Ferguson Commission: Meet The Members | St. Louis Public Radio

Ferguson Commission: Meet The Members

Three hundred people answered Gov. Jay Nixon's call to apply for the Ferguson Commission. Of those applicants and others, the governor selected 16 and announced their names on Tuesday. The group includes teachers, attorneys, community organizers, law enforcement officials and protesters from across the region. It has nine blacks and seven whites; six women and 10 men.

The governor has asked the commission to make recommendations on a number of issues, including police and community interaction and relations; racial and ethnic relations; disparities in education, economic opportunity, and housing; among other things. The deadline for the final report is Sept. 15, 2015.

Co-chairman Rich McClure said the commission’s meetings will all be open to the public and will begin taking place soon. He told St. Louis Public Radio he expects to release recommendations as they are developed, including items for the Missouri Legislature to address, along with other governmental bodies and community organizations.

Here are brief introductions to the members of the commission. We are publishing their responses as we receive them. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Ahlbrand

Kevin Ahlbrand
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Ahlbrand is president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police.

What is your No. 1 priority?
 
For myself, it would be increasing the relation between law enforcement and the community. To go along with that would be some type of municipal court reform and possibly some consolidation of police services in St. Louis County.
 
If we take care of the latter two, naturally, it will go toward making the goal of the better relationship between law enforcement and the community. So I think those are two of the most important things that will bring to that conclusion, that the relationships will be much better.
 
What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

It's imperative that people leave their preconceived notions at the door, that everybody is completely open-minded and objective about what really needs to be done to make those accomplishments.
 
Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

That’s an easy one. I’ve been a police officer for 31 years. I’ve worked in all facets of the community economically,from wealthy areas to very distressed areas, and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what needs to be done on both sides to increase our level of trust,

Rasheen Aldridge

Rasheen Aldridge
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Aldridge is a community organizer and activist.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

I do want to be very transparent with my young people and my mentors because at the end of the day, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m aligning with the governor. I respect (Jay Nixon)as a man and as a person, but a lot of his decisions in Ferguson were 110 percent wrong.

My goal right now is to talk to as many young folks as I can because it kind of sucks that I’m the only young person on the commission. As we’ve been seeing in Ferguson, in Shaw and on Riverview, a majority of the protesters are young people.

There are some awesome individuals that I’ve met, like the CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but it really would have been great to have more youth on this panel so it would be not just me speaking all for the youth. I’m the youth, but I’m not all of the youth. We’re all very different, we come from different backgrounds.

I want to figure out what is the problem. Why do we feel like our lives don’t matter? Why do we feel like we’d rather go out and die for the cause because we don’t feel like we’re not going to ever see justice? Or, why are we a target when we just walk outside our houses and walk down the streets and get pulled over

How can we come up with ideas and solutions to really change the system? Until the system is changed, that’s the only way we’re going to see real justice. It doesn’t work, it’s old, it’s out of date, it’s not an equal system to all folks.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

The biggest obstacle will probably be to make sure that I represent the youth to the best of my ability. Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk to as many folks on the ground who have been through different situations – like the justice system, police brutality, working a low-wage job – and find out what is holding them back from being treated just like everyone else, and to come up with change that will affect all of us.

I really want some systematic change where my brothers and sisters and peers feel like they’re just really as important as everyone else. And that’s people of color – not just black, but Latino, Hispanic, Asian Indian, Chinese. People of all colors should feel like they’re just as important as everyone else, and they can live in America and live the American dream like everyone else, if there’s really an American dream anymore.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

Being very involved in social justice work, being an activist and fighting for social justice even before Ferguson, and organizing and learning how to organize before Ferguson -- that’s what I bring to the commission. Also, being out there with other young protesters who want to see something that’s new.

I live in a world where I know I’m not as privileged as another, and I live in a community that doesn’t have the same resources. I don’t know completely, but I have an understanding of what we need to make those communities just as equal as other communities, what we need to make people feel like they’re just as important or won’t be targets of the police because they have dreads or because they sag, or because they have a tattoo.

They get labeled thugs, but if you’re Caucasian and you have tattoos and a funky hair style and sag but got tight pants, you’re called a punk rock kid, and one of those is very different. One is not as debasing as the other.

This commission is not going to be able to change the system come September when we have to write a report and give it to the governor and the public to see. But I think, over time, this is a step, and this isn’t the last step. There needs to be more steps on getting people engaged to figure out what do we want. We have these elected officials that we vote for, but they’ve never really asked us what we want. What do we need? If they aren’t having the conversation with the youth, how will they know what the youth really want?

Traci Blackmon
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Traci Blackmon

Blackmon is a pastor at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

My No. 1 priority is to have us implement some changes that are visible, tangible and beneficial to all of the residents of Ferguson. And the No. 1 reason that’s my priority is because it’s important that very early we begin to rebuild hope. That only happens by people being able to see some visible, tangible evidence of change.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

The diversity around the table. I mean, you have 16 people from various walks of life. And to come to consensus, even when we are all there for the same cause, is going to be difficult.We can agree that change needs to happen, that justice needs to be in play, but how we define that, how we see it, is very much influenced by how we see the world.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

 I would approach this work from the experience that I hold most dear to me and that is pastoring. When you serve as a pastor, you serve as spiritual guide for people who come from different walks of life, who have different experiences. And so my experience with that, my successful experiences with that, is with taking the time to do the listening up front -- taking the time not to rush to quick healing, not to rush to quick answers, not to rush to quick solutions, but taking the time to make sure every voice is heard. To make sure everyone has their emotional stock put on the table -- not just the 16 of us but also in the community. We have to take the time to listen. I find that when I do that, when I'm working with people, inevitably people who want change and want good, there will begin to emerge a common thread that runs through their comments. Good listening allows you to pick up on the common thread and then use that common thread to hold the group. So in times of distress, in times of challenge and time of disagreement, you have that thread that you can hold up and say this is who we are at our core. This is what we believe at our core. When you can gather and collaborate around that, you're able to work and collaborate in a way that you couldn't do otherwise.

Rich McClure, co-chair

Rich McClure
Credit stlpositivechange.org

McClure chairs the St. Louis Regional Board of Teach for America. He is a member and former president of Civic Progress; former president of UniGroup Inc.; and chief of staff for former Gov. John Ashcroft.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

My No. 1 priority is that we take and consider actions and then recommend very clear implementation steps that will build a stronger, fairer St. Louis. We don’t have to see eye to eye to be able to walk arm in arm. We believe we can find common ground among widely diverse viewpoints where we need to move forward. Broadly, any action that builds a stronger and fairer region will be ones that I’ll be seeking to support.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

The region will need to embrace positive action and to see steps that can be taken that will be built on respectful conversations. I think we can have those. I think this circumstance has shown all of us how we need to listen more carefully and to consider the views of different groups and different individuals from different perspectives, from different parts of the region. So if we listen carefully and are thoughtful about what people are really saying, and then look at the actions that will respond to that, we’ll have an opportunity to be really successful here.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

I’ve had a chance to be in classrooms and see teachers who so firmly and deeply believe that every child can learn and that every child can succeed, and that’s been so inspirational to me. I’ve watched Teach For America Corps members come to St. Louis or change careers here and move to the classroom, and it’s been really astounding to watch them work and see students in city schools and some of our schools in north county achieve astounding levels of academic achievement because they had teachers, both Teach For America Corps members and teachers on the regular faculty, who believe deeply that every child can learn.

Grayling Tobias

Grayling Tobias
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Tobias is superintendent of the Hazelwood School District.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

I'm hoping that we will be able to make some recommendations to help move the area forward. We've invested a lot of time in studying the problems in the judicial system, the health-care system, the educational system, and economics. So what we hope to do is to make some recommendations to the governor to address some of those deep-seated issues that not only our area has been struggling with but our entire nation has been struggling with.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

The important thing is for us to bind as a team, No. 1. Secondly, it's important for us to listen to each other's perspectives. We have a diverse group of people. It's a mix of lawyers and police official, educators. There's a student activist, a health professional, CEOs — I think it's important for us to use this diversity of life experience and points of view as a strength. It's important for us to be tolerant of each other's views, and I think it's important for us to honor all of our voices. 

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

I was born and raised in St. Louis. I grew up in the north city area, around Grand and North Market. I went to elementary school in the St. Louis Public Schools. I lived most of my early childhood and high school years and college years in north county. I went to McCluer High School, which is part of the Ferguson-Florissant School District. I went to the University of Missouri-St. Louis for college, and I got my doctorate from Saint Louis University. Educationally, I've worked in private schools, St. Louis Country Day, public schools, Parkway, Riverview and now Hazelwood, both large districts, small districts, urban and suburban. So for the last 15 years, I've been an educator in north county. I've also been a member of North County Incorporated, the greater North County chamber and TEAM, which stands for The Emergency Assistance Ministry. So I would bring all of those experiences to the table.

T.R. Carr

T.R. Carr
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Carr is a professor of public administration and policy analysis at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a former mayor of Hazelwood.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

I really hope that the commission is able to identify ways for the St. Louis region to move forward. I believe that the incidents have identified a number of challenges for our region. My goal is to work with other commission members and to work with the citizens of this region to deal with issues such as education, employment and general confidence in government. But I think most of all, what I'd like to see the commission do is see the region move forward.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

One challenge is being able to listen to the diverse voices within our community and within our region. We have individuals with a variety of different concerns. The challenge for us is to be able to listen, to listen well, to listen effectively, and then to be able to translate what we hear into acceptable and meaningful public policy options that we can recommend and then we can see implemented.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

Part of my experience is being mayor of Hazelwood and working with a very diverse community. At the same time, I've worked with North County Inc., an organization that represents much of north county. I've worked with the Northwest Chamber of Commerce. I have experience working with the business community, which is really important in terms of jobs and economic development. North County Inc. is an organization that reaches out to various governmental units within our region. I've worked with East-West Gateway Council of Governments, being able to deal with regionwide issues, and with the RCGA.

Rose Windmiller
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Rose Windmiller

Windmiller is assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations at Washington University

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

Since the commission is really just beginning its work, I don't have a set of priorities. I'm not coming into this with an idea that there are things that we absolutely have to do. I think the commission needs to meet and needs to gather input from neighbors and residents of the area who have an interest in the commission's work, and develop a set of action items to move the region forward. Hopefully, that set of action items and priorities will evolve from this process of community input.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

I think there are a set of challenges in any commission's mission. I think change is very difficult, although since we haven't really identified priorities yet, I can't speak to specific obstacles we might encounter in achieving future goals. I do know, and what I feel really strongly about, is that once these priorities are developed by the commission, as a community, we're going to need to implement a plan of action, and develop a set of accountability measures and determine how it is we're going to measure success related to the goals of the commission.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

I grew up in North County, and I really still spend a lot of time there. My father lives in the house that my family and I grew up in. North County was a really great place to live. It was very rich in cultural history and had nice public parks and strong schools and really strong communities. I have to be honest. I'm not one to hearken back to olden days, but I really do think that in this case, the past is something that can really teach us about the future and about where we want to go as a region. I will be completely honest. I want the children of the young people who currently live in our region to have access to the same things that I did when I was growing up -- really good schools, nice parks, solid housing, good homes. I think it's time that we all commit to this as a region. Most importantly, I think we need to commit to that to each other so we can re-create a place where we all would like to live.

Gabriel Gore

Gabriel Gore
Credit stlpositivechange.org

Gore is a lawyer specializing in civil litigation.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

I don’t think I’ve really decided what my number one priority is. I think we’re going to do some investigation and some looking into the events that occurred in Ferguson. So I think that’s going to inform what’s going to be the number one priority to me.

I think there’s clear issues of a sense of distrust between the community and law enforcement. I think with my background in law enforcement and my background as a lawyer, that that’s a natural area to focus on, and to think about ways we can improve the trust between the community and law enforcement.

I think the other area that’ll be natural for me to focus on, because I’ve always had a passion for it, is education. I’ve been involved with KIPP charter school, I’ve been involved with mentoring urban youth throughout my career and my life, and it’s something that I’ve always had a passion for, and something that I believe is very important.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

I think the biggest obstacle is (that) these are not easy issues. I think anybody who is thoughtful about it knows that there have been issues dividing our community, and that there’s certain citizens in our community who don’t have a trust of law enforcement, and then there’s children in our community who aren’t having the opportunity to get a quality education.

We’re not doing something brand new. I think we’re trying to bring a particular focus to it, and these issues haven’t gotten any easier, but we hope that the particular focus we bring to it, and the manner in which we approach it, will move the ball forward.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you've had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

I really think that each of the commissioners brings their whole life experience to the role, and I’ve had different experiences throughout my life that I think are relevant and will be helpful.

I grew up in inner-city Detroit. I went to a failing public school while I was in Detroit. I moved to the St. Louis area when I was 14, and I had the good fortune that we moved to West County, and suddenly I was going from a failing school to attending Parkway South, which was a great high school in a school district that has a great reputation. So that experience, seeing what a difference that made in my life, in realizing how stark the difference is for kids who grow up in certain neighborhoods as opposed to kids who are able to attend school and grow up in more affluent neighborhoods.

I bring my experience as a federal prosecutor, and what I witnessed there in terms of the squandered potential of individuals who ended up coming before me and being convicted of crimes. I bring years of experience in private practice, and I bring my years of work in public schools in various capacities, whether it be on the board, or as a mentor. I’ve also taught in public schools through a program called Street Law. So I bring all of that as my background, and I think that as a commission as a whole, I think that we just have a group of people who have a set of experience that really brings a lot of perspectives to the work that we have to do.”

Becky James-Hatter

Becky James-Hatter
Credit Big Brothers Big Sisters

James-Hatter is president and CEO at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri.

What is your No. 1 priority for the commission to achieve?

There are a number of very important issues for us to address and many, if not all, are intertwined. My number one priority is to ensure that we are equipped with the facts and have the courage, discipline, and determination to find win-win, actionable solutions.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal?

We are a new team with a long list of historic issues that must be addressed. We will need to build a level of trust, in a short period of time, that enables us to fully appreciate candor and seek compromise.

Can you tell us about a personal experience you might have had that influences how you will approach the work of the commission?

I have served as president/CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri for 20 years. Our mission is to build trusting and enduring relationships that support and encourage young people. I have the great honor to work with volunteers from all walks of life who care deeply about this community, and I have a front row seat to the hardships and concerns of families and young people who are in need. My approach to this work will be informed by these perspectives and my goal will always be to think, act and decide with a fair mind.

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