This edition of The St. Louis American is published on the day our newspaper’s foundation is hosting its 5th annual Salute to Young Leaders. We introduced this event in 2011 to emphasize the importance of passing the leadership of our community onto the next generation and recognizing young people from our community who have already shown remarkable leadership ability. We have been gratified, since we added Young Leaders to our Salute series that recognizes African-American excellence in various professional fields (education, health care, business), to see the broader community recognize the accomplishments and leadership qualities found in these young black people in St. Louis.
Bethany Johnson-Javois, a St. Louis American Foundation Young Leader from the inaugural class of 2011, was appointed by Governor Nixon to the Ferguson Commission, which will report on the underlying conditions of the unrest sparked by the August 9 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown Jr. Johnson-Javois was subsequently hired by the commission co-chairs to serve as its executive director, making her one of the most important leaders in the effort to move this region forward after Ferguson.
Stefan M. Bradley, from the Young Leaders class of 2012, is an important figure who has been operating under the radar in Ferguson. As director of black studies at Saint Louis University, Bradley has educated and inspired a number of SLU students who emerged as student leaders in the movement. There is a Buddhist saying that a teacher who is not surpassed by his students has failed, and in that sense Bradley has succeeded in teaching and mentoring students who became leaders whose activism exceeds his own.
Jason Q. Purnell, from the Young Leaders class of 2013, led a pioneering group study on race-based disparities in the St. Louis region titled “For the Sake of All.” Presciently, before Ferguson thrust our racial issues out onto the national stage, Purnell’s work showed that St. Louis needs to address its racial disparities “for the sake of all” – that is, to be a safe and prosperous place for everyone to work and live. We are confident that the group research he led will be used as a blueprint by the Ferguson Commission and other agencies as we seek to repair and develop this high-potential but troubled region.
Brittany N. Packnett, from the Young Leaders class of 2014, was tabbed by Gov. Nixon for his Ferguson Commission and then – even more impressively – by President Obama for his Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She has emerged as one of the influential national leaders in a defining issue for African Americans of her generation: the way black people and communities are policed in this country. The 2015 Young Leaders class includes two Ferguson protest leaders, Brittany Ferrell and Ashley Yates, who helped to set the national stage where Packnett and others are now working.
In all of these individuals – and, indeed, all of the 100 Young Leaders we will have recognized after tonight’s event – we see the vision, talent and commitment this region so desperately needs to begin to heal itself and move forward. With the exception of Ronda F. Williams, who tragically passed away, and Consuelo Hopkins Wilkins, MD, who left us for a better opportunity in Nashville, we are proud to say that all of these Young Leaders are still living and doing great work here in St. Louis. We encourage the entire community to pay close attention to these impressive young people. Now and in the future, we will need their skills and dedication to foster and implement the forward-thinking change our region and our community, in particular, need and must have. As we salute this next generation of leaders, we also want to thank the organizations and individuals whose support is essential to the success of this Salute.