Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vince Schoemehl: Roundtable on Racism and Segregation in St. Louis

Monday night, a small group sat down with former St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl to discuss segregation in St. Louis and to answer one of his nagging questions, "Why don't my kids have any Black friends?"

Schoemehl, now President and CEO of Grand Center, was hoping to gain some insight into this question from a group of young adults.

The conversation jumped from the Metrolink, and lack of viable public transit in St. Louis, to the history of housing covenants, the public school system, the city/county divide, and more.

Schoemehl wanted to know how we get different people interacting across these constructed boundaries. The first step to integration, is interaction, and in St. Louis, without even knowing it, most of us step into segregated bars, clubs, and restaurants every day. In fact, one attendant remarked, the only place you see people interacting are at the large outdoor festivals like Live on the Levy, the jazz shows at the Botanical Gardens and the Festival of Nations, all of which occur in public spaces. Because so many neighborhoods are segregated, particularly between the city and the county, citizens of St. Louis aren't as exposed to heterogeneous populations and so aren't forced to interact with them.

It was agreed that we could throw around theories until we were blue in the face, so we decided to try to take action (this action is still being discussed).

Clearly, this isn't just a St. Louis issue, but as Schoemehl pointed out, St. Louis is a city that faces irrelevance if it can't move towards a more dynamic, post-racial culture.

What do you think? Have you make friends across the 'great racial divide'?

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