When people are deprived of their basic human rights, freedom, justice and lack of access to basic necessities, crime takes root in our communities because poverty is the parent of crime. And we have to, if we address poverty, we address crime. But we can do this. Do you believe we can do this? – Mayor Tishaura Jones 2023
The State of the Black Professional (SOBP) was a St. Louis, celebrity-filled symposium at Washington University Olin Business School in the Emerson Auditorium on May 18, 2023.
Gina Covington-James, Director of Professional Development, was one of the Chairs for SOBP presented by the National Black MBA Association-St. Louis Chapter. Mrs. Covington-James helped organized the event which went smoothly and effortlessly. From the food to the mic levels, this event was organized to perfection.
Chelsea Haynes, Host of FOX 2, and MC for the event said, “And I am ecstatic to introduce you to our next person who will be giving us our welcome this evening presented by Washington University. And man, did we luck up with her. She is our first Black female mayor. And she also holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration, but she is a woman of integrity, of dignity, of spunk. She’s a go-getter for the city that she serves. And that means that she means exactly what she means. She says she does exactly what she’s going to do. And ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, we would like to welcome to the stage this evening a true St. Louis Titan, who is oh so St. Louis, the one, the only, Mayor Tishara Jones.
Mayor Tishaura Jones:
Oh, good evening. Thank you for that wonderful introduction.
I’m Mayor Tishara Jones, the 47th mayor of the city of St. Louis, and it is my honor to be here with you tonight. I want to thank my good friend, Ken, for inviting me to be here this evening. He was like, “You got to do this. We’re going to do the State of Black Professional. You got to be here.” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll be here. I’ll be here.” And it’s so good to look out in the audience and see so many of my friends and one of my mentors is here, Mark Sanford from People’s Health Centers.
I remember going to Mark’s office when I was considering going to graduate school, and I said, “Mark, I’m going to go to graduate school, but I don’t know what to major in.” When I was working at People’s at the time, I wanted to either get an MBA or an MHA, and since I was in healthcare, he led me to complete my master’s in health administration. Thank you, Mark, for all of that. I want to thank the leadership and members of the National Black MBA Association, and thank you to Washington University for hosting us. This is my second time on campus today. I think I deserve my own parking space.
On this building, actually, I was on the second floor earlier today. I want to focus on three things this evening in my welcome remarks.
Number one, our city’s economic justice action plan. Two, our economic justice accelerator. And three, our efforts to recruit and retain black talent and black professionals in St. Louis.
Growing up in one of the most historically segregated cities in the country, I witnessed firsthand what happens when resources are taken away from communities and families that need it most. My family grew up on the west side on Julian Avenue, and my grandparents bought this house in the 50s, and it was the biggest house I’d ever seen in my life. We called it the Big House, and it was the center of my family’s universe.
Now when I go back to that neighborhood, the house is gone, we lost it in a fire, and all of the houses around it are now vacant or boarded up.
And so last year, with that in mind, we launched our economic justice action plan, and our three main pillars are to empower, develop, and transform. See, in the past, a lot of these processes, a lot of these economic development processes the city went through excluded a lot of people. But if we’re going to have economic justice in St. Louis, then the city’s government has to first serve as a model.
I’m committed to creating economic justice for all who live here and growing the economic competitiveness of our region, but this is not a solo sport. You hear me? It’s not a solo sport. Economic development and rebuilding our city is a team sport.
We’re making significant and long overdue investment in marginalized people in places of this great city, i.e. we’re making significant investments in North St. Louis, but we’re not stopping there. You can think of our city’s investment as a down payment on the investment that’s long overdue, and we’re working with local and national leaders to bring additional resources to St. Louis. My administration last year committed a $150 million investment in North St. Louis and disinvested neighborhoods across our city. The economic justice bill that was passed by the Board of Aldermen is designed again to empower, develop, and transform communities that have been left behind for decades. Decades, you hear me? Decades.
In January, we opened the North Side Economic Empowerment Center at Sumner High School because Sumner holds a lot of meaning to our community, and we wanted to make sure that when we brought resources, we brought them in community and met people where they are. So at the North Side Economic Empowerment Center, this is change that people can see and feel in their neighborhoods.
It focuses on business empowerment, capacity building, and workforce development. We provide technical assistance,(…) capital, yes, capital, money, back office support services, and training opportunities for residents and businesses. You never know. We might find the next, we’ll build the next Dave Stewart or Annie Malone at the North Side Economic Empowerment Center. But by bringing together these resources under one roof and in community, we can make an even bigger impact and give residents the skills that they need to grow or start their own businesses.
And it’s really envisioned to be a one-stop shop, no matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey. The physical location combined with online resources available through the BOSS portal, the B-O-S-S portal, will allow the St. Louis Development Corporation to deliver a variety of services when and where business owners need them.
We also offer training and workshops for those who want to start a business but don’t know where to start. And for new business owners and young startups and existing businesses looking to diversify, grow or expand.
We also launched on 314-Day, the Economic Justice Accelerator or Economic Justice Fund. And we made a $246 million deposit or commitment from the city of St. Louis and we hope to grow that to a billion dollar investment.
It establishes our economic development and transformation fund and we’re housing it at the St. Louis Community Foundation with an initial grant of $1 million from MasterCard to fund the support of the economic development fund.
So along with MasterCard, we’re working with other local, regional and national philanthropic investors, bankers and development leaders to bring additional resources to St. Louis. And my last point on black retention. Last week we welcomed STEM scholars from the newly minted PhDs to college juniors as a part of an effort called BioSTL Pathways. Pathways aims to attract and recruit a diverse population of life science students from HBCUs and other nationally ranked universities with high minority representation to build a talent pipeline for St. Louis candidates for placement into three pillars of BioSTL, startups and partnering organizations. I sat around a table with these young people. I guess I’m not that young anymore.
Watch it, right, watch it. And I could see that they were excited about spending a weekend here. They were like their first cohort. They came from universities such as Howard and Alabama A&M, I believe, and Georgia State, you know, a university with a lot of diversity.
And they asked me, you know,(…) what would you say to someone if they’re first, if they’re moving here and why should they stay here? And of all of the things I thought about, I thought about our arts community.
I think St. Louis has some of the best, one of the best unknown arts communities in the country. I mean, you can find live music just about anywhere in the region on any given night. I think I saw a statistic once that out of 365 days a year, you can find live music in St. Louis 300 days a year.
And then, you know, also how we, and I thought about our arts community and I thought about how we’re redeveloping North St. Louis and how we should center the arts in that redevelopment and tell our culture and our story of the great people who lived here, who walked these streets who were black excellence back in the day, like your Annie Malone’s, your Homer G. Phillips, you know, people who were in the Ville neighborhood and the greater Ville in the history those neighborhoods have. And so I talked to them about all of these things. And hopefully, I inspired somebody to come and stay in St. Louis after they finished this program.
And additionally, we engaged communities of black professionals that have left St. Louis for cities like Dallas and Atlanta. And we listened to their concerns and ways that we should think about attracting and retaining black talent. These are ongoing conversations my administration is having because we want to see why people leave St. Louis. And we want to see how we can change the environment to make people want to stay. Just like that old joke that Chris Rock used to say, well, if you ever lost on MLK Boulevard, what do you do? Run.
We want to change that. We literally want to change that on MLK Boulevard by redeveloping MLK all the way from Vander Venter to the city limits. And a big part of that development is the Urban League because it runs right by what we call the old Sears Building.
We made a major investment of $10 million in new market tax credits to help Mike McMillan redevelop the Urban League. Not because he’s my friend and I love him, because it’s important to our community to make the Urban League the shining beacon of North St. Louis. Can y’all see that? Can you see that with me?
But the kind of transformational change that we’re talking about doesn’t happen and it won’t happen overnight. And of course, even though they say I’m black girl magic, it doesn’t come with a wand.
This kind of change cannot and should not be on the shoulders of government alone. As I said, this is a team sport, so I’m going to leave a challenge for all of you tonight. Three words. Meet me upstream.
Meet me upstream to transform our neighborhoods into a collective of thriving communities where we know and look out for our neighbors. Remember that when you got in trouble on the street and your neighbor’s mama beat you before your mama came home?
Meet me upstream with opportunities for economic growth, wealth creation through homeownership and job opportunities, investments and apprenticeships, fellowships and internships. How many did the St. Louis internship program when they were a kid?
It used to be that when it came to summertime, there were tons of opportunities for our children to do internships at City Hall or Operation Brightside picking up trash on the side of the road. So meet me upstream. Meet me upstream with a regional approach to address the root causes of crime. Our problems don’t end at Skinker Boulevard, the Mississippi or Missouri rivers and neither should the solutions. Just yesterday,(…) Chairwoman Webb from St. Louis County Council and I were at an all day crime summit that we put on with East West Gateway and we talked about regional solutions all the way from Franklin County to St. Clair County because we have to, just like the urgency that we address COVID with, meeting every week, talking about what we were doing to make things better and keep people safe, that’s the kind of urgency we need when we talk about gun violence in our communities.
Meet me upstream. Meet me upstream where we invest in the well-being and quality life of life of people.
When people are deprived of their basic human rights, freedom, justice and lack of access to basic necessities, crime takes root in our communities because poverty is the parent of crime. And we have to, if we address poverty, we address crime. But we can do this. Do you believe we can do this?
We can do this. We can wrap our arms around our communities and provide opportunities for everyone to thrive. A thriving community is a healthy community with less crime like the one I grew up in where you can stay outside until the street lights came on.
That’s the future every child in this region deserves. And that’s the future I want for St. Louis. So thank you for coming this evening. God bless you all.
Chelsea Haynes, Host FOX 2, said, “Thank you, Mayor Jones. And yes, you are black girl magic, so we will meet you upstream so you can wave that wand.”
St. Louis Celebrities Included:
District 4. Councilwoman. Shalonda D. Webb. Chair.
Bee Jay the DJ, Program Director iHeartMEDIA
Gina Covington-James, Chair SOBP
Shavonne Johnson, FBI Managment
J.P. Johnson, CEO Blackrock
Michael P. McMillan, CEO Urban League
Dr. A. Wayne Jones
CEO Full Spectrum Energy Consultants, LLC
Gisele Marcus Washington University Professor of Practice – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Ken Franklin, President National Black MBA Association-St. Louis Chapter
Andrico Spates, CISCO