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Ferguson Commission holds forum to discuss future change in St. Louis

Michaela Lange | Contributing Reporter

The Ferguson Commission held a forum on Friday to discuss its priorities moving forward.

The commission met to talk to the public about the advances in their goals in Ferguson and in St. Louis as a whole along with what citizens can do to help. While many tasks remain, Washington University faculty members gave their opinions and perspectives on the topic in order to communicate to the public the progress that has been made.

The forum also identified some of the commission’s goals, which include continuing to support Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) college-preparatory public charter schools and the Hawthorne Leadership School for Girls, using the College Advising Corps and aiding individual and family development throughout the area.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations Rose Windmiller, a member of the commission, said the commission had identified four priorities for action: racial equity, justice for all, youth at the center and opportunity to thrive.

Currently, the University provides office space in North Campus to those who need it. Six Washington University alumni work in different sections of St. Louis teaching kids about college opportunities and what it takes to reach their academic goals. Faculty also offer their support to the commission.

During the forum’s panel discussion, 2015 graduate David Dwight discussed students’ obligation to address wealth disparities in St. Louis, identifying self-education and taking accountability for civic obligations as ways Washington University students can help make a difference. He urged students to “just be in the room” when these issues are discussed.

The committee placed an emphasis on the vitality of understanding that the University’s core value of service is not limited to providing money.

“We need to recognize that this is not about charity,” Amanda Moore McBride, executive director at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, said. “Instead, to change the state of St. Louis will require problem solving.”

Education was also a core topic of the discussion. The panel stressed the importance of providing the next generation with the education needed to help them be successful. Victoria May, executive director of the Institute for School Partnership, believes that teachers are undervalued.

“Quality schools are really based on quality teachers,” she said.

She went on to discuss that University faculty contribute time to helping the Ferguson-Florissant School District improve its math and science courses.

William Powderly, director of the Washington University Institute for Public Health, informed citizens of the importance of medical treatment to all neighborhoods of St. Louis. He cited a recent study by University faculty that highlighted the vast disparities that exist in the community.

“Between 63106, which is north of the city, downtown, and 63105, which is quite close, there is an 18-year difference in life expectancy,” he said.

Powderly and his colleagues gave many recommendations on how to further proceed. These recommendations centered around providing quality early childhood development, investing in mental health awareness, screenings and treatments and coordinating chronic and infectious disease prevention and management. Through these strategies, he believes the health of St. Louis will improve.

“I want to celebrate what we’ve done,” McBride said. “But I also think we need a certain degree of humility in recognizing that we still have a great deal of work to be done.”