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Sister Gail Guelker, SSND, left, director of mission advancement at Most Holy Trinity Parish, is part of a team working to establish a daycare center at a building next to Most Holy Trinity. She met with members of the team at the building they are rehabbing in St. Louis Jan. 19.
Sister Gail Guelker, SSND, left, director of mission advancement at Most Holy Trinity Parish, is part of a team working to establish a daycare center at a building next to Most Holy Trinity. She met with members of the team at the building they are rehabbing in St. Louis Jan. 19.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Partnership addresses racism through child care

Struggles follow long-term disinvestment in Black neighborhoods

Most Holy Trinity Parish in St. Louis recently joined a coalition that is doing something about long-term disinvestment in primarily Black communities of north St. Louis.

The parish joined a neighborhood group called Link-STL, the Child Care Entrepreneurs Partnership and Dream Builders 4 Equity to add a desperately needed child-care program in a vacant building on North 14th Street next door to the parish. The Child Care Entrepreneurs Partnership also is targeting resources to the two other licensed child-care centers in the Hyde Park area and is committed to underserved neighborhoods.

Sister Gail Guelker, SSND, director of mission advancement at Holy Trinity, sees the need for child care and other resources in the neighborhood, which Census data shows is 90 percent Black with 66.3 percent of children living in poverty.

“If we’re going to make a difference, we have to do this,” Sister Gail said. “People need child care or they can’t work.”

>> How to help: For information on how to help counter the disinvestment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, contact • Most Holy Trinity Parish, 3519 N 14th St., St. Louis, MO 63107 or (314) 241-9165 • LinkSTL, 1426 Salisbury St., St. Louis, MO 63107 or (314) 584-0344

A lack of resources

Sister Gail said that “housing, employment, child care and education — all those things that continue to be problematic in the neighborhood based on a lack of resources, a lack of people pulling together to partner in order to make something happen. This group is dedicated and committed. We want to bring resources back into the neighborhood that make sense for the people who live there.”

Dream Builders and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association are working to increase housing availability in the neighborhood. “There’s good things going on in the neighborhood to address the structural racism that continues to exist. The neighborhood has real potential,” Sister Gail said.

Pam Mitchell, a St. Margaret of Scotland parishioner and co-chair of the Child Care Entrepreneurs Partnership, said data shows “the stark, persistent disparities in our region, with Black children disproportionately affected by risks to their well-being.”

Vision for Children at Risk compiled public data in its 2020 Children of Metropolitan St. Louis book, showing such facts as a student mobility rate — those transferring into and out of a school in a given school year and who face a greater risk of dropping out of school. The primarily white Lindbergh School District has a mobility rate of just 9.4 percent, but the primarily Black Normandy Schools Collaborative has a rate of 43.5 percent, and St. Louis Public Schools has a rate of 46 percent. Ten percent of children in the 63107 zip code, which includes Hyde Park, have elevated blood levels of lead poisoning; 26.3 percent of youth ages 16-24 in that area are not in school or working.

Vision for Children at Risk states that the 22 worst-rated zip codes have some of the lowest income averages and some of the highest percentages of African-American residents.

Mitchell said the response to the need for affordable child care, which began with Link-STL, is “neighbor serving neighbor” in an underserved neighborhood. The COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on the importance of child care, showing it is essential work whose providers are undervalued, Mitchell said.

Dream Builders purchased the building and is doing the rehab work.

Segregation legacy

Jeff Schulenberg, a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Valley Park, presents part of the “Am I My Brother’s Keeper: The Racialization of America” workshop with Joyce Jones, program director of the Racial Harmony Office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Schulenberg focuses on the history of discrimination in housing in the United States.

“Little is understood in the white community of the history of segregation and the African-American experience,” he said, adding that he was oblivious of the facts himself until he looked into it after the unrest in Ferguson in 2014. “I see the same looks on people’s faces that I know I had on mine.”

People often don’t understand the extent to which some circumstances have been forced upon the Black communities, Schulenberg said. The view is that they don’t take care for their neighborhoods, aspire to the same things or raise their children with the same values as white suburbanites. “We judge what we see. But when we understand more of the history and the extent to which they were forced into neighborhoods, the lack of opportunities of this disinvestment and the hurdles that were put in front of them, you realize no population broadly could succeed in that circumstance.”

Redlining and racially restrictive covenants were legal until 1968. “We recognize now how immoral they were, but we’ve conveniently forgotten it,” Schulenberg said. “The Black community has to live out the consequences of that reality. The white community, in not recognizing it, just passes judgment on the behavior that we see and the circumstances that we observe.”

Separate and distinct neighborhoods that were created by segregation policies created a large wealth gap between whites and Blacks. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported the racial wealth gap in 2016 as about $162,640 in net worth for the typical white family compared to $16,216 for a typical Black family and $21,296 for a typical Hispanic family.

Many whites don’t recognize the advantages they had, Schulenberg said. “It’s not to say we didn’t work hard and face our own hurdles. But one of the hurdles we did not face was the color of our skin.”

>> Study shows wide disparities
Racial disparities affect health, economic burdens and quality of life, finds a report released in November 2019 by the School of Law’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC) at Washington University in St. Louis.
• Black children in the City of St. Louis are 2.4 times more likely than white children to test positive for lead in their blood and account for more than 70% of children suffering from lead poisoning.
• Black children in St. Louis make roughly 10 times more emergency room visits for asthma each year than white children. Black children make more than 42 emergency room visits per 1,000 children, compared to less than 4 visits per 1,000 children for their white counterparts.
• Mold complaints are more common in majority-Black areas than elsewhere in the city.
• Most of the city’s air pollution sources are located in neighborhoods of color, and more building demolitions — which create harmful dust that may contain asbestos and lead — occur in majority-Black neighborhoods.
• Black households in St. Louis are disproportionately affected by energy burdens (the percentage of income spent on utilities), far exceeding the citywide median.
• Black residents of St. Louis are almost twice as likely to have limited access to healthy food as white residents because supermarkets in close proximity are so rare, and they are more likely to have limited access to a vehicle or adequate public transit to reach more distant grocery stores.
• Majority-Black neighborhoods experience most of the city’s illegal trash dumping.
• More than 90% of the city’s exceptionally large inventory of vacant properties are located in majority-Black neighborhoods.

>> Economic disparities
• The home ownership rate of 75.8 percent and the median home value of $175,800 for whites in the city is almost double that of its Black residents at 40 percent and $90,100 respectively (NAACP, The Minority Report, 2018)
• Bachelor’s degree or more: Black 19%, white 37% and Hispanic 26% in the St. Louis metropolitan area (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016 American Community Survey)
• Median family income: St. Charles County, $97,328, St. Louis City, $36,195; 63107 zip code (Hyde Park), $21,167; 63005 (Chesterfield), $203,409 (Census Bureau, 2017)
• Children under 18 living in poverty in Missouri: Black, 37.6%, white, 18.6% (Kids Count Data Book, 2018)

Archbishop: Continue the work of Dr. King

Follow Jesus and make a difference in the struggle for racial equality, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski implored at the Mass for Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis Jan. 17.
The annual Mass commemorates the birth and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Archbishop Rozanski said Dr. King was able to discern God’s will for him in speaking out against racial inequality that “so pervades our country, even to this day.”
Dr. King saw that “we were woefully inadequate in living up to Jesus’ call to us to recognize each human being as brothers and sisters to us,” the archbishop said, and was seeking the justice that Jesus came to bring.
Archbishop Rozanski referred to “the great racial divide” that Dr. King brought to people’s consciences. It’s no easy task in following the Gospel message that Jesus gave His disciples, to Dr. King and “each one of us in being witnesses in our world,” Archbishop Rozanski said.
The vision of Dr. King toward racial equality did not end with his assassination, the archbishop added. “This is a work that must continue on,” he said, and “the vision of Dr. King is needed now in our own age just as much or even more than it was when Dr. King started this movement. The specter of racism continues to haunt our country in overt and insidious ways, keeping us from achieving our potential as a nation and dividing us to the point of violence.”
High school teens were honored with the Model of Justice Award at the end of Mass.

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