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Editorial / Commentary A4

JUNE 21 - 27, 2012 • ST. LOUIS AMERICAN

Minority inclusion: getting it done In St. Louis, minority inclusion in economic opportunity has emerged as a major civil rights issue of the new century. Respect for staff diversity and active pursuit of minority inclusion in workforce and contracting have become mantras that everyone voices. In a press release announcing yet another entry into the crowded field of diversity monitoring in the construction field, Scott Wilson of SM Wilson is quoted saying that it’s all about trust. We regret to inform Wilson that there is not going to be any trust on this issue in the foreseeable future. This is the Show-Me State, and African Americans need to be shown more sincere effort to include them and their businesses into workforce and procurement before we trust a single thing we are told about it. This is particularly true of unfulfilled promises made by majority contractors and entities funded by them. That said, we wish KAI President Michael Kennedy Jr., the Minority Contractor’s Initiative and Associated General Contractors of St. Louis’ Diversity Committee well in their stated efforts to “get it done,” as Kennedy vows, as opposed to simply forming yet another task force that talks about getting it done. In fact, we are anxious to be shown evidence of their getting it done – their getting more minority contractors on jobsites and more black tradesmen into apprenticeships and decent-paying jobs. It is a long, long way from a construction jobsite to a major metropolitan museum of art, but the Saint Louis Art Museum has a program that reflects sincerity of intention and effectiveness of action in recruiting minority talent into the museum field. While the museum’s own curatorial staff lacks a strong black presence, the museum’s Romare Bearden Fellowship is enabling the development of professional black talent for the industry. And while the museum’s ongoing expansion has been criticized by minority inclusion advocates, the museum’s Bearden Fellowship is a national model for producing minority professionals in the museum field. To date, 18 Romare Bearden fellows have left the Saint Louis Art Museum to become accomplished art professionals and scholars. They are curators at the Amistad Center for Art and Culture, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the Houston Museum of African American Culture, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Chrysler Museum of Art; they are art faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas at

Austin. While we are certain their presence at these institutions brings great value to those institutions and their communities in their personal contributions and the examples they provide, the Bearden program itself has inspired imitators. The fellowship has been used as a model for other museums, such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland – College Park, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, to establish internships and fellowships for minority students. We should acknowledge that this stimulus to African-American inclusion in the often rarified museum field was not the brainchild of a black person, but rather of local philanthropists Dan and Adelaide Schlafly, who advocated for the Bearden Fellowship as a weapon against segregation in St. Louis and established an endowment to cover a portion of the annual cost of the program. They started a conversation about a problem, and then showed the region and eventually the nation that they were serious about addressing the problem. The Bearden Fellowship celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2012 and we will have much to say about it, culminating in a feature story about the museum’s hosting of the national Alliance Conference July 12-15. Meanwhile, back on the ground, there are still jobsites, workers and contracts, and we will be watching to see that those who pledge greater inclusion follow the model of the Schlaflys and actually work to get it done. Everything is at stake. It absolutely is an economic imperative that this region become more inclusive.

As I See It - A Forum for Community Issues

Progress and vigilance in minority inclusion Your article “$1 Billion Impact reports $275M in new MBE contracts” makes a very important statement about the progress that is being made to advance opportunities for minority businesses in the St. Louis market. I would like to congratulate and encourage continued efforts on numerous fronts, particularly in Guest Columnist the minority Michael construction industry, to McMillan bring about greater economic parity and selfsufficiency. The partnerships and collaborations that are being formed are resulting in commendable and positive action. Independent initiatives that create self-sufficiency and community empowerment are evolving simultaneously. Solutions to racial challenges and inclusion are not just being discussed, task forces and contracts are being generated. Last year when James Webb, President of the Minority Supplier Development Council, announced his $1Billion Dollar Initiative many thought it was unachievable. However, one year later he has reported $275M in new MBE contracts with only 14 MBEs reporting. It is a significant step forward and should be commended. More reports of actionoriented and positive dialogue are occurring. In 2011, Michael Kennedy Jr., President of KAI Design and Build, prompted dialogue by taping comments of representatives for a 40-minute video entitled: “Building a Better St. Louis: Voices of Reason from a

Region at the Crossroads of Diversity.” The project allowed opposing voices to express their views on the history, challenges and solutions for minority inclusion in the construction industry. In March 2012, Stephen Lewis, Vice President of the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis (AGC), released a survey addressing minority inclusion that rippled into mobilizing task forces along with its already existing diversity committee. The committee is now chaired by Michael Kennedy Jr. Recently, the Office of the License Collector collaborated with the U.S. Department of Commerce-International Trade Division to host a Manufacturer’s Briefing to assist manufacturers and MBEs/ WBEs. Like James Webb, I am optimistic that these kinds of initiatives will position St. Louis as an economic leader. Recently, MOKAN opened their doors to a new building on Natural Bridge. The renovation labor was donated by minority contractors. The building is located in North St. Louis, which will help stabilize the neighborhood for future growth. The Minority Contractor’s Initiative (MCI) under the leadership of Kem Mosley, Executive Director, has brought a contemporary focus to training and credentialing of minority contractors. Their advisory board is headed by both Michael Kennedy Sr. and Jr. Malik Ahmed, President, CEO and Founder of Better Family Life, has brought to fruition a 29-year vision of a Better Family Life Cultural Educational & Business Center. The project reflects

a partnership between McCormack Baron Salazar and KAI Design & Build. Fifth Third Bank’s involvement began with the vision and leadership of Royce Sutton, Vice President. On December 15, 2011, I wrote letters to the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).“Though MSD has been a good corporate citizen in many ways, they should readily serve as a model by becoming seamlessly proactive in their minority inclusion strategy, I wrote. “I join the many voices of reason making an appeal to MSD for immediate proactive solutions for minority and women inclusion.” I am pleased that MSD is moving forward with key organizations and companies to ensure job training, education, employment and contracts for minorities and women. Across the board whether small or large companies, minority or general contractors, there is forward action and more positive and candid responses to shared interests. Is it enough? Definitely not. There will be debates for a long time on what is enough, but we must remain vigilant. And MBEs/WBEs, please persist in seeking contracts. Be consistent in skilled performance and reliable in providing services, while staying in touch with industry trends. Collectively this will help keep you in the pipeline of opportunities, easily accessible and readily responsive to opportunities. Michael McMillan is Chairman of the Board, St. Louis Community Empowerment Foundation and License Collector of the City of St. Louis.

COMMENTARY

Life expectancy disparity narrows “Understanding the causes of black-white differences in mortality has important consequences for interventions to reduce health inequalities in the United States.” – Sam Harper, PhD; McGill University, Montreal Guest Columnist In recent weeks, it’s been Marc H. Morial reported that the birth rate for people of color now exceeds the rate for whites, and that AfricanAmerican deaths from prostate cancer are declining. This week we got more good news about the health status of African Americans when the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the racial gap in life expectancy has narrowed to an all-time low.   According to a new study, led by Dr. Sam Harper of Montreal’s McGill University, “Between 2003 and 2008, life expectancy at birth increased from 75.3 to 76.2 years among non-Hispanic white men and from 68.8 to 70.8 years among non-Hispanic black men, whereas for women the changes were from 80.3 to 81.2 years for whites and 75.7 to 77.5 for blacks. These changes reduced the racial gap from 6.5 to 5.4

years among men and from 4.6 to 3.7 years among women.” While still too wide, the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites in America is now the smallest on record. But even more interesting than the raw numbers are some of the reasons behind them. The study reveals, for example, that after years of devastation in the black community, we appear to be making progress in the fights against AIDS and heart disease. As reported in the New York Times, Dr. Harper’s study calculated that 15 percent of the change in life expectancy between black and white men was due to faster declines in the rate that black men are dying from HIV compared to white men. Another 15 percent was due to improvements in preventing and treating heart disease among black men. A similar pattern in HIV death rates contributed to 8 percent of the change in the life expectancy gap between black and white women.  Declines in mortality rates for heart disease contributed to 29 percent of the change among women.  Let me be clear: Heart disease and HIV infection remain major causes of early death in Black America. African Americans are still 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than whites. And blacks account

Letters to the Editor Not just one person This is Ricky. Just wanted to say after reading Rebecca S. Rivas’ article I’m really grateful for how you were willing to shed light on the circumstance of cases like mine. I really do believe that it is about every man, woman and child who is innocent, not just one person. Once again, thank you. Ricky Kidd Southeast Correctional Center Charlestown, Mo.

Mizzou must save university press On May 24, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced that funding for the University’s 54-yearold press would be ended almost immediately. The 10 undersigned scholars, who comprise all of the editors of the 16-volume Collected Works of Langston Hughes, believe this is a grievous error and that President Wolfe should reverse this decision. Great universities define themselves by what they publish and how those publications influence other scholars and readers. This is true regardless of the field. A major research university that ceases operations of its press indicates that it has lost interest in a crucial part of its mission. Despite the invaluable merit of the essential publications on Langston Hughes’s work by the Oxford University Press, and the supplemental contributions by the University Press of Kentucky and the University of Illinois Press, the unrivaled sequence of books on Hughes by the University of Missouri Press makes it arguably the publisher of the most definitive collection of the kind to date. Furthermore, the University of Missouri Press has rightfully earned distinction among a handful of receptive presses to publish definitive literary criticism by and on African Americans since 1980, particularly under the editorship of the now retired Beverly Jarrett. The body of work from the University of Missouri Press challenges narrow perceptions and misreadings of Hughes (who was born in Joplin, Missouri) as a simple, folksy writer by bringing

for more new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths than any other racial group in the country. But the narrowing life-expectancy gap shows that targeted prevention and treatment efforts in African American communities are making a difference.     The National Urban League has been involved in the fight against AIDS for more than two decades. Together with our affiliates across the country, we continue to stress the importance of HIV prevention in communities of color, promote greater access to care and influence national AIDS policy. Since 2009, we have been a partner organization in the Centers for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, a federally-funded outreach effort that is harnessing the collective strength of some of the nation’s leading organizations to fight HIV among hard hit populations.   While it is good news that the life expectancy gap between whites and blacks in America has narrowed to an historic low, we will continue our work to ensure that African Americans are not only living longer, but also aging healthier. Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.

All letters are edited for length and style.

back into publication texts that reveal a profoundly broad and intellectually engaging understanding of 20th-century U.S. culture and the role of race in world affairs. Our work on these volumes also contributes to the larger, ongoing project among scholars of African-American literature to recover texts by black American writers that have been historically marginalized from the American literary canon. This large-scale process of textual recovery and publication, begun on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, is truly one of academe’s most important success stories. Without the work of scholars engaged in this project, African-American literary studies in the academy simply would not exist, and American literary studies in the 21st century would look very different indeed. More than a local budgetary decision, then, this closing reduces significantly the intellectual quality of academic diversity in the U.S.; indeed, it impairs the very mission of the humanities. It diminishes greatly the impact of the University of Missouri on the profundity of this vital conversation. We admonish President Wolfe to reconsider his decision and allow the University of Missouri Press to continue its record of scholarly excellence.

removed on TV to the center, we thought this is what it takes to get St. Louis help. They were promised affordable housing and help for their problems and it did not happen. The mayor insists there is help for the homeless in St. Louis City. Where is that help? Ava Jordan, St. Louis

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The homeless resource line which all homeless persons must access before finding shelter in St. Louis is commonly busy, has no answer or responds with no shelter at this time. People removed from the new tent city at Vandeventer and Highway 44 were taken in a van to an Americorp center. The next day or two days, they were put out back on the streets. When these people were

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