The Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson changed everything.
“St. Louis will always be viewed in a pre- and post-Michael Brown era in terms of the positioning that we have nationally and internationally, the perception that we have and the reality,” said Michael McMillan, CEO and president of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. “Obviously what it has exposed are all of the problems that we have here in St. Louis — some that they knew about and some that they really did not know about. It has exposed those to the nation and, in some cases, the world.”
McMillan cited the For Sake of All, a Washington University and Saint Louis University study on the health and well-being of African-Americans in St. Louis, as an example of the challenges the region needs to address.
“I think (Ferguson) provides us with an opportunity to fix it,” McMillan told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday. “In fact, I really think it provides us with a mandate to fix it, because if we don’t, the consequences for St. Louis as a region will be catastrophic in my opinion.”
In response to Ferguson, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis has created a job-training program, Save Our Sons. The four-week classes, geared toward 17- to 40-year-old black men in the St. Louis area, are an extension of a St. Louis County Workforce Investment Act contract, McMillan said.
“We give them a number of different classes. We work with different educational partners on how to get a job, how to interview, how to do online applications, how to dress, how to prepare a resume, how to advance in a company, how to stay with a company, and how to make sure that you have the capacity to have a successful career,” he said. “Then we monitor them, once we place them in a job, for six months to make sure that everything is going well and that they are on a path toward long-term employment.”
McMillan said the program targets men because the organization already assists thousands of women in the St. Louis area.
“We found that 80 percent of our clients were single female heads of household,” he said. “We’re already serving the female community. They’re taking advantage of the programs that we’ve had for decades. The young men are not taking advantage of it, so we wanted to make a special effort to go out and get them, bring them in our doors and give them the opportunities to take advantage of these programs that were already here, and expand them.”
Employment woes are just one of the problems McMillan said the region must address.
“We have become the poster child of racial distress and people not working together and having bad police-community relations, having a government system that doesn’t work and is broken, and having a system where no one seems to be in charge, in terms of the perception of what’s happening here,” he said. “We do not have the luxury of not dealing with this situation and making sure that we change the course of what’s happened the past six months.”
To volunteer with the Urban League of St. Louis, call 314-615-3600 or visit ulstl.org.
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.