Looking ahead has been hard lately because of the pandemic and the day-to-day worries we all face. But the Community Conference on Aug. 22 was an uplifting and inspiring opportunity to rally each other and think about how each of us can contribute to the world we want to live in.

The Community Conference came about thanks to an ambitious project to gather feedback from 1,500 residents in the 24:1 over nearly two years. The resulting document—the “24:1 Community Vision Report 2020”—was brought to life on Aug. 22 by speakers ranging from Chris Krehmeyer, the CEO and President of Beyond Housing, to dozens of local residents and leaders including retired Normandy teacher Barbara Martin, Normandy parent Theresa Pearson, physician Dannie Williams, Greendale Mayor Tiffany Graham, and Rep. Kevin Windham, who represents 20 municipalities in St. Louis County in the Missouri House.

Taking control of one’s own situation was a powerful theme. Featured speaker Cori Bush, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, gave a particularly touching description of her own life’s journey through the school of hard knocks as she looks ahead to the possibility of being the first Black woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. House.

“I was alone after I was evicted and didn’t even have boxes, so I had to move with trash bags,” Bush recalled. “I was in that payday loan cycle as a single parent trying to raise two children without child support.” But her future changed with help at just the right moment: “Someone spoke up for me, and that’s how I was able to move out from that situation.”

Her story was echoed by others, like Mayor Graham, who won election as a write-in candidate and then reluctantly stepped up to the challenge. “I knew very little about what being a mayor entailed,” Graham said. She even thought about trying to turn down the job. “But civic duty has been instilled in me throughout my life, and I’m learning day to day what it means to be mayor.”

Another story of resilience came from Rep Windham: “I’m the youngest Black man to be in the House of Representatives,” he said. “Sometimes older folks, whether they look like me or not, didn’t always think I was the best person to be in this position. … Going high when other folks go low is important.”

The virtual conference, hosted by Beyond Housing in partnership with MU Extension, stayed true to its theme of “Facing Our Today for a Better Tomorrow: Rising to the Call of Action.”

One of the most in-depth sessions was the civic leadership panel moderated by reporter Derrion Henderson from KTVI-TV FOX 2. Conference participants also had a chance to speak in smaller groups during breakout sessions on education, police reform, economic development, and housing. A video recap of the conference will be available soon.

“There are so many good things happening, so many great stories, so many strong people who live in the 24:1 footprint,” said Chris Krehmeyer of Beyond Housing as he introduced the community vision report. “The story we have to tell is like none other in the St. Louis region. Part of my job is to see what other folks are doing across the country, and there are few anywhere who are doing the things we’re doing AND being led by the community’s voice.”

“The work that has happened here over the past 10 years has been recognized nationally, regionally and otherwise—and that recognition is heartwarming, but those of us who do the work every day recognize that there’s much more to do,” Krehmeyer continued. “This plan gives us a road map.”

Throughout the morning, community members encouraged each other to be active and use their skills to make change happen. In the words of Rep. Windham: “Know who your elected officials are and hold them accountable,” he advised. “Pay attention to the counties and the municipalities. Being involved and engaged, whether that means voting or protesting or research and writing—whatever your lane is, go as fast as you can in that lane.”

As a follow-up to the Community Conference, Beyond Housing will be organizing a series of five weekly workshops starting in mid-September. Details will be posted soon!

 

This Community Conference is made possible through the support of the Deaconess Foundation and the American Heart Association.