Race Frankly | St. Louis Public Radio

Race Frankly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Writing about Kirkwood after the City Hall shootings has been intensely personal. My wife and I grew up in Kirkwood, live there now and have lived there a majority of our lives.

People I've interviewed for this and previous stories are friends. David Holley, the principal at Kirkwood High School until recently, was on my Khoury League team.  First his dad was coach, then mine. We'd always lose to another team whose pitcher, the older brother of Charles "Cookie" Thornton, pitched the ball about twice as hard as I. (Click here to read the story about the fifth anniversary of the shooting in Kirkwood.)

Raced: A trip back, then forward, in time

Feb 3, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 3, 2012 - Professor Teresa Guess has no love for the word race.

"It's my least favorite word in the English language," she says. "I see it as a very politically loaded concept that seems more to divide than it seems to unite."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, challenged Kirkwood to do "three big things" to help heal the community from the wound of the deadly Feb. 7, 2008 shootings at city hall.

Charles "Cookie" Thornton's attack left five city officials dead before police killed Thornton. Mayor Mike Swoboda was gravely wounded and died seven months later. Thornton was black and the city officials white.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Almost three years have passed since Charles "Cookie" Thornton attacked the Kirkwood City Council in one of the deadliest assaults on a government body in modern American history.

In a two-minute fusillade on the evening of Feb. 7, 2008, the high school track star turned charismatic community leader turned town pariah murdered five city officials before he was killed. A sixth official, Mayor Mike Swoboda, was critically injured and died several months later.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Early in 2007, Mayor Mike Swoboda delivered a candid warning to the Kirkwood Ministerial Alliance: Meacham Park, the mostly African-American neighborhood on the edge of town, was on the verge of exploding, he said, and the white ministers needed to reach out to defuse the situation.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2010 - Fernando Cutz, Chase Sackett and Jamie James aren't from St. Louis.

But like thousands of other students from around the country and the world, the three came here to get their university education. At Washington University, where Cutz and Sackett graduated in May, and at St. Louis University, where James has one more semester, the three students from different states and different backgrounds found the same thing -- a bubble.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 21, 2010 - In January, he stood before friends and mentors, people in the community he respected and people he'd soon lead. On the 30th anniversary of the Organization for Black Struggle, Montague Simmons took on the role as the group's chair.

First, he stood with his hands on the shoulders of one of the group's founders and the chair for the last 20 years, Jamala Rogers. Then, they turned, and she placed her hands on his shoulders.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Assistant Principal Romona Miller and walking counselor Donald Smith are the two African-American authority figures at Kirkwood High School with the most contact with black students. Miller, the only black administrator at the high school, heads the Black Achievement and Culture Club, while Smith mentors a group of African-American boys called My Brothers' Keeper.

Both Miller and Smith have proud accomplishments. This spring, Miller led about 40 students on the annual college trip, this one focusing on traditionally black colleges in the South. Meanwhile, Smith's decision to mentor one student led to requests for help from others. Now more than 70 students, including many of the school's top athletes, are in the peer mentoring group that he has organized.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2010 - Aziza Siddiqui was born in Afghanistan, but she left when she was 8 years old.

In 2003, two years after the United States went into Afghanistan, she returned to her home country from Pakistan to work with women and girls. Four years later, she left for the United States to receive an award from the State Department as an International Woman of Courage.

Then, she called home.

Strategy is the key to prosecuting hate crimes

Jun 3, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 3, 2010 - When hate crimes laws first started making their way onto the books 30 to 40 years ago, they generated dire predictions of log-jammed legal dockets.

"There was this fear there would be an opening of the floodgates, and hundreds and hundreds of them would clog the system," remembered Karen Aroesty, regional director of the American Defamation League (ADL).

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: About 300 people gathered on the front lawn of Kirkwood City Hall on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon to dedicate a new memorial walkway to the six city officials who died as a result of the Feb. 7, 2008, attack on the city council.

Mayor Art McDonnell said no memorial could "replace what we lost," but that the walkway would remind people "every day to work as they did ... for a better community."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 26, 2010 - It was supposed to be one of the most memorable days of his young life. And in fact Richard "Ricky" Kalina's bar mitzvah certainly was that, but not in the way he, or his parents, or any of the guests had envisioned.

On the day that in the Jewish religion signifies Ricky's passage from boyhood to manhood, the 13-year-old was forced to deal with a tragedy of life-changing proportion. It left one family friend dead, two others wounded and a neo-Nazi serial killer on the loose.

The state of hate: The changing face of hate crimes -- and victims

May 25, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 25, 2010 - Earlier this month, two brothers from Cape Girardeau were charged with a felony hate crime after allegedly attacking a black man at a convenience store, yelling racial slurs at the victim and assaulting him in a parking lot.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 10, 2010 - On a recent Tuesday afternoon, rows of St. Louis Police Academy recruits wearing blue T-shirts tucked into their cargo pants took notes and asked questions as Maria Teresa Maldonado introduced them to Casa de Salud, the new community health and wellness center for Hispanic immigrants.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 3, 2010 - Among the many measures of racial disparity, this statistic might not get as much attention as unemployment, housing or education numbers, but it, too, has far-reaching impact: In the St. Louis area, 31 percent of African-American households are "unbanked" compared to 1 percent of white households -- the largest racial disparity of any metropolitan region in the country.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 2, 2010 - Inside the Missouri History Museum, more than 30 panels, videos and interactive exhibits tell a story about race -- how the very idea isn't based in science; how, at the genetic level, we're all extremely alike; and how the false idea that we are different has shaped generations of Americans, from education to housing to jobs and medical care.

After this weekend, RACE, Are We So Different? leaves St. Louis for its next stop.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 28, 2010 - When Clark Porter, a job and family specialist with the U.S. Probation Office, looks across his desk at a client who's just been released from prison, he recognizes the skeptical stare that's often directed at him.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 24, 2010 - At Missouri's statewide Lincoln Days, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt -- Republicans' best-known candidate for the U.S. Senate -- warned that his party needs to do a better job of courting Hispanic candidates and voters.

"Don't wait until Hispanics are in the majority," Blunt said, citing the influx of Hispanics that he has seen in his southwest Missouri district. "Hispanics are very pro-family. They're socially conservative,'' he said. "They should be Republicans."

 This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 10, 2010 - Dan Bischoff got his first real look at Vietnam on the bumpy bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City Airport to his hotel. He saw swarms of motor scooters zipping around, felt the heavy heat, heard a blanket of noise as the city unfolded around him. It felt uncomfortable -- all that chaos -- but something else pulled at his thoughts.

It happened moments before in the customs line at the airport.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 3, 2010 - St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green has held her post longer than any other comptroller in the city's history.

And in St. Louis County, top county-government adviser Mike Jones had held numerous prominent posts -- private and public -- over a career spanning more than 30 years.

But both often are overshadowed by the region's highest-profile African-American political figures, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Jones' boss, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2010 - Much is made of the civil-rights movement in northern cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit, or southern cities like Atlanta and Memphis.

Clarence Lang, an associate professor at the University of Illinois in African-American Studies and history, argues in his new book that the civil-rights histories in border-state cities like St. Louis offer a clearer window into the nation's longstanding struggle over race.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Patrick Jackson stood alone on the stage of the packed Keating Theater at Kirkwood High School last Dec. 22, with just his double bass in his arms, playing an idiosyncratic and difficult solo called "Failing."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 19, 2010 - Patrick Jackson stood alone on the stage of the packed Keating Theater at Kirkwood High School last Dec. 22, with just his double bass in his arms, playing an idiosyncratic and difficult solo called "Failing."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 18, 2010 - Steven Gibson had no idea what to expect. In the past, events put on by the Cultural Diversity Club have drawn as many as three people. Gibson, a junior at Francis Howell Central High School, is the unofficial leader of the club, and on the evening of Feb. 17, he got a nice surprise.

At Kirkwood High, racial progress is marked by both success and frustration

Feb 17, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 17, 2010 - The relationship between Kirkwood and its predominantly African-American neighborhood of Meacham Park plays out daily in the public schools, where decades of attention to race-related issues have yielded both success and frustration.

At Kirkwood High School, African-American students have made major improvements in their graduation rate and other measures of achievement. But the number of African-American teachers has shrunk to two on a faculty of 118. Some current and former African-American faculty complain about being treated disrespectfully.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The relationship between Kirkwood and its predominantly African-American neighborhood of Meacham Park plays out daily in the public schools, where decades of attention to race-related issues have yielded both success and frustration.

At Kirkwood High School, African-American students have made major improvements in their graduation rate and other measures of achievement. But the number of African-American teachers has shrunk to two on a faculty of 118. Some current and former African-American faculty complain about being treated disrespectfully.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 15, 2010 - The main focus of Kirkwood's new racial mediation agreement is improving the difficult, sometimes deadly relationship between the mostly African-American Meacham Park neighborhood and the mostly white Kirkwood Police Department. But Meacham Park leaders doubt the proposed steps will resolve their complaints that police bully neighborhood residents. And police officers remain wary in the aftermath of three officers' killings by Meacham Park residents.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The main focus of Kirkwood's new racial mediation agreement is improving the difficult, sometimes deadly relationship between the mostly African-American Meacham Park neighborhood and the mostly white Kirkwood Police Department. But Meacham Park leaders doubt the proposed steps will resolve their complaints that police bully neighborhood residents. And police officers remain wary in the aftermath of three officers' killings by Meacham Park residents.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 11, 2010 - During the months after the Feb. 7, 2008, Kirkwood City Hall killings, several hundred residents gathered every couple of months to discuss how to achieve greater community understanding and healing.

Participants including Harriet Patton, president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, and Bob Sears join hands during a memorial service Saturday evening at Douglas Memorial Church of God in Christ in Meacham Park. The event was organized to honor those who were killed in the shootings on Feb. 7, 2008 at Kirkwood City Hall.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 10, 2010 - Sometimes, in his dreams, Kirkwood City Attorney John Hessel is back in City Hall. He is reading exhibits into the record when the commotion starts.

He runs, only this time maybe he runs toward a different door. Maybe he can't get to it in time. Maybe the man holding two guns cuts him off. In every dream, he does something just a little different.

Pages