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Community engagement, respect emerge as themes during social justice town hall

National Urban League Young Professional President Brandi Richard encourages a group of teenage girls to be supportive in their comments to each other.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
National Urban League Young Professional President Brandi Richard encourages a group of teenage girls to be supportive in their comments to each other.

Mutual respect. Mentorship. Giving back. Knowing your rights and the best way to act on them. These are a few of the solutions decided on during a town hall in St. Louis on Saturday seeking ways to improve social justice outcomes for African Americans.

The event was organized by the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, partially in response to issues brought to the forefront of conversation after the death of Michael Brown, but also inspired by other events, sorority president Bonita Herring said.

“The sorority talked about some ways that individual chapters wanted to protest and we said instead of just protesting lets come up with some ways that we are definitely addressing the community,” Herring said.

“It’s basically a share of information and talking about solutions. Talking about those rights and responsibilities,” she added.

The crowd at the Sigma Gamma Rho town hall Saturday at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Camille Phillips | St.Louis Public Radio

The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis co-sponsored the event, which focused heavily on public input.

Urban League President Michael McMillan said he was particularly eager to hear what young people had to say.

“We hope that some significant desires from the community will be heard and that the leadership that is here can then work with us to make sure that we then begin to implement some of those things because it’s time for us to move towards solutions and actually accomplishing the goals that the community has as opposed to continuing to dialogue,” McMillan said.

Many of St. Louis’s prominent African American community leaders spent the day at the University of Missouri-St. Louis moderating forums for the town hall. Each forum came up with a list of solutions focused around a topic: youth, education and employment, law enforcement, constitutional and civil law, civic engagement, community values.

A St. Louis County Police officer participates in a model traffic stop with attendees of the law enforcement forum.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Several of the forums also doubled as training. During the law enforcement forum, for example, NOBLE (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives) demonstrated the best way to act during a traffic stop.

Members of the Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police and St. Louis Metropolitan Police also answered questions from attendees.

During the youth forum, teenagers split up into boys and girls before talking about ways to build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

National Urban League Young Professionals President Brandi Richard presented the solutions agreed on during the youth forum.

Richard said they want better support in their education and to not be judged by their race.

“They still feel a stigma,” Richard said, adding “They say we can’t keep celebrating the past. We need a victory now. And they will help bring about that victory.”The town hall ended with a presentation of the solutions decided on in each forum. Sigma Gamma Rho President Bonita Herring said those solutions will then be shared with Sigma Gamma Rho and other national organizations

“When you know better you do better,” Herring said. “We’re sure that there will be some solutions that can definitely be implemented immediately and some that we will just refer to those organizations that can make a difference to our community and some can even go to our political representatives.”

Frankie Muse Freeman speaks at the Sigma Gamma Rho town hall on Saturday, February 21, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Civil rights leader Frankie Muse Freeman gave the closing remarks. When she walked on stage the crowd of about 150 gave her a standing ovation.

Freeman’s short speech emphasized the need for African American organizations to be more racially diverse. Noting that the Urban League has a number of non-African Americans on the board, Freeman said that “if we could all be more class and race diverse we’d all be better off.”

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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