It happens every year around this time, and the mix of concerned citizens and neighborhood improvement-minded folks at the annual St. Louis Neighborhoods Conference, sponsored by the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO), was the usual diverse, committed, interesting crowd. If you have not come across this excellent event in its last nine years of existence, make sure to put it on your calendar for next year! The conference's central theme is the renewal of city neighborhoods, and it features practical, "how-to" workshops presented by experienced neighborhood leaders and urban and community development specialists.
A highlight of this year's conference was the keynote address given by native St. Louisian Angela Glover Blackwell, president and founder of PolicyLink and co-author of "Searching for the Uncommon Common Ground: New Dimensions on Race in America." Her book demonstrates the existence of continuing racial inequity and explores new ways to frame policy in order to address challenges that lie ahead. PolicyLink is a national, nonprofit research, communications, capacity-building and advocacy organization. Its mission is to advance a new generation of policies to achieve economic and social equity, based on the wisdom, voice, and experience of local leaders who are shaping successful solutions to national problems. Since its inception, in January of 1999, PolicyLink has been a leading advocate in the nation's growing community-building movement. PolicyLink has partnered with a cross-section of stakeholders to ensure that questions of equity receive the highest priority in addressing major policy issues, including urban sprawl and smart growth, reinvestment in low-income communities, bridging the digital divide, responsible policing and eliminating racial health disparities.
Blackwell grew up in the Kingsway East Neighborhood of St. Louis and attended Benton Elementary and Sumner High School. She earned a bachelor's degree from Howard University, and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. For a decade, beginning in 1977, Blackwell served as a partner with Public Advocates, a nationally known public interest law firm representing the underrepresented. She successfully litigated class action suits and developed innovative non-litigation strategies in the areas of employment, education, health and consumer affairs. In 1987, she founded the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, California, and received national recognition for pioneering a community building approach to social change through in-depth understanding of local conditions, community-driven systems reform and an insistence on accountability. She has served on the boards of the Urban Institute, Foundation for Child Development, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Common Cause. Currently, she sits on the boards of the Children's Defense Fund, Levi Strauss and Co., the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and the Advisory Board of the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. In addition, Blackwell was one of the founders of the National Community Building Network.
Aside from Blackwell, a series of concurrent workshops addressed four general topic areas: housing and community development; crime prevention and community action; organizational effectiveness and outreach; and critical citywide issues facing neighborhoods. Workshops on critical citywide issues included the Advance St. Louis charter reform effort and St. Louis Public Schools issues. The conference wrapped up with a performance of "Detox Your Domicile!," an upbeat skit that helped us better understand the economic, health and social issues related to air pollution in our homes, apartments and offices. "Detox Your Domicile!" was developed by the Missouri Botanical Garden's Gateway Center for Resource Efficiency and was presented by the St. Louis Community Air Project, a program of SLACO.
Next year's conference is already being planned; if you'd like to help shape the agenda for our tenth year, you are invited to come to the community planning meeting scheduled for Saturday, June 12, from 10 a.m.-noon at Harris Stowe State College. Or, if you've got ideas (for workshops, speakers, formats) that just can't wait, go ahead and e-mail them on over!
Amber Moodie-Dyer is a community organizer with SLACO, a private, not-for-profit coalition of churches and neighborhood groups committed to improving the quality of life in St. Louis neighborhoods. Founded in 1978, SLACO brings groups together to address issues that affect all neighborhoods and serves as a grassroots voice at the local, regional and state levels. The St. Louis Neighborhoods Conference was co-sponsored by St. Louis Community College at Forest Park and 90.7 KWMU-FM.