Whether we realize it or not, racial justice is something that touches the lives of all Missourians. We all deserve to be treated fairly without bias, disrespect, or discrimination.
Our nation has a storied past when it comes to racial equity. Likewise, the Show-Me State has aspects of its history that many would just as soon forget. Many of the problems so prevalent in our society today stem from those horrific injustices from the past.
While racial equity may appear to be insurmountable, positive change can come. It can begin in every Missouri community, large and small.
NUUR Raises Racial Justice Awareness
Neighbors United Undoing Racism (NUUR), a nonprofit group based in Franklin County, focuses its collective efforts on raising racial justice awareness. In addition to activities conducted throughout the year, the group sponsors an annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event honoring the civil rights icon. This year international storyteller Ms. Mettazee Morris served as keynote speaker. In her dramatic role as his mother, Ms. Morris guided participants through the journey of a former slave who became the first Black Catholic priest in the United States, Fr. Augustus Tolton.
Awareness Leads to Change
NUUR has also been instrumental in effecting positive change in the Franklin County area. For example, just this month, Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy signed a proclamation formally establishing February as Black History Month in that town, located approximately 35 miles west of St. Louis.
In addition, the Washington Historic Preservation Commission, in collaboration with the City Administration and the Historical Society, will help to raise awareness about those who were buried in unmarked graves in the City Cemetery. This includes many of the town’s African American citizens, due to local parishes restricting the race of those who were properly buried.
As a result of the collective efforts of groups such as the Historic Preservation Commission, Washington City Cemetery Committee, East Central College, and donations from private citizens, local residents will soon be able to visit a granite monument to honor those who were buried there.
Raising Racial Justice Awareness Through Education
Another group in Franklin County has made great strides in promoting public awareness about racial injustice. The Franklin County Remembrance Project began with a small group of local residents who understood the role that history plays in our society today. History isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes things happened that we’d just as soon not think about. Things like lynching Black men, women, and children.
Through extensive research, members of this group learned about the 1897 lynching of Erastus Brown, a Black man who lived in the Villa Ridge area. Although all the details of that event may never be completely known, the group knew it was a story that had to be told. The partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in being a part of its national Community Remembrance Project. Though the group’s initial project is complete, the work is far from over.
Racial Justice Essay Contest
In order to continue raising racial justice awareness, the Community Remembrance Coalition is once again partnering with the Equal Justice Initiative to sponsor a Racial Justice Essay Contest for high school students.
The 2021 Racial Justice Essay Contest is open to all 9-12 grade public school students living in or attending school in Franklin County, Missouri. There will be 4 or 5 award winners with up to $5000 in scholarships and prizes.
In their essays, students should examine the history of a racial injustice topic or event and discuss its legacy today. Writers should explore how the injustice persists today and imagine solutions for a future free from racial injustice. Students are encouraged to reflect on how the topic impacts their own lives and communities.
Essays, along with the application form, must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. April 15, 2021. The Coalition will hold an awards event on May 1, 2021.
Everyday Missourians Can Make a Difference
Like these Franklin County residents, everyday Missourians across the state can do their part to make each member of their local communities feel valued and respected. Not sure where to start? Consider looking for Facebook groups, church groups, and civic groups. Ask your local public librarian–lots of groups use their meeting rooms to collaborate! Stop in your local newspaper office or radio station–they cover activities for groups and can likely point you in the right direction.
Working together, we can make a difference.
OneMissouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.