources to support and strengthen all our residents. I cannot wait to see the magical experiences our children and grandchildren will have because of our work now.

With love, hope, and optimism,

Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge,
Normandy school district graduate and current resident
Member of the Missouri State Board of Education
Board member of Beyond Housing
Principal, Edward Jones

Dear Lou,

I was born in 1969, one year after the Fair Housing Act passed, making housing segregation and discrimination illegal. Moving from St. Louis City to Pagedale in 1974 meant following the American dream for my parents and so many others. And so, the magic began. Through the eyes of my youth, my childhood was like a fairytale. The community looked out for and were accountable to one another.

Unfortunately, I would later understand that this shielded existence was far from our region’s racially influenced narrative:
• The myriad of municipalities in St. Louis County and resulting fragmentation had been a historic tool to control the racial composition of neighborhoods through racially restrictive deed covenants, indentures, and ordinances.
• Despite the legal end of segregation and redlining, the value of our homes would continue to be suppressed. As such, my parents would never build meaningful housing wealth that could be leveraged to finance college for their children or passed on as generational wealth like their majority counterparts.
• Disinvestment would occur through the decades as business owners sought more affluent communities. The combination of low housing values, middle class flight and commercial decline would result in perpetually fewer resources to fund our city services and schools and a decades-long fight to restore vitality.

I am 52 now, and the vestiges of our racial past still loom large today. The home I currently own is in a municipality with a now-illegal racial covenant which historically only allowed people of color to dwell in a domestic capacity. Imagine what it feels like to read that the home I currently occupy was not meant for me simply because of the color of my skin.

And during the 2018/2019 school year, the highest-spending majority White district spent $8,412 (nearly 40%) more per student than the highest-spending majority Black district and 2.4 times (about $18,000) more per student than the lowest-spending districts. Have we contemplated the compounding impact of this inequality over decades to communities of color? As a member of the Missouri State Board of Education and former member of the Normandy School Board, this challenge weighs heavily on me. I am determined to do all I can to bring about the structural and systemic change required.

𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐨𝐩𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐦𝐬 𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞

An awareness of the interconnectivity of housing, education, and employment systems is emerging. Purpose-driven initiatives such the St. Louis Anchor Action Network are bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address inequities through efforts to increase employment, income, health, and wealth building. Our region has made other inroads, such as our Cortex Innovation Community a myriad of new residential and commercial developments.

Yet despite this progress, too many people experience generational poverty in racially segregated communities with inequitable access to opportunity. This has an ugly genesis in segregation and racism—the ugly truths we talk around and choose to omit to avoid pain, shame, and guilt.

𝐒𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞 𝐠𝐨 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞?

To move forward and repair the harm, we have to 𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐤 about our ugly racially biased past, the long-term restriction of resources to communities of color, and the harmful impacts that linger to this day.

Despite our challenges, I have faith in us because we St. Louisans have a unique superpower: our philanthropic spirit of giving. Our spirit of giving can:
• Propel us forward to invest in our fellow residents and apply an equity lens to everything from schools to infrastructure.
• Help ensure that zip codes are no longer determinants of health, economic, academic, and other important outcomes for our children.
• Drive workforce development, increase population growth, and attract international investment.
• Ultimately fuel my most fervent wish: For St. Louis to become a unified region where everyone can thrive.
We can accomplish so much together by leaving our agendas at the door and working to heal the fractures that divide us. But we must first be willing to face the truth of our past and work with and learn from people whose views differ from our own.

I am proud to be part of organizations that are expanding cultures of inclusion and to take action with coalitions of civic-minded partners.

I love St. Louis’ distinctive yet very American commitment to giving and uplifting others. I look forward to channeling that spirit toward revealing truth and healing, removing structural barriers, redesigning systems, and aligning resources to support and strengthen all our residents. I cannot wait to see the magical experiences our children and grandchildren will have because of our work now.

With love, hope, and optimism,

Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge,
Normandy school district graduate and current resident
Member of the Missouri State Board of Education
Board member of Beyond Housing
Principal, Edward Jones

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS41MzJCQjBCNDIyRkJDN0VD

"Dear Lou": Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge

Dear Lou,

I wish we viewed both parts of our region as complementary rather than as two separate constructs. When I tell people where I’m from, I say St. Louis. I love where I live in Hazelwood, but I identify with the city. 

Growing up, I lived in the county with my mom but spent lots of time with my grandparents in the city. I have fond memories of the safety and stimulation of my school during the day and of riding bikes and playing sports with families on my grandparents’ street in the evenings and on weekends. 

Today the dynamics of those two worlds are different. I feel very comfortable in the county because I’m surrounded by people who look like me. But I also know that many of them have been pushed out of their neighborhoods in the city. The people who lived on my grandparents’ street weren’t able to create generational wealth and pass it on to their children through their property. 

Too often, the lines separating the city and county are drawn because of race. It seems like we don’t even recognize the advantages that our collective strength could have. And until we get over those issues, our region will continue to suffer. 

But even though it hurts my heart to hear city and county leaders fighting about what they think they’re giving away in regional turf battles, I am optimistic for the future. 

Our business community knows how to create opportunities—and opportunities change mindsets. Now we have to figure out how to ensure equitable access to those places and spaces. 

We know how to attract people-first large businesses that can lead the way when it comes to financing and technology. We know how to grow small businesses and entrepreneurial thinkers.

Our region has plenty of resources. Now we need to decide that our common humanity is more important than divisiveness—especially in education. Our kids can lead the way forward, if only we can stop dividing up our assets in ways that sabotage them.

Our residents have the same goals for good jobs, for safety, and for fun stuff to do on the weekends. I believe we know how to prioritize and reimagine public safety for residents in all parts of the city and county. We just need to implement it.

I know the systemic issues in our region are solvable. My prayer for St. Louis is that we can maintain a holistic focus on issues that improve families and communities, that we can think more like one group and not multiple pieces.

I have three children, and I don’t want them to feel they have to leave to pursue their dreams. My oldest child is a little pessimistic because he’s starting to understand the challenges. My second child knows she’s going to change the world. My youngest not only knows she can change the world, but she thinks she has already figured out how to do it. 

Like me, they’ve been born and raised here. In the future, when they say where they are from, I hope their proud answer of “St. Louis” will represent a strong and successful metropolitan area where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

Demetrius Grooms
Principal, Client Onboarding Operations at Edward Jones

Dear Lou,

I wish we viewed both parts of our region as complementary rather than as two separate constructs. When I tell people where I’m from, I say St. Louis. I love where I live in Hazelwood, but I identify with the city.

Growing up, I lived in the county with my mom but spent lots of time with my grandparents in the city. I have fond memories of the safety and stimulation of my school during the day and of riding bikes and playing sports with families on my grandparents’ street in the evenings and on weekends.

Today the dynamics of those two worlds are different. I feel very comfortable in the county because I’m surrounded by people who look like me. But I also know that many of them have been pushed out of their neighborhoods in the city. The people who lived on my grandparents’ street weren’t able to create generational wealth and pass it on to their children through their property.

Too often, the lines separating the city and county are drawn because of race. It seems like we don’t even recognize the advantages that our collective strength could have. And until we get over those issues, our region will continue to suffer.

But even though it hurts my heart to hear city and county leaders fighting about what they think they’re giving away in regional turf battles, I am optimistic for the future.

Our business community knows how to create opportunities—and opportunities change mindsets. Now we have to figure out how to ensure equitable access to those places and spaces.

We know how to attract people-first large businesses that can lead the way when it comes to financing and technology. We know how to grow small businesses and entrepreneurial thinkers.

Our region has plenty of resources. Now we need to decide that our common humanity is more important than divisiveness—especially in education. Our kids can lead the way forward, if only we can stop dividing up our assets in ways that sabotage them.

Our residents have the same goals for good jobs, for safety, and for fun stuff to do on the weekends. I believe we know how to prioritize and reimagine public safety for residents in all parts of the city and county. We just need to implement it.

I know the systemic issues in our region are solvable. My prayer for St. Louis is that we can maintain a holistic focus on issues that improve families and communities, that we can think more like one group and not multiple pieces.

I have three children, and I don’t want them to feel they have to leave to pursue their dreams. My oldest child is a little pessimistic because he’s starting to understand the challenges. My second child knows she’s going to change the world. My youngest not only knows she can change the world, but she thinks she has already figured out how to do it.

Like me, they’ve been born and raised here. In the future, when they say where they are from, I hope their proud answer of “St. Louis” will represent a strong and successful metropolitan area where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Demetrius Grooms
Principal, Client Onboarding Operations at Edward Jones

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS4xMkVGQjNCMUM1N0RFNEUx

"Dear Lou": Demetrius Grooms

Dear Lou,

I was thrilled to move back to St. Louis in 2003 to continue my work in public media. I grew up here and it was good to be home. Even today, when I see the Arch from the distance, it feels like home. When I was a kid, my mom took us on outings every summer. We went so many places, but my favorite was always Forest Park and the zoo. Fourth of July was always spent watching the fireworks at Crestwood Plaza.

But as much as St. Louis is home, there is an ingrained narrative of division that doesn’t serve us well. East-West. North-South. Black-White. Old-Young. Have-Have Not.

After my return to St. Louis, I gradually started to understand the root causes and the systemic nature of the significant disparities that exist here. Growing up, I had the privilege of being oblivious to so much. I think I’m not alone in that, yet it seems that more of our region’s residents are becoming more aware and conscious of the impacts of these disparities and the ways they limit us from flourishing.

Professionally, as president and CEO at Nine PBS, I think about the disparities a lot. We’ve had opportunities to help our community deepen understanding of local opportunities and challenges. We’ll be doing even more of this going forward, and we’re determining the best way to focus on the things people are doing to help St. Louis flourish in meaningful ways. We’re also working collaboratively with extraordinary partners to ensure children are represented authentically in stories for and about them.

Who gets to tell these stories matters. It’s important to share information about people as they would describe themselves and their neighborhoods and give people a voice. In the 24:1 footprint in North St. Louis County, for example, there’s a powerful alignment of community aspirations and forces working to realize those aspirations, yet many of us are either unaware or stuck with incomplete or false narratives about what’s happening.

There are so many amazing people all around us in our region, and often we have no concept of how special they are. Let’s give the people in our region the ability to tell their own stories authentically. And we can’t avoid difficult conversations. St. Louisans can be very proud of the many things that benefit our region even while addressing the systemic challenges. Both can be true at the same time. I don’t think we’re being disloyal in calling out what doesn’t work, especially when the impacts are disproportionately lived by people of color.

In St. Louis we tend to be deeply apologetic for all the things we are not and disappointed in the things we are. It’s time for that to change—it’s time for a counter narrative. There’s so much here that we can use to create the future that benefits all of us.

When we understand the complexity of all the pieces together—and what happens as all those pieces work in tandem—we’ll be better equipped to process the history of how we got to now. We’ll grasp why there is anger and frustration and skepticism. We’ll have the courage not to kick these issues down the road another twenty years for someone else to address. We’ll be able to center those who are most impacted as we generate solutions.

During my years away, whenever I thought of St. Louis, I felt a sense of place and home. Since returning, I’m committed to strengthening our collective home and creating a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis, once and for all.”

Sincerely,

Amy Shaw
President and CEO, Nine PBS

Dear Lou,

I was thrilled to move back to St. Louis in 2003 to continue my work in public media. I grew up here and it was good to be home. Even today, when I see the Arch from the distance, it feels like home. When I was a kid, my mom took us on outings every summer. We went so many places, but my favorite was always Forest Park and the zoo. Fourth of July was always spent watching the fireworks at Crestwood Plaza.

But as much as St. Louis is home, there is an ingrained narrative of division that doesn’t serve us well. East-West. North-South. Black-White. Old-Young. Have-Have Not.

After my return to St. Louis, I gradually started to understand the root causes and the systemic nature of the significant disparities that exist here. Growing up, I had the privilege of being oblivious to so much. I think I’m not alone in that, yet it seems that more of our region’s residents are becoming more aware and conscious of the impacts of these disparities and the ways they limit us from flourishing.

Professionally, as president and CEO at Nine PBS, I think about the disparities a lot. We’ve had opportunities to help our community deepen understanding of local opportunities and challenges. We’ll be doing even more of this going forward, and we’re determining the best way to focus on the things people are doing to help St. Louis flourish in meaningful ways. We’re also working collaboratively with extraordinary partners to ensure children are represented authentically in stories for and about them.

Who gets to tell these stories matters. It’s important to share information about people as they would describe themselves and their neighborhoods and give people a voice. In the 24:1 footprint in North St. Louis County, for example, there’s a powerful alignment of community aspirations and forces working to realize those aspirations, yet many of us are either unaware or stuck with incomplete or false narratives about what’s happening.

There are so many amazing people all around us in our region, and often we have no concept of how special they are. Let’s give the people in our region the ability to tell their own stories authentically. And we can’t avoid difficult conversations. St. Louisans can be very proud of the many things that benefit our region even while addressing the systemic challenges. Both can be true at the same time. I don’t think we’re being disloyal in calling out what doesn’t work, especially when the impacts are disproportionately lived by people of color.

In St. Louis we tend to be deeply apologetic for all the things we are not and disappointed in the things we are. It’s time for that to change—it’s time for a counter narrative. There’s so much here that we can use to create the future that benefits all of us.

When we understand the complexity of all the pieces together—and what happens as all those pieces work in tandem—we’ll be better equipped to process the history of how we got to now. We’ll grasp why there is anger and frustration and skepticism. We’ll have the courage not to kick these issues down the road another twenty years for someone else to address. We’ll be able to center those who are most impacted as we generate solutions.

During my years away, whenever I thought of St. Louis, I felt a sense of place and home. Since returning, I’m committed to strengthening our collective home and creating a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis, once and for all.”

Sincerely,

Amy Shaw
President and CEO, Nine PBS

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS4wOTA3OTZBNzVEMTUzOTMy

"Dear Lou": Amy Shaw

Dear Lou,

You have been my home for my entire life. I grew up close to the Central West End, went to St. Louis public schools, and even went to college here at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. 

As I look back on my years here, I have fond memories of my education, all your great food and restaurants, and cultural institutions. I remember field trips to the zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Grant’s Farm, and St. Louis Symphony that broadened my horizons. The St. Louis Science Center sparked my interest in science and medicine. 

If I could say one thing to you, it’s this: a rising tide lifts all boats. 

I think we’ve gotten away from the idea of community. We need to understand that we are all interconnected. If a group of us fails, we’re all impacted by that failure as a place. How many large business opportunities has our region lost because of our crime and other issues?

If you look at other cities that are thriving, there seems to be less division and disparity between the haves and have-nots. Those are the cities that people and businesses are really flocking to. If we don’t address the fact that here in St. Louis, roughly 30% of Blacks live in poverty compared to roughly 9% of Whites, we’re not going to be able to move forward. 

We have an opportunity in St. Louis to be a really thriving area but until we address the disparities that exist in healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, we will always struggle with crime and other challenges.

It’s not about bringing anyone down. It’s about raising others up to lift us all.

There’s a lot we need to improve on. 

We need to improve our education system so that our children growing up can become successful adults, and so our businesses have the best possible talent. 

As someone who has worked in healthcare my entire career, I’m especially passionate about removing the severe health disparities in our region. Our maternal and infant outcomes within the Black population are similar to those in third-world countries. That is unheard of in an area with so many great medical institutions. We have some of the best hospitals in the nation. It doesn’t have to be this way—we can fix this. 

I think education and healthcare all are linked to economic mobility for individuals and communities. All of these things—education, health, businesses, jobs, a talented workforce—impact each other. 

We need to change our mindset if we want different results. We lose a lot of talented, innovative, forward-thinking people to other cities because of our lack of innovative thinking. We need these people to help lead our region and help us thrive. 

We need more leaders and organizations to be brave enough to say “this isn’t how it has to be... we can be better.” It seems like such an easy thing, but I don’t hear many people or organizations saying that in St. Louis at all. 

We need to get out of this mentality that “this is just how things have always been.” We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be brave and innovative. 

I believe that’s the only way we can move forward.

Sincerely,

Kendra Holmes
Chief Operating Office, Affinia Healthcare

Dear Lou,

You have been my home for my entire life. I grew up close to the Central West End, went to St. Louis public schools, and even went to college here at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

As I look back on my years here, I have fond memories of my education, all your great food and restaurants, and cultural institutions. I remember field trips to the zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Grant’s Farm, and St. Louis Symphony that broadened my horizons. The St. Louis Science Center sparked my interest in science and medicine.

If I could say one thing to you, it’s this: a rising tide lifts all boats.

I think we’ve gotten away from the idea of community. We need to understand that we are all interconnected. If a group of us fails, we’re all impacted by that failure as a place. How many large business opportunities has our region lost because of our crime and other issues?

If you look at other cities that are thriving, there seems to be less division and disparity between the haves and have-nots. Those are the cities that people and businesses are really flocking to. If we don’t address the fact that here in St. Louis, roughly 30% of Blacks live in poverty compared to roughly 9% of Whites, we’re not going to be able to move forward.

We have an opportunity in St. Louis to be a really thriving area but until we address the disparities that exist in healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, we will always struggle with crime and other challenges.

It’s not about bringing anyone down. It’s about raising others up to lift us all.

There’s a lot we need to improve on.

We need to improve our education system so that our children growing up can become successful adults, and so our businesses have the best possible talent.

As someone who has worked in healthcare my entire career, I’m especially passionate about removing the severe health disparities in our region. Our maternal and infant outcomes within the Black population are similar to those in third-world countries. That is unheard of in an area with so many great medical institutions. We have some of the best hospitals in the nation. It doesn’t have to be this way—we can fix this.

I think education and healthcare all are linked to economic mobility for individuals and communities. All of these things—education, health, businesses, jobs, a talented workforce—impact each other.

We need to change our mindset if we want different results. We lose a lot of talented, innovative, forward-thinking people to other cities because of our lack of innovative thinking. We need these people to help lead our region and help us thrive.

We need more leaders and organizations to be brave enough to say “this isn’t how it has to be... we can be better.” It seems like such an easy thing, but I don’t hear many people or organizations saying that in St. Louis at all.

We need to get out of this mentality that “this is just how things have always been.” We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be brave and innovative.

I believe that’s the only way we can move forward.

Sincerely,

Kendra Holmes
Chief Operating Office, Affinia Healthcare

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS4yODlGNEE0NkRGMEEzMEQy

"Dear Lou": Kendra Holmes

Dear Lou,

My family and I have called you “home” ever since we eagerly moved here in 2009, from Washington, D.C. We are done moving; you, St. Louis will always be our home.

My wife was blessed to get her dream job at Washington University, and our three kids were thrilled to have their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins just down the road. In 2011 I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where I am a now Senior Advisor for our recently launched Institute for Economic Equity. 

Because of my work with the Federal Reserve, as well as my faith as a Catholic, I see our region’s challenges through both an economic as well as a moral lens. I see two reasons why, if we want to finally overcome our barriers and create a better St. Louis region for all of us, we need to begin investing more in our under-resourced communities—a lot more.

The first reason is that it’s the right thing to do. What I hope more people begin to understand is—it’s also the smart thing to do. 

The Federal Reserve has, along with others, researched extensively how large and growing gaps in wealth and income—exacerbated by both race and gender—have a negative and dampening effect on our national and local economies. These gaps matter: they suppress the ability of many thousands of individual St. Louisans and their communities from fully participating in—and contributing to—our local economy. 

Conversely, closing these gaps would significantly raise our region’s GDP by creating more small businesses and jobs, improving and retaining our stock of talent, and expanding our tax base. A more robust regional economy running on all its cylinders benefits all of us.

There is also a social benefit that is harder to quantify. By narrowing these gaps, we are poised to alleviate social isolation, drug use, crime, hunger, unequal educational opportunities, incarceration, racial tensions, and other social issues that have negatively impacted our region for too many decades. This also would improve our unfairly low national reputation, bringing additional families and employers to our region.

Our choice is simple. Do we want people on the sidelines feeling marginalized and frustrated, or do we want them engaged in the economy doing productive things? Personally, I would much rather have more St. Louisans participating in and contributing to our region’s economy. 

Of course, investments in people and communities must be strategic and well-placed, but all of this is why the Federal Reserve has long been committed to community development to create a more inclusive economy and, especially recently, addressing  economic inequality. 

My biggest hope going forward is for us to understand that our fates our intertwined. That investing in our under-resourced communities and helping our fellow St. Louisans lift themselves out of poverty may be considered charity—but it’s also an investment in our entire region. As a Catholic, I might say acts of mercy—charity—can inspire and lay the foundation for acts of justice, or equity, which would also grow our economy.

Realizing that every part of our region is instrumental in our collective success is a critical first step. If we can understand that, then together we can solve a lot of problems. If we continue to only focus on our own communities and backyards, I fear the challenges we face will persist and even possibly increase in severity. I believe this has been our greatest hurdle in reversing our region’s downward trajectory to improve all our fortunes and move our region forward. 

We have so many wonderful institutions, talent, and resources to build upon, and we have made much progress in recent years. Despite the shortcomings of our past, I am proud to call you my home. Because of conversations like this, I am also hopeful about our future. 

If more of us can see that the greater good is tied to our own, and if we can work together and invest in each other, we truly can create a stronger, more prosperous St. Louis—once and for all. 

Sincerely,

Ray Boshara
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Senior Advisor

Dear Lou,

My family and I have called you “home” ever since we eagerly moved here in 2009, from Washington, D.C. We are done moving; you, St. Louis will always be our home.

My wife was blessed to get her dream job at Washington University, and our three kids were thrilled to have their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins just down the road. In 2011 I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where I am a now Senior Advisor for our recently launched Institute for Economic Equity.

Because of my work with the Federal Reserve, as well as my faith as a Catholic, I see our region’s challenges through both an economic as well as a moral lens. I see two reasons why, if we want to finally overcome our barriers and create a better St. Louis region for all of us, we need to begin investing more in our under-resourced communities—a lot more.

The first reason is that it’s the right thing to do. What I hope more people begin to understand is—it’s also the smart thing to do.

The Federal Reserve has, along with others, researched extensively how large and growing gaps in wealth and income—exacerbated by both race and gender—have a negative and dampening effect on our national and local economies. These gaps matter: they suppress the ability of many thousands of individual St. Louisans and their communities from fully participating in—and contributing to—our local economy.

Conversely, closing these gaps would significantly raise our region’s GDP by creating more small businesses and jobs, improving and retaining our stock of talent, and expanding our tax base. A more robust regional economy running on all its cylinders benefits all of us.

There is also a social benefit that is harder to quantify. By narrowing these gaps, we are poised to alleviate social isolation, drug use, crime, hunger, unequal educational opportunities, incarceration, racial tensions, and other social issues that have negatively impacted our region for too many decades. This also would improve our unfairly low national reputation, bringing additional families and employers to our region.

Our choice is simple. Do we want people on the sidelines feeling marginalized and frustrated, or do we want them engaged in the economy doing productive things? Personally, I would much rather have more St. Louisans participating in and contributing to our region’s economy.

Of course, investments in people and communities must be strategic and well-placed, but all of this is why the Federal Reserve has long been committed to community development to create a more inclusive economy and, especially recently, addressing economic inequality.

My biggest hope going forward is for us to understand that our fates our intertwined. That investing in our under-resourced communities and helping our fellow St. Louisans lift themselves out of poverty may be considered charity—but it’s also an investment in our entire region. As a Catholic, I might say acts of mercy—charity—can inspire and lay the foundation for acts of justice, or equity, which would also grow our economy.

Realizing that every part of our region is instrumental in our collective success is a critical first step. If we can understand that, then together we can solve a lot of problems. If we continue to only focus on our own communities and backyards, I fear the challenges we face will persist and even possibly increase in severity. I believe this has been our greatest hurdle in reversing our region’s downward trajectory to improve all our fortunes and move our region forward.

We have so many wonderful institutions, talent, and resources to build upon, and we have made much progress in recent years. Despite the shortcomings of our past, I am proud to call you my home. Because of conversations like this, I am also hopeful about our future.

If more of us can see that the greater good is tied to our own, and if we can work together and invest in each other, we truly can create a stronger, more prosperous St. Louis—once and for all.

Sincerely,

Ray Boshara
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Senior Advisor

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS4wMTcyMDhGQUE4NTIzM0Y5

"Dear Lou": Ray Boshara

Dear Lou,

It’s been 17 years since I first came here, reluctantly, for a job interview with BJC from my original hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Though my father trained at Washington University School of Medicine, and my brother was born here, I knew very little about St. Louis. 

I took the job thinking I would be here a couple of years, but I fell in love with a local man and now call St. Louis my permanent home. I also came to fall in love with you, the city and region, and felt you were undervalued by outsiders who do not really know you.

I tell people who are unfamiliar with St. Louis that you are a town with a soul and great character. All the old neighborhoods, the parks, the architecture, arts, restaurants, and music scenes make this a very culturally rich place to live. There is a lot of diversity here, which feels good to me. As an openly gay man, I have felt more at ease here than in any other town. 

I’ve seen many changes over the years. Many of these have been for the better, but some have been for the worse. I feel we have become more focused on what is important to “me” versus what is best for “us.” Instead of looking to the good of all and trying to lift everyone up, we are more focused on our own neighborhoods, schools, and communities without giving much thought to others. I find that disheartening.  

Every part of our region matters. Each part is important to the whole. The City of St. Louis needs a thriving and growing surrounding region, and the surrounding region needs a strong city at its heart to continue to thrive. If we are going to become a stronger, more successful region, we need to think about what is best for all of us and have a common understanding and shared vision. We need to realize that the success our own communities and ourselves requires that those around us succeed as well.

I feel like there was an opportunity after the death of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that followed. We lost that opportunity to shine a light on our region’s problems and come together in a meaningful way to change things for the better. 

I would like to see investment in the impoverished communities of our region in housing, jobs, healthcare, and schools. How different would it feel if the region cared about and celebrated success stories of our poorest school system versus thinking how glad we are that our kids do not go there? 

I would like to see more corporate responsibility in our region as well. Our corporate leaders have a strong collective voice and could become powerful advocates for change. We need our corporate leaders to make their voices heard and care deeply for the larger community they have chosen to call home for the good of their career versus looking at it as a “fly-over” point in their lives. After all, the success of their companies now and in the future is tied to the success of the greater region. 

In the end, I would like opportunity to not be determined by where you were born or reside and for everyone in our region to feel like they have the opportunity to thrive.

Despite our many issues, I remain hopeful for our collective future. I know that change is possible and within our reach. 

Our challenges are not unique. We are not alone in this. Other metropolitan areas are struggling, but few have come up with solutions on how to make real progress. We have an opportunity to try something different. We could become the pilot program and lead the way for others across our nation to follow. If we come together and invest in our historically disinvested communities and create opportunity for others to thrive, our entire region can become stronger and more successful, once and for all. 

Sincerely, 

Douglas Black
Former Executive, BJC HealthCare

Dear Lou,

It’s been 17 years since I first came here, reluctantly, for a job interview with BJC from my original hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Though my father trained at Washington University School of Medicine, and my brother was born here, I knew very little about St. Louis.

I took the job thinking I would be here a couple of years, but I fell in love with a local man and now call St. Louis my permanent home. I also came to fall in love with you, the city and region, and felt you were undervalued by outsiders who do not really know you.

I tell people who are unfamiliar with St. Louis that you are a town with a soul and great character. All the old neighborhoods, the parks, the architecture, arts, restaurants, and music scenes make this a very culturally rich place to live. There is a lot of diversity here, which feels good to me. As an openly gay man, I have felt more at ease here than in any other town.

I’ve seen many changes over the years. Many of these have been for the better, but some have been for the worse. I feel we have become more focused on what is important to “me” versus what is best for “us.” Instead of looking to the good of all and trying to lift everyone up, we are more focused on our own neighborhoods, schools, and communities without giving much thought to others. I find that disheartening.

Every part of our region matters. Each part is important to the whole. The City of St. Louis needs a thriving and growing surrounding region, and the surrounding region needs a strong city at its heart to continue to thrive. If we are going to become a stronger, more successful region, we need to think about what is best for all of us and have a common understanding and shared vision. We need to realize that the success our own communities and ourselves requires that those around us succeed as well.

I feel like there was an opportunity after the death of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that followed. We lost that opportunity to shine a light on our region’s problems and come together in a meaningful way to change things for the better.

I would like to see investment in the impoverished communities of our region in housing, jobs, healthcare, and schools. How different would it feel if the region cared about and celebrated success stories of our poorest school system versus thinking how glad we are that our kids do not go there?

I would like to see more corporate responsibility in our region as well. Our corporate leaders have a strong collective voice and could become powerful advocates for change. We need our corporate leaders to make their voices heard and care deeply for the larger community they have chosen to call home for the good of their career versus looking at it as a “fly-over” point in their lives. After all, the success of their companies now and in the future is tied to the success of the greater region.

In the end, I would like opportunity to not be determined by where you were born or reside and for everyone in our region to feel like they have the opportunity to thrive.

Despite our many issues, I remain hopeful for our collective future. I know that change is possible and within our reach.

Our challenges are not unique. We are not alone in this. Other metropolitan areas are struggling, but few have come up with solutions on how to make real progress. We have an opportunity to try something different. We could become the pilot program and lead the way for others across our nation to follow. If we come together and invest in our historically disinvested communities and create opportunity for others to thrive, our entire region can become stronger and more successful, once and for all.

Sincerely,

Douglas Black
Former Executive, BJC HealthCare

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS41NkI0NEY2RDEwNTU3Q0M2

"Dear Lou": Doug Black

Dear Lou,

You know I love you like a brother, but, with the passing years, I have become increasingly worried about you. We go way back. I was born and raised here, raised my family here and built a successful career working for vibrant, locally-based firms. I have always enjoyed your heritage of cultural, entertainment and sports institutions. 

As I reflect back on the good times we have shared though, I am always troubled by our lack of progress as a region. As a child, my family moved further and further from the city core seeking what they considered to be a better place to raise a family. They perceived the urban core as a deteriorating, undesirable place to be. My parents participated in what is now known as white flight and never looked back. 

Times have changed a lot since then, but as a region we still struggle to recognize that all of us have a shared destiny and interest in supporting the success of the region as a whole. We cannot and must not continue to turn our backs on the communities we have left behind. 

There is good cause for distrust and suspicion between those who fled and those who were left behind, but, in order to make progress, all parties concerned must strive to overcome that mistrust. We can do that only by first listening to each other, seeking to become more understanding of our respective challenges and concerns, then aligning our resources and activating in concert to alleviate those challenges. 

Difficult though it is and will continue to be, we must move in this direction if we are to reverse the downward trajectory of our region as a whole. We were once a great city and still have the building blocks necessary to return to greatness, but only if we commit ourselves to restoring the places we left behind. 

Lou, I can see you are weary from the challenges you have faced, but we can do this if we come together, with mutual respect, to focus our efforts on transforming all of our neighborhood communities, once and for all, into places we can be proud to call home. 

Sincerely,

John Risberg
Maritz Holdings, Retired Former General Counsel

Dear Lou,

You know I love you like a brother, but, with the passing years, I have become increasingly worried about you. We go way back. I was born and raised here, raised my family here and built a successful career working for vibrant, locally-based firms. I have always enjoyed your heritage of cultural, entertainment and sports institutions.

As I reflect back on the good times we have shared though, I am always troubled by our lack of progress as a region. As a child, my family moved further and further from the city core seeking what they considered to be a better place to raise a family. They perceived the urban core as a deteriorating, undesirable place to be. My parents participated in what is now known as white flight and never looked back.

Times have changed a lot since then, but as a region we still struggle to recognize that all of us have a shared destiny and interest in supporting the success of the region as a whole. We cannot and must not continue to turn our backs on the communities we have left behind.

There is good cause for distrust and suspicion between those who fled and those who were left behind, but, in order to make progress, all parties concerned must strive to overcome that mistrust. We can do that only by first listening to each other, seeking to become more understanding of our respective challenges and concerns, then aligning our resources and activating in concert to alleviate those challenges.

Difficult though it is and will continue to be, we must move in this direction if we are to reverse the downward trajectory of our region as a whole. We were once a great city and still have the building blocks necessary to return to greatness, but only if we commit ourselves to restoring the places we left behind.

Lou, I can see you are weary from the challenges you have faced, but we can do this if we come together, with mutual respect, to focus our efforts on transforming all of our neighborhood communities, once and for all, into places we can be proud to call home.

Sincerely,

John Risberg
Maritz Holdings, Retired Former General Counsel

YouTube Video UExIVW5WZG5OU2wyZGJkc3p5RmEwWHZKNUUzbmo0NUVQdS41MjE1MkI0OTQ2QzJGNzNG

"Dear Lou": John Risberg

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