‘Key To Progress’: How St. Louisans Are Using Community Organizing And Engagement To Make Change | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Key To Progress’: How St. Louisans Are Using Community Organizing And Engagement To Make Change

Jan 30, 2019

Kevin McKinney (at left) and Richard Reilly discussed how community organizing has evolved in the St. Louis region over the past 40 years.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh explored how community organizing has evolved in the St. Louis region over the past 40 years.

Joining the discussion was Kevin McKinney, executive director of SLACO – the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations – which is anticipating its 23rd annual Regional Neighborhoods Conference set for this Saturday.

McKinney delved into the kind of effect community organizing can have on a community.

“One on one, we can have some nice conversations. But if we get a group of people involved in the conversation, I think more things will get done,” he said. When asked if people are still committed to community organizing compared to decades prior, McKinney responded, “Even more.”

“I think that 40 years ago, there was a need to organize and engage over particular issues,” he said, “and we're seeing that same thing today, [but] even more with the social media that's out there. Organizing and engaging is the key to progress.”

Also participating in the discussion was Richard Reilly, a local photojournalist who has been a consistent presence on area streets while documenting actions and protests related to civil rights since August 2014. At this weekend’s conference, he’ll be part of a panel on “The Role of the Media in Organizing and Engagement.”

Reilly said that using “enhanced and increased organization” through platforms like social media can help entire communities in the long run.

“When I was a little kid here in St. Louis, during the Vietnam War through the present, there has been a steady amount of activism and getting together to support important causes,” Reilly said.

“And I think there's been something of a crescendo of organization and activism around civil rights issues since 2014, when Mike Brown was killed,” Reilly continued, “that have been important sparks in conversations and changes that need to happen in our region.”

Biggest issues facing St. Louisans today?

McKinney noted that various issues across the region affect the people living in those particular areas but that overall “people want to feel good about their neighborhoods.”

“People want to feel that their neighborhoods are being respected and that they are being respected,” he added. “So it's trying to allow a lot of different people's voices to be heard.”

"One on one, we can have some nice conversations. But if we get a group of people involved in the conversation, I think more things will get done." - Kevin McKinney

Reilly highlighted an issue where he’s seen effective organizing make a big impact over the years – housing.

“When I think of the hundreds of homes that Habitat for Humanity has built,” he said, “and what sort of organizing extravaganza that has been – and how fortunate I was to be involved in that for a long time – I see real, real progress with grassroots organizing and a lot of volunteer effort.”

When it comes to other tactics, McKinney said, “It takes people like Richard who are out in the street, out demonstrating and out protesting – but it also takes people that are in the system to make the system change.”

“And I think that's one thing that we're seeing now,” McKinney added. “We're seeing people who have been in the streets, people who have been demonstrating and protesting, now trying to become a part of the system to make those changes. If you don't vote … the system's going to stay the same.”

Related Event
What: SLACO Regional Neighborhoods Conference “Celebrating 40 Years of Community Organizing and Engagement”
When: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 2, 2019
Where: St. Louis Community College-Forest Park (5600 Oakland Ave., St. Louis MO 63110)