Priorities in the times ahead for Missouri social justice advocates should include affordable housing, food security, decriminalization of HIV status and criminal justice reform, according to Empower Missouri, a policy advocate organization that hosted a virtual meeting Friday.
Empower Missouri called its "Racial Equity Summit" on Friday a "way to engage Missourians in the ongoing racial justice work that must be done post-election."
Keynote speaker the Rev. Starsky Wilson, who will soon be the president and chief executive officer of the Children's Defense Fund, said 2020 is a "moment of trial and transition" between the COVID-19 pandemic that's exposed existing racial injustices; uprisings and major elections, but also the centennial of women's suffrage, the historic election of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency and a majority of children under 18 being non-white.
Wilson said he was asked to address "what's next for justice?" after this year's elections for president of the United States and governor of Missouri.
"Remember this. What's next for justice is accumulating the power and political accountability to build the beloved community beyond this moment," Wilson said.
A beloved community is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial community of peace and justice, governed by love, he said.
Wilson said immediate opportunities for building that include getting President-elect Joe Biden to define what the "better" of his campaign slogan "Build Back Better" means.
"Hearing about going back to anything is scary for Black and brown people," he said, because America has never been built for them to flourish.
On a state level, he said Gov. Mike Parson should be pushed to ensure eventual distribution of a vaccine or vaccines for COVID-19 is equitable and reaches disadvantaged communities — specifically through mobile distribution units.
The state's vaccine distribution plan includes in its third phase of distribution — for the general public — "a state mobile medical unit, as needed or requested, staffed with a (Department of Health and Senior Services) team dedicated to that mobile vaccination unit. The mobile unit will devote days and times in various locations to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to at-risk populations."
"State health authorities will work with local health authorities and community organizations to identify vaccination sites and communicate available vaccination days to the population. Community partners will need to identify other resources for vaccinating hard-to-reach populations," according to the plan.
The distribution phase immediately before vaccination of the general public is to include vaccination of "populations at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19. These populations of consideration include racial and ethnic minority groups, housing-insecure individuals, people living and working in congregate settings, and other groups and other communities at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19."
Wilson also said Parson must be pushed to have equitable expansion of Medicaid, and he had concerns about funding levels for K-12 and higher education.
In a separate presentation, Rico Bush — communications director for Empower Missouri — outlined the priorities of the organization's coalitions, including increasing the supply of affordable housing through reform of the state's Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program; reforming tax increment financing programs to prevent favoritism toward wealthy communities and harm to disadvantaged communities; increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15 percent; removing criminal sentencing enhancements for people living with HIV; getting rid of barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people; and preventing children from being certified to stand trial as adults.