First, let me say that is an honor to be here, and for me truly a privilege.
We stand today as a people divided against itself as stories of violence and messages of hate scroll across our phones. In our living rooms one bloody headline bleeds into the next. Meanwhile, the whirlpool of talking-heads leaves questions of injustice, democracy, and changing values drowning in deep waters as they skirt along the shallows from one story to the next.
Our elected officials speak past one another as gerrymandered districts, specials interests, and low-turnouts distort and erase their incentive to muster the courage to take on these boiling and roiling issues.
In response, many of us cry. Many of us sit in silence no longer sure how to react the numbing onslaught of tragedy and divisiveness. Many of us tap and type out raw unfiltered emotions. Many of us shout.
For we stand lost in confusion on the edge of an abyss. Before us lays an unknown and uncertain world. Some would like to turn back to a paternalistic comfort or to the non-existent securities of a nostalgic past. Yet, “we live upon the front edge of an advancing wave-crest, and our sense of a determinate direction in falling forward is all we cover of the future of our path”
—There is no going backwards. And so we can either get angry or get active. We can blame our neighbor standing next to us; we can feel ashamed of ourselves for letting events bring us to this cliff; we can revert to the conventional divides of race, class, religion, and party.
Or…we can accept unflinching personal responsibility for the present circumstances. We can quiet ourselves for just a moment to listen to our neighbors express their fear. We can seek to understand before asking to be understood. We can choose to believe that there is more that unites us than divides us. We can actively extend a hand and say, “It’s okay. I’m scared too.”
For, we must plunge whole-heartedly into the future together or fall apart and perish as petty individual ruins.
As we inch closer to the edge, eyes turn once again towards St. Louis. In so many ways we are where it all began, from the Missouri Compromise, to Dred Scott, to Shelley, to Jones, to Michael Brown. We have a chance to show the rest of the nation that we can come together to address our deepest divides.
One author described St. Louis as “Fragmented by Design.” But let’s speak a little more honestly; St. Louis was first explicitly segregated by design, then implicitly, and finally economically.
If we are to realize the full potential of our society and to allow every individual the opportunity to become who they truly are, then we must deconstruct the barriers that divide us. For, “the most common form of despair is not being who you are.”
Through the constant shield of the Arch City Defenders, thoughtful collaborative guidance of the NBLSA, and the great work of every other organization you see before you—we can change the structures that divide us.
All of this rests within our power. The question remains whether or not we have the will, the courage, the soul, the intelligence, the heart, and the strength to lift ourselves off of the edge. We must leap forward, forever holding onto the belief that each of us is connected to the other in the deep.
At St. Louis Strong we commit to fighting for a just society in which the municipality you live or the color of your skin does not determine the length of your life nor the number of your court visits. We will act as the grassroots vehicle for unifying policy solutions.
If we as a region are to progress, then we as a people must unite; for, there is nothing stronger than the human spirit fighting for a common cause larger than itself.