photo courtesy of Gina Martinez
On December 12, Crossing the Delmar Divide: A Conversation brought together over 300 members of the community for an evening of intense discussion around racial and economic issues in St. Louis. The program focused on a video produced by BBC reporter Franz Strasser last March, titled Crossing a St. Louis Street That Divides Communities. The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts worked with the Missouri History Museum for a number of months to develop a series of community conversations around the subject. The Pulitzer held the culminating event.
Strasser returned to St. Louis to participate in the event and to create a follow-up story, St. Louis Race Debate Sparked by BBC Video.
A panel moderated by Tabari Coleman, project director of the Anti-Defamation League, debated topics raised by the video. Panelists included Sandra M. Moore, president of Urban Strategies; Alderman Antonio French of the 21st Ward of the City of St. Louis; Bob Duffy, associate editor of the St. Louis Beacon; and Ilene Berman, local artist and educator. Video documentation can be viewed HERE.
The panel participants were asked to respond to a few follow-up questions after the program. The questions and answers are below.
Franz Strasser, BBC News
Q. What do you think about the activity your report has spurred in the St. Louis community?
A. It’s always gratifying to see that your work can actually make a difference on the ground. From the comments I read on Twitter and Facebook immediately following the publication of the video, I was very impressed by how quickly people moved from accepting a certain reality to questioning what could be done about it.
Q. What is your response to the local community discussion at the program on December 12?
A. The discussion showed how eager people are to participate not just by attending, but by making their voice and their story heard. It also showed how challenging it can be to discuss race and inequality with a large group of people from various backgrounds.
Q. How do you think St. Louis compares to other cities with racial and economic divisions?
A. Metropolitan cities all over the world struggle with divisions in their own right, but St. Louis remains a special case because the division is made so apparent by walking across Delmar Boulevard. But there are many past examples of cities rising to the occasion and becoming symbols for progress and change. St. Louis could show cities around the world what it takes to integrate and bridge divisions.
Bob Duffy, The St. Louis Beacon
Q. How can we sustain and transfer the enthusiasm evident in the Pulitzer Foundation discussion, and — since the preaching really was to a most receptive choir — how can we get others, including the Establishment, to come forward and to help, and to enter into conversations such as the one Wednesday night; and after hearing them, to commit enormous resources of time and money to bringing about changes necessary to achieve full and measurable equality?
A. Everyone who participated in the program and is concerned with racial equality must be willing to stick with the subject, and to work for change and to work to attract converts to our cause, and to be willing to bounce back from disappointments and further misunderstandings. Even when things go smoothly in efforts to effect broad social change, progress takes years to accomplish. And yet, how long can we expect men and women to wait — men such as the unnamed person in the video who spoke of his feelings of being trapped and disaffected and stuck on the plantation forever?
Ilene Berman, Artist and Educator
Q. What is your reaction to the discussion that ensued during the program last week?
A. I took part in two other Delmar Divide discussions in the days leading up to being on the Pulitzer Panel. What I noticed at all three events was the need for people to be able to publicly tell their stories about the Divide. I think that is what Franz’s video did: it gave the people of St. Louis permission to do publicly what they had been doing with friends in their own homes; it empowered them to ask to be heard. This is such an important step in understanding the history of racial division in our city and it cannot be rushed.
Q. What do you think are the best next steps for St. Louisans interested in topics of racial and economic disparity in St. Louis?
A. I think we need to continue to publicly listen to each other. In our desire to ‘move forward’, we cannot silence our neighbors on either side of the Divide. Only after everyone feels they have been heard will we be able to move to the next step of problem-solving what to do. I would like to see the Pulitzer Foundation and the History Museum create panels of listeners (I would be happy to volunteer) and sponsor a series of well-publicized day-long events inviting people to come to be heard. Part of the legacy of the Divide is that we do not know each other.
The Pulitzer looks forward to continuing projects around the subjects of economics and race in St. Louis. We hope to incorporate the topics into future programming, specifically into a new, design-focused initiative, that will highlight the city as a living organism.