Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tishaura Jones and Undeniable, Unstoppable Change

Photo  by Wiley Price. Courtesy of the St.Louis American
Oh, how the obscenities flew. 

It was Tuesday, election night. I’d left candidate Tishaura Jones’ watch party in the Grove neighborhood feeling a bit hopeful. She was surging and had captured the #2 spot behind 28th Ward Alderwoman, Lyda Krewson. The wonderfully diverse and eclectic crowd were in high-spirits. We were riding high thanks to State Rep. Jamillah Nasheed’s words of encouragement. “We got this!”

Well, we didn’t. Krewson won. And, as widely predicted, the number of black candidates canceled each other out in the race. The bottom three major contenders (Antonio French, Lewis Reed and Jeffrey Boyd) garnered almost 20,000 votes between them. Jones, lost by a mere 888 votes.


Let us cry not for her. Jones did what she was supposed to do against great, stubborn, and institutionalized odds.

“Damnit!” I spat through the night. “We (meaning black folk) just gave this thing away! Why, oh why, couldn’t you (meaning the black candidates) read the tea leaves? Why didn’t you listen to those who worried about the obvious? Why wasn’t there a strategy to actually win the race?”

I’m happy I decided to wait a few days before writing anything about the contest. It took that time to change my perspective. Two days after the primary, newly-elected State Representative, Bruce Franks, announced he was going to challenge Krewson as a write-in candidate in next month’s general election.


The bottom three major contenders (Antonio French, Lewis Reed and Jeffrey Boyd) garnered almost 20,000 votes between them. Jones, lost by a mere 888 votes.

He didn’t. Franks rescinded the claim after realizing his representative seat could possibly go unfilled if he won the mayoral election. Considering that voters in his district put a lot of energy into helping Franks challenge the disproportionate absentee ballots that caused his loss to a dynasty candidate, it was probably a wise decision. Personally, I’d like to see Franks make an impact in the space he currently holds before seeking another political role.

Still, Franks’ announcement was an indication of what Jones’ campaign had accomplished. For one moment the tidal wave of progressive politics that’s been growing since the 2014 killing of Mike Brown, threatened complacent, establishment, elitist politics in our city. It would have given the almost 40,000 voters who rejected Krewson’s candidacy a dynamic do-over to accomplish what they couldn’t in the primary. It would have coalesced a broad swath of voters behind one black candidate, not four. It would have rocked the status quo by introducing a new people-powered paradigm in a backwards city in desperate need of diverse, progressive, and inclusive transformation.

We owe that wonderful possibility to Jones’ campaign which illustrated that big money and dirty, mainstream media tricks are not the obstacles they once were. Remember though, Jones victory was in the making long before she announced her bid for mayor. Democrats in this city, this state and this country have failed to recognize the simple fact that voters are sick and tired of a party that’s grown accustomed to unearned loyalty. They’ve grown nauseous of its slave-like ties to the capitalist system while resting on the tired laurels of “liberalism.”


Jones’ campaign illustrated that big money and dirty, mainstream media tricks are not the obstacles they once were. 

The party, nationally and locally, has been fractured by a huge swath of voters still seeking a Bernie Sanders-like apostle. This explains why a Bruce Franks or a Megan Ellyia-Green (15th Ward Alderwoman), or a Dan Guenther (newly-elected 9th Ward Alderman) or a Tishaura Jones could topple giants and arouse the passions of voters and supporters.

For the first time in my almost six decades of life here, a new narrative is spreading throughout the city. Thanks to a new wave of aldermen like Green and Guenther, the city’s south side is shifting from its base of predictable segregated politics. There’s new energy, new engagement, and new activism aimed at promoting true equity and age, gender and racial inclusivity.

A valuable lesson was reinforced for me during the Town Hall mayoral forum on Arts and Culture that I co-moderated with activist, De Nichols.  There, a group of stakeholders made a solid case for investing in local arts and culture that’s just as lucrative as casinos and the Ballpark Village to stabilize neighborhoods and generate local revenues. The work has already begun. With vision, the racially and culturally-eclectic Cherokee Street can become St. Louis’ version of the 24-hour entertainment-oriented Bourbon Street in New Orleans. In fact, it could be better because, unlike downtown venues where suburbanites drive in and drive out after a ballgame, locals can participate and benefit economically.


For the first time in my almost six decades of life here, a new narrative is spreading throughout the city.

Mayoral Arts & Culture Forum on Cherokee Street

The narrative of progressive prosperity is not just restricted to the south side. Because of issues raised during the mayoral campaign, north side residents are now aware that their lives and priorities have been rendered irrelevant. They know that they’ve been shafted during the past 16 years under Mayor Francis Slay. They understand that the will, creativity, and vision has actually improved already stable and already majority white neighborhoods. They are cognizant that their political representatives failed to muster the political hutzpah to improve long-neglected Northside neighborhoods while signing off on and divving up more than a billion dollars in public money to “big-box” developments in areas were the black population is dwindling or nonexistent.


Arts & Culture Forum

There is a cadre of nonprofits in the black community that are doing the hard, unappreciated work of fighting crime, educating, and employing youth, providing adult job and entrepreneur-training, building affordable housing and trying to create sustainable, food-based systems in the city. Like other arts and culture groups, we can’t wait for politics to come to us; we have to organize, strategize and take our work to the politicians. We must demand their support, and influence and force them to adopt an equitable use of tax dollars to further our community-oriented endeavors...too.

If black political leaders are wise, they will get their act together quick-like. They will never, ever allow egos or personal agendas to jeopardize the greater good. They’ll realize that just being “black” no longer equates to winning elections. Perhaps those who’ve sided with establishment politicians will turn from the no-return policy of “aldermanic courtesy.” Maybe they’ll demand something, anything for their lapdog support of publicly-subsidized stadiums, high-rise, high-end condos in high-income areas and other trickle-down adventures that only gift millionaires billions at the expense of public schools and poor people.  


If black political leaders are wise, they will get their act together. They will never, ever allow egos or personal agendas to jeopardize the greater good.     

Undeniable, unstoppable change has taken root in St. Louis. Some may not like it but the city has made history. With Krewson it has elected its first female mayor. Throughout the debates that highlighted the problems and promise of our city, my hope is that she really listened. Only Krewson can decide if she’s just going to be the city's first female mayor or a GREAT female mayor. If she fails, we know the burgeoning powers of progress will erase her legacy in just four years.

I won’t say that I’m not disappointed by the election results. A dream deferred can be a bitter reality. However, with the luxury of quiet, unemotional reflection, I am hopeful and committed. There are setbacks and challenges, distractions, and disappointments. But real, significant, life-altering dreams never die. They marinate, they resonate and then they rise when the time is right.

Only Krewson can decide if she’s just going to be the city's first female mayor or a GREAT female mayor.

Tishaura Jones is young, determined and still holds a powerful position in city government. Her future in whatever she aspires to do is solid. Let us cry not for her. She did what she was supposed to do against great, stubborn, and institutionalized odds. 

Jones' candidacy was just another needed-reminder of what dreams may come and what possibilities are on the immediate horizon…when the time is right.




Monday, March 6, 2017

Tomorrow’s Promise: Coming to Grips with a Challenging Decision


Photo courtesy of DeLux Magazine
The election tomorrow (Tuesday, March 7th) represents a crossroads in St. Louis politics and future social and economic developments. Mayor Francis Slay’s unexpected announcement last year that he was not seeking a 5th term caught many by surprise. Slay has endorsed 28th ward Aldermen, Lyda Krewson who has the cash and influence to win the election, especially with four well-known black candidates vying for the seat. The fact that the candidates threaten to split the black vote at this crucial time is an indication of how fractured and powerless the state of local black politics has become in the city.

The fact that the candidates threaten to split the black vote at this crucial time is an indication of how fractured and powerless the state of local black politics has become.

Whatever the reason-ego or unexpected opportunity-the black candidates are challenging voters with a difficult decision. Therefore, we are obligated to challenge them and base our support on who will best take the city into a new, progressive and inclusive direction.  

For me, it’s rather simple. I’m supporting the candidate who I think is aware and prepared to advance the positive momentum percolating in our city.

This new energy started brewing in mid-2014 after the police shooting of Mike Brown. Mass frustration with the callousness of black life and militarized policing shined an unwelcomed, international spotlight on the region. Journalist from outside the area questioned tolerated racial segregation and police oppression in the Gateway City and beyond. They noted how, in the name of “development” black people were purposefully pushed out of the city and into surrounding municipalities. They documented the practice of police targeting black people as human collateral to flow millions into the coffers of small, unjust municipal fiefdoms.

For me, it’s rather simple. I’m supporting the candidate who I think is aware and prepared to advance the positive momentum percolating in our city.

To the horror of the region’s power brokers, people of all colors, ages and genders braved tanks, rubber bullets, tear gas, and overly aggressive police to amplify the “black lives matter” mantra. Injustice was directly linked to the city, two months after Brown’s death, when another white policeman shot and killed another black teenager. The shooting of VonDerrit Myers Jr.in the 4100 block of Shaw Boulevard increased the intensity of an already diverse and mostly younger crowd of protesters.  On November 25th, 2014, dozens of protesters were trapped inside MoKabe’s, a coffee shop known for its “progressive” and diverse clientele. Eye witnesses stated that police in armored vehicles intentionally dropped gas canisters directly in front of the coffee house which immediately filled the building.

This new group of passionate dissidents refused to play by the old rules. In no uncertain terms, they let civil rights icons like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton know that they weren’t playing by their antiquated playbook. A new kind of grassroots protest included but eclipsed old traditions of mass marches and highway shutdowns. Showing up and acting out at football games, the St. Louis Symphony and other “safe zones” for the unconnected and uncaring brought attention to a city were systematized racism had been deeply embedded for decades. Colorful plywood murals on boarded-up buildings, militant and malevolent songs, the stinging lyrics of spoken word artists, and creative and resilient protests became signals of a cultural and racial revolution.

Bernies Sanders’ local campaign benefited from this new movement. In the Missouri Democratic primary, Hilary Clinton only beat Sanders by a mere 1,531 votes.  A deep dissatisfaction with status quo politicians, has created a hunger for fresh alternative political voices.  The special elections of activists Bruce Franks and Rasheen Aldridge which challenged political dynasty candidates was a direct result of “progressive” political input and influence. A new wave of aldermen intent on disrupting the establishment south side machine include Megan Ellyia Green (Ward 15), Shane Cohn (Ward 25), Cara Spencer (20th Ward), Scott Ogilvie (24th Ward).

The special elections of activists Bruce Franks and Rasheen Aldridge was a direct result of “progressive” political input and influence. 

Two of the leading black mayoral candidates-one an alderman, the other president  of aldermanic board-speak of unifying our divided city. Yet, it’s City Treasurer Tishaura Jones who’s been endorsed by most of the progressive south side aldermen and Bernie Sander’s followers involved with groups like Mobilize Missouri. If there is to be unity and equity, it seems Jones has recruited the people power to fulfill that promise.

Creativity, Vision and Equity

Racial unity is not the only criteria for positive change in our city. We live in a region where black lives are deemed irrelevant. Accordingly, I’ve written that we need a black mayor that’s empathetic to racial disparities and capable of reversing the more than 60-year-old trend of de facto segregation.   

A series of STL Magazine and Riverfront Times articles detailed a 16-year, purposeful collusion of politicians and developers to exploit tax incentives and special rewards at the expense of public schools and real blighted neighborhoods. This, a couple of the articles stressed, was done to ensure the number of white residents rose in certain areas while black residents in those same neighborhoods decreased significantly.

After reading the articles, the defining questions for me were what role did the black aldermanic candidates have in enabling, halting or exposing how public money bypassed their constituents and wound up improving majority white wards and empowering already rich developers? How could they sign off on a billion dollars in tax perks without demanding some kind of reciprocity in their own wards?

What role did the black aldermanic candidates have in enabling, halting or exposing how public money bypassed their constituents and wound up improving white wards and empowering rich developers? 

I’ve listened to a few of the mayoral forums and conducted one-on-one interviews with some of the candidates. All the black candidates promise more inclusive development and racial inclusion for North St. Louis. However, in explaining the reasons why there’s been little to no real development in long-ignored areas of the city, their responses reeked of impotency. I've heard “there’s little black aldermen could do because they’re out-voted by white aldermen. Some described Slay's office as an omnipotent, elitist club that poo-poos anything that didn’t fit with the mayor's “sustainability plan” designed exclusively for downtown and the central corridor. Some of them put the blame squarely on the shoulders of developers who are hesitant to invest in North St. Louis.

These answers, to me, lack courage, vision and activism. It also highlighted an unwillingness to amalgamate the powers at-hand in the city. My organization, the Sweet Potato Project, is among a myriad of nonprofits investing our time, energy and meager resources in educating and employing young people, developing community-based food systems, building affordable homes or combating crime, poverty and hopelessness.  None of the black candidates, while in office, sought to use their clout to make sure hard-working nonprofits and small black businesses got the same love or a fraction of the resources gifted to power brokers, powerful developers and "big-box" businesses.

Again, it was Tishaura Jones who convinced me that she’s creative enough and outgoing enough to stand for racial and economic equity. She’s demonstrated the ability to beat back attacks from defenders of the status quo who have identified her as the one audacious enough to shake-up a system that’s addicted to luring big businesses to the city with lavish, unnecessary tax incentives. 

St. Louis is rich with higher-learning institutions like Washington University, Harris Stowe, and St. Louis University. These halls of academia are stuffed with research, and real-life templates for the equitable use of public funds to dramatically change low-income communities. Our next mayor must be adept at collaborating with local universities and using their plans and proposals to propel the city forward. Jones is the only candidate I’ve heard who’s talked about putting the power of local universities to work on a city-wide sustainability plan.

Jones seems to be the one with the audacity to shake up a system that’s grown addicted to luring big businesses to the city with lavish, unnecessary tax incentives.

After much deliberation, I’ve thrown my support behind Jones. She seems to be the one who will galvanize the grassroots, political and people-powered progressive forces that have taken root in our city and throughout the region. The fact that she’s modernized the city’s parking system, saved millions in revenue and created programs to teach financial literacy to the poor and prepare kindergartners for college speaks to her vision. She’s demonstrated that she’s courageous enough to go anywhere to seek out and implement best practices from other locales and our home-based universities.

To be clear, it won’t upset me if any of the black candidates win the mayoral race. They’ve all spoke to the sharing of taxpayer wealth and city resources to prioritize equitable progress throughout the region. For me, it’s not just about what they will do as a newly elected mayor, it’s about what they’ve done in their respective offices to date.

It won’t upset me if any of the black candidates win the race. But it’s not about what they will do, it’s about what they’ve done in their respective offices to date.

Candidate Antonio French told me that robust voter turnout will dictate the outcome of the mayoral competition. Personally, I don’t see how a larger turnout will change the percentage of voters torn between four black contenders and one status quo white candidate, but French might be correct. But more so, I’m hoping for a massive, informed electorate that’s keenly aware of the powerful collaborations and opportunities at hand under new mayoral leadership.

We are at a crossroads, St. Louis. We have a once-in-four-year opportunity to set a new, more inclusive course for the Gateway City. Here’s hoping that the promises at hand soon becomes the fruit of our future. 



  




Friday, March 3, 2017

Tishaura Jones for St. Louis Mayor


I’m not a politician or head of any political group. I represent myself, someone born, raised and, as a journalist, written about this place for more than 30 years. For these reasons and more I support Tishaura Jones as the next mayor of our city.

I applaud all the mayoral candidates. They have engaged, excited and informed voters about an outgoing administration that has wantonly supported rich developers and pumped obscene amounts of public money into already stable neighborhoods. This at the expense of public schools and poor neighborhoods. Voters are now acutely aware of our disproportionate poverty, crime, high school dropout and unemployment rates. They also know that some candidates have been far too comfortably, too compliant and way too complacent as dire conditions in disadvantaged neighborhoods have mounted without abatement for at least the past 16 years.

Unlike her competitors, Jones has boldly declared an agenda of racial equity. As the city’s treasurer, she’s proven that she’s willing to go anywhere to seek out and implement the best ideas and best practices from other locales or from our outstanding universities. She’s beat back vicious attacks from those invested in protecting and empowering the status quo. Jones has gained the support and endorsements of progressive south side politicians and organizations that are equally invested in growing past our racial hang-ups. She’s supported by engaged individuals who are bucking our divisive past and challenging the old guard. Some have gained elected office because they have embraced the true transforming power of diversity.

We can no longer tolerate political elitism or business-as-usual politicians.  It’s time to nurture the blossoming seeds of change. Now is the time for the city to reach its full potential, to become a real, diverse, and absolutely cool Metropolis. The resolve, the will and the energy is already here. All we need is the right leader, with the right vision and the right stuff to help us all wade into that wonderful pool of inclusivity.

St. Louis, with all its untapped potential is finally waking up and inching past its stagnant history. Our next Mayor must make sure the momentum is respected and continues. This is why I support Tishaura Jones for the next Mayor of St. Louis


Sincerely,

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tishaura Jones and the 1990’s Redux


I was employed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 2003 to 2009. One of the most inspiring aspects of the job, was reading the words of its founder, Joseph Pulitzer, posted on the marble wall in the publication’s lobby. In part, Pulitzer said the newspaper would:


“…always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption…always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare…never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

"...always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare…" - Part of the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Platform

It didn’t take long for me to realize the betrayal of those laudable words, especially after Lee Enterprises bought the newspaper in 2005. This was the time of upheaval for newspapers across the country. The Internet was proving to be a major advertising competitor for print media. Widespread fear of losing revenue led to layoffs, retirement deals and it created a shift in how the Post-Dispatch presented news.  From my vantage point, it placed the concerns and wishes of the Red-State readers, the “privileged class,” Mayor Slay, downtown developers and “public plunderers” way above the concerns of liberals, ordinary citizens and “predatory poverty.” Not only does it tolerate “injustice and corruption,” the PD promotes the concerns of the powerful with puppy-like zeal.

A 2002 Take Five Magazine article I wrote that examined Slay's role in a racially-divided city

Take for example its recent hit jobs against only one of the slate of mayoral candidates-city treasurer, Tishaura Jones. Let me say up front that I have no dog in this race. Although I have big respect for some of the other candidates, I can’t help but question why so much emphasis has been placed on destroying Jones’ campaign. The treasurer has been singled out for taking 50 trips since 2013 that has cost taxpayers about $27,000.00. The newspaper admitted she has modernized public parking, saved the city at least $5 million dollars and, in fact, increased city revenues. Yet, in typical fashion, it goes out of its way to paint another black politician as unqualified and corrupt.

Although I have big respect for some of the other candidates, I can’t help but question why so much emphasis has been placed on destroying Jones’ campaign.

With no credible sign of malfeasance, despite her obvious transparency and ability to publicly defend her expenses, the newspaper wrote a biased, if not sexist editorial urging voters to “Bring the high-flying St. Louis treasurer down to earth.” Keep in mind, this is the same newspaper that in 16 years, has never questioned the trips, business or family connections or “taxpayer money” Mayor Slay’s spent traveling, lobbying, wining & dining or profiting off rich developers and downtown interest's donations. Because the mayor slurps from the same trough as the newspaper, he gets an automatic pass. The predominantly white and predominantly male editorial board at the PD just makes the insulting assumption that Slay, the white mayor, is always doing the people’s business without question.

Because the mayor slurps from the same trough as the newspaper, he gets an automatic pass. 

There’s a benefit to being born and raised and writing about this city for more than 30 years. I remember the shenanigans of politicians and the newspaper’s slave-like attempts to protect the interest of big business and the white power structure. In order to really understand the motivations of the establishment press, we have to take a 24-year trip back to a time when a similar, possible power play caused outright panic in the hearts of St. Louis' oligarchy.

Virvus Jones (left) Mayor Freeman Bosley (right)
The year was 1993. Because two prominent, white mayoral candidates split the white vote, a black candidate, Freeman R. Bosley Jr. won with 83 percent of the black vote. Prominent, white city leaders freaked out. For the first time in St. Louis’ history, a black mayor and a black comptroller, Virvus Jones, held two of the three-person seats on the Estimate and Apportionment (E&A) board, the uber-influential entity that oversees the city’s purse strings.

In order to really understand the motivations of the establishment press and elite players, we have to take a 24-year trip back to the time when a similar, possible power play caused outright panic in the hearts of St. Louis' oligarchy.

Ray Hartmann, former publisher of the RFT, summed up the quandary confronting whites in his Feb. 2001 commentary:

“But the first time -- the very first time -- whites faced zero representation on the city-governing board, race mattered. It turned out whites had a racial quota (one) for whites on E&A and, further, that they had no problem taking affirmative action -- as an openly organized caucus for whites -- to achieve a race-conscious remedy.”

Ray Hartmann, former RFT publisher
Jones came under investigation for mishandling campaign funds during the 1993 Democratic primary race for comptroller. He was convicted in 1994 for cheating on his federal income taxes and sentenced to one year in federal prison. To the chagrin of many powerful whites, Bosley turned around and appointed another African American, Darlene Green, who still serves as comptroller today.

White city leaders had only one hope for at least one white vote on the E&A Board. The third seat is held by the president of the board of aldermen. The white aldermanic President at the time, Tom Villa, announced he would not seek re-election in the 1995 campaign. State Sen. Lacy Clay (now a congressman) talked publicly about running for the seat-which meant, if he won, blacks would control all of the E&A seats.

It turned out whites had a racial quota (one) for whites on E&A and, further, that they had no problem taking affirmative action.- Ray Hartman

Hartmann’s editorial spoke of the “insiders” who darkly predicted that St. Louis would become “like East St. Louis” with whites fleeing the city in “even greater numbers than the current exodus” if there were no white representation at the highest levels of city government. He recalled the Nov. 19, 1994 emergency meeting where “white Democratic leaders representing all but two of the South Side's aldermanic wards convened a summit to ward off the danger of this all-black thing.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch-the region’s largest daily newspaper- got in on the frenzy by publishing an editorial directly asking Clay, in the name of “fairness,” to stay out of the race. The editorial boldly asked that Clay allow the E&A board to “…have representation from all segments of the city."

The Post-Dispatch got in on the frenzy by publishing an editorial directly asking Clay, in the name of “fairness,” to stay out of the race. 

Clay and Bosley succumbed to corporate, political and media influence. Clay, citing pressure from whites, decided not to run in the Aldermanic President’s race. Bosley chose not to back either of the two African American women candidates interested in the seat. The former mayor’s choice created a fissure in St. Louis’ strong black political machine that would soon crumble after the 2001 mayoral race. Instead, Bosley endorsed a white candidate-Alderman Francis Slay-who won the 1995 election and, six years later, in 2001, was overwhelmingly elected Mayor of St. Louis.

In retrospect, it’s clear to me why Jones has become the mainstream media’s major target in this over-populated race. The fact is, she’s electable. She’s proven to be transparent and more than capable of justifying her expenditures. She’s served four years in the Missouri House of Representatives. And, with an agenda of “reform,” she's won city-wide office twice.

Mayor Bosley infuriated the power-elite by
endorsing Darlene Green to replace
comptroller Virvus Jones
I will not be surprised if the Post-Dispatch endorses the single, high-profile white candidate in the mayoral race, Lyda Krewson. She’s a fine politician but she’s the one who’s marched in lockstep with Mayor Slay’s divisive, pro-big business agenda. Not to forget that Krewson’s ward has been the biggest recipient of tax incentives and select neighborhood perks throughout Slay’s terms in office.

In retrospect, it’s clear to me why Jones has become the mainstream media’s major target in this over-populated race. The fact is, she’s electable. 


Jones has gained the support of State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and white, far south side aldermen who’ve publicly exposed and challenged the old, south city, white establishment guard. Unlike, two of the notable black candidates in the race, Jones outspokenly trashed and refused to endorse the multi-million dollar football stadium deal. She’s expanded the role of treasurer with programs such as the Office of Financial Empowerment that teaches residents how to better manage their money. Jones also created the College Kids Children’s Savings Account, a program that will automatically enroll an estimated 6,400 city kindergartners in a college savings program this summer.

For me, the establishment media’s hit-jobs on Jones makes her a more attractive candidate. I personally like how she talks more about “equity” than “unity” as some of the other candidates prefer. The word “unity,” to me, seems like an attempt to address the fears and concerns of Slay and Krewson’s supporters. “Equity” means shaking things up to provide resources and political clout to long-disenfranchised voters throughout the city.  

Jones has gained the support of white, far south side aldermen who’ve been publicly exposing and challenging the old, white establishment guard.

This, plus the fear of another black mayor, is the stuff that scares the bejeebus out of folks that the Post-Dispatch and the old guard pamper. Tishaura Jones, as mayor, resurrects the fear of an all-black E&A board and threatens to break up the good-old-boy fiefdoms of short-sighted white aldermen. Her victory will also challenge the complacency of black aldermen who’ve allowed the city to re-segregate itself under their watch.

St. Louis is already stuck in the past. It’s still relying on big-ticket projects and shoring up already stable white neighborhoods. The newspaper, city leaders and Mayor Slay's main agenda is to lure the children of the white flighters (1950s-1980s) back to the city at any cost. 

It will take new vision and gutsy leadership to drag the city into the 21st Century and make it a more eclectic, diverse and modern metropolis.

I am not endorsing or supporting Tishaura Jones’ campaign…not yet anyway. However, as I watch biased, racial politicking and the same old dirty, media tricks from 25 years ago, I feel compelled to share what  I know from decades of writing about our city. 

Let us not fall for the okey-doke. Let us not be misled by a mainstream media that’s reliant on business-as-usual.  Since the Post-Dispatch has seemingly abandoned Pulitzer’s Platform, apparently it’s up to the voters, to: “...fight for progress and reform." It's the role of an informed electorate to "never tolerate injustice or corruption and always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers.”



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Steve Harvey and that “Coon” Thing

One of many negative characterizations of Steve Harvey after he met with Donald Trump

Sometimes celebrity-hood can be a fickle and cruel beast. One day a celebrity can be loved by all and the next, hated by many. Take Comedian, talk show and Family Feud host, Steve Harvey. After meeting and participating in a photo op with President Elect, Donald Trump, he became the target of immediate condemnation. Charges range from labeling him a “sell-out” to dismissing him as an outright mediocre “coon.”

The latter is the ultimate insult from black folk aimed at black folk. Think Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or Trump’s confidante and soon-to-be public engagement officer, Omarosa Manigault.  Harvey, the most recent high-profile African American banished to “Coonville” is understandably upset.

"A lot of y'all hurt me. I didn't expect the backlash to be so fierce,"  Harvey told listeners of his radio program, the “Steve Harvey Morning Show.


"A lot of y'all hurt me. I didn't expect the backlash to be so fierce..." Harvey said on his radio program

Before I address the “backlash,” let me say this; Steve Harvey-putting it bluntly-is a grown-ass man who has the right to meet with whomever he chooses. Yes, he met with a politician whose stereotypical comments about black people and black neighborhoods has repulsed millions. But that doesn’t justify the automatic revocation of the mythical “black card” nor does it rationalize questioning his loyalties to black people.

That said, Harvey did sort of set himself up for wide-spread criticism. He was the one who emerged from the meeting gushing about Trump’s character and goals:

“I walked away feeling like I had just talked with a man who genuinely want to make a difference in this area,” Harvey wrote on Twitter. “I feel like something really great could come of this…I would sit with him anytime.”

Harvey underestimated the level of distrust blacks have about Trump. The comedian stood before media cameras detailing how, before they got to the crux of the meeting, he and Trump talked about golf and the celebrities they know. Then he explained how Trump got Ben Carson, his new secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on the phone to talk about housing.

Surely, Harvey knew blacks would scrutinize a telephone meeting between a comedian and a brain surgeon who both have no experience in public or affordable housing. Harvey is no fool. He’s media savvy enough to know that Trump has been meeting with a bunch of high-profile Negroes to offset the perception of racial insensitivity.

Marc Lamont Hill, the Morehouse College professor and frequent CNN commentator spoke to this.  Trump’s “outreach” meetings with black celebrities and athletes, like Harvey, Kanye West, Jim Brown, and Ray Lewis, Hill said on CNN, are "condescending" and "demeaning."  The professor pulled no punches in defining black celebrities as "a bunch of mediocre negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo op for Trump’s exploitative campaign against black people.”

"...a bunch of mediocre negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo op for Trump’s exploitative campaign against black people.-Marc Lamont Hill on CNN


Harvey’s feelings are justifiably hurt. But it’s his own fault. He struck a conciliatory tone with Trump at a time when his fans have no interest in reconciling with him based on the stereotypical things he’s said about blacks and their neighborhoods. Harvey spoke highly of Trump around the same time Trump was demeaning prolific civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis and the fifth district of Georgia he serves.

Trump suggested Lewis spend more time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results.” 

"All talk and "no action" was the way Trump defined political icon John Lewis in a recent Twitter War

Not only is it insultingly dismissive to describe an icon of the civil rights movement since the early 1960s as a no-action politician, it’s blazingly ignorant to define his whole district as “crime-invested” simply based on its black population. As writer,
Jamiles Lartey, wrote in a the Guardian, Trump’s definition of Lewis’ district falls way short of reality:

Lartey interviewed Nikema Williams, co-chair of Georgia’s Democratic party and Atlanta resident: “Not only is it unreasonable to say – it’s false and a flat-out lie. Atlanta is a booming city. People are moving here from all over the country,” Williams said, adding, “It (Trump’s rhetoric) speaks to the disconnect he continues to have with the black community. Any time you want to ask him about the [community], he refers to the inner city. Not all black people live in the inner city!”

Harvey failed to address or bridge the disconnect between blacks and Trump. In detailing his meeting, Harvey spoke of what Trump told him but gave no indication of what he told Trump (other than their mutual love for golf and celebrities, of course). It seems Harvey allowed Trump, the ultimate flim-flam man, to pull him out of his lane. Harvey and Trump are both entrepreneurs. Harvey knows influential black people. He knows where they live and what they’re doing to help people of their hue. The comedian who once lived out of his car in his early years knows a thing or two about struggle and opportunities afforded to those with talent but no resources.

It seems Harvey allowed Trump, the ultimate flim-flam man, to pull him out of his lane. 

Much of the criticism would have been muted if Harvey spoke to his and Trump’s mutual strengths and talents. Things would be different if he said something like: “Look ya’ll, we discussed your concerns. We talked about the power of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and I’m going to do my best to recruit the talents of those I know and seek the government and private resources to get the job done.”

Still, I’m giving Harvey the benefit of doubt. Maybe he was caught off guard when he visited Trump Tower. He stated that Trump is open to his mentoring efforts across the country. He added that he, Trump and Carson have just started their dialog and they will look for programs and housing that help “our inner cities."

Harvey knows influential black people. He knows where they live and what they’re doing to help people of their hue. 

On his radio program, Harvey reminded his fans that he’s from “the hood” and has a long history of doing his “part for years for boys and girls.” That’s true. The mission of his charity founded by Harvey and his wife, the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, is to provide outreach to fatherless children and young adults. According to “Look to the Stars” a website that provides information on celebrity giving, the Harvey’s foundation “promotes educational enrichment, one-on-one mentoring and global service initiatives that will cultivate the next generation of responsible leaders.”

So let’s try to be optimistic for a moment. Harvey could be a part of historic change in the civil rights movement. Let’s assume Trump is really interested in more than just “talk, talk, talk” and diversionary photo ops with high-profile black people. Let’s believe that Harvey will be prepared to talk about what he really knows the next time (if there is a next time) he meets with Trump. Let’s imagine Harvey showing up with a long list of celebrities with charities aimed at uplifting youth and minority groups. Let’s imagine he’s accompanied by folk like John Legend (Show Me Campaign), Alicia Keys (Frum Tha Ground Up), Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions and Leadership Academy for Girls).  

Let’s try to be optimistic for a moment. Harvey could be on to historic change in the civil rights movement. 

Harvey could flip the script and become a pioneer of black entrepreneurism in politics if he introduces Trump to black entrepreneurs and philanthropists with social and economic empowerment experience and real, substantive plans. Some participants could include Eddie C. Brown (Brown Capital Management), Robert F. Smith (Vista Equity Partners), Richard D. Parsons (Time Warner; Citigroup) or Charles Phillips (Phillips Charitable Foundation).

Harvey could become a pioneer of black entrepreneurism if he introduces Trump to black entrepreneurs and philanthropists with social and economic empowerment experiences and substantive plans.

Harvey deserves a little slack.  I remember a day back in the 1980s when two, fresh-faced St. Louis comedians-Cedric the Entertainer and my nephew Chuck Deezy-stopped by my house to say “farewell.” They were heading to Hollywood to hook up with Steve Harvey. A couple years later, I saw them on TV, in movies and living the LA La Land experience. I could be wrong, but I attribute their ascent to Harvey’s help and guidance.

It’s too early to toss Harvey into the trashcan of coonerism. For me, the jury’s still out and Harvey has the chance to negate the negatives. Hopefully, he won’t let his hurt feelings distract him from his stated goals of helping Trump help black people.

Who knows, in time the backlash may turn to backing and wide-spread support. The Family Feud may end and the savvy King of Comedy may reclaim his role as a trusted and beloved ambassador for the people who cheered him on for decades.