I’m a suburban mom. I’m white, but I’m not fragile.
When I moved to St. Louis, I was surprised that people seemed so blasé about the effects of segregation on communities here, more than surprised that no one wanted to talk about why most of the cars I saw pulled over had black drivers behind the wheel, and shocked how flippantly racial slurs and insensitive stereotypes were at the heart of jokes and casual conversation.
When Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson five years ago and his body was left lying face down in the street, I was over being surprised by St. Louis. The unrest that followed, the new political power that rose from the fires in Ferguson, the national and international focus on everything that’s wrong here that gave voices to all of those who were being wronged and empowered a new generation of leaders to demand change inspired me to look deeper.
Learning how deep and wide systemic racism is in our region, how skewed the public school system is to be built around property tax revenue rather than need, and how the industrial prison complex has trapped generations of black men in a vicious cycle cannot be unlearned.
Listening without judgment, reading really hard essays, articles, and books about the black experience in America, and exploring my own internal biases, I am awake to my own racism and complicity in a system that has historically promoted and protected white men above everyone else. These insights are at the very heart of who I will be as your representative, and fuel the work I want to do to help dismantle this system of subjugation.
I have no illusions about the complexity in unraveling racial bias from our laws, schools, tax structure, and justice system. But I’ve never been dissuaded from a tough fight, and I want to help tear down the barriers that have, so far, made equity impossible to achieve.
When I’m on our County Council, I will weigh everything before me with an eye toward equity. I will ask how any given economic development project will impact communities of color or if there is a community of color that is being overlooked. I will look for opportunities to bring jobs, housing, healthy food choices, shopping and entertainment centers, recreation centers, and reliable transportation to communities of color.
I will fight for the resources we all need to take advantage of such opportunities, things like childcare, early childhood education, treatment and prevention programs, and access to health services. And I will work with Council Member Rochelle Walton Gray, County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, likely Council Member Rita Heard Days, and County Executive Sam Page to make these things happen.
I don’t claim to have all the answers or to know what it’s like to be a person of color in St. Louis County, but I am listening, I care, and I believe that together, we can make this region a whole lot better for a whole lot more of us.
Kelli Dunaway, the director of Learning & Development at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, is the Democratic candidate for St. Louis County Council in District 2. The special election (to fill the seat vacated by Sam Page when he was appointed St. Louis County executive) is Tuesday, August 6.