Sen. Brian Williams: If Not Now, When?

If Not Now, When?

For people who look like me, waiting for justice has been a lifelong endeavor. We have made tremendous progress, but every “yes” that we have ever received has been earned. Progress in Black communities has always been the direct result of mobilizing neighborhoods, uniting our people and working from the ground up to gain access to resources. Throughout the St. Louis region, it is evident where people have access to what they need, and even more apparent, where they do not.

Our communities have been overlooked for far too long. Decades of neglect and disinvestment have devastated our neighborhoods. The absence of healthy food options and quality, affordable health care only perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Our people are desperate for opportunities to earn a living wage to support their families. We deserve the same amenities in our communities that we find when we are forced to travel long distances in search of resources. This has to change, and the time is now.

With the billions of federal dollars our state has received from the American Rescue Plan Act, Missouri’s budget has a surplus of money to invest right now in our community. The money is here, the time is right and the need is obvious. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We have to get this right.

One example of positive change is being discussed on the campus of the University of Missouri – St. Louis. These are the kinds of investments that would be transformational for the region. The University’s 2021 Campus Plan Report “positions UMSL to take advantage of development opportunities, create a more connected mobility network, improve the natural landscape and open spaces, enliven the campus and improve the student experience.” Will our elected leaders finally say “yes” to this proposal and allow the campus to fortify its academic core in a centralized area and transform the south campus into a place where communities from the entire region can find resources that were previously unattainable?

Another area in our community that has long been denied resources and attention is the abandoned Jamestown Mall. This property offers 50 acres of land for investors and community leaders to develop and transform into jobs and opportunities. Similar properties in other parts of St. Louis County have been allowed to tap into area resources, adapt to the times, hold their value and provide an economic boost to the surrounding community. Will our elected leaders continue to ignore this valuable property and allow it to deteriorate for eight more years because of its zip code?

Now, I understand revitalizing these areas will require a major investment of money, time and dedication. With the money in hand and the obvious need for improvements throughout the region, we need a commitment from our elected leaders to make it happen. There has never been a better opportunity, starting with these two properties, to make the Black community a priority. While I can be the voice in Jefferson City for increased funding in next year’s state operating budget, a change of this magnitude will require communities and leaders working together to align opportunities with resources, workers with jobs, patients with health care and residents with hope. Action and commitment from our leaders today will fortify a positive, generational impact tomorrow.

St. Louis County is the economic engine of the state, and yet we have miles of decimated properties and numerous people living below the poverty line. All of our county’s children deserve to live in flourishing, safe neighborhoods. They should be able to attend high-performing schools, have access to nutritious foods and see a doctor when they are sick. Investing in these priorities now will pay off later. We cannot neglect our community’s needs another day. We simply cannot afford to wait.

As the first Black male to serve in the Missouri Senate in over two decades, I am honored to lead this charge and take responsibility for this change. Every time I look at the Great Seal of Missouri in the center of the Capitol and read the Latin words which translate to “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law,” I am reminded of why I was sent here. Please join me in this fight for our community and tell our local, state and federal officials that we demand action now. Help me change the narrative of our children’s future. We must convince our leaders that now is the time to let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.

When I travel though our community next year, I envision construction sites at UMSL and the Jamestown Mall as a sign that our elected leaders have listened. I visualize new businesses, grocery stores and health care clinics as proof that our community leaders care. I will view decreased poverty and lower crime rates as the dividends of our persistence. I hope to witness evidence of Black communities working together with leaders to pave a wide pathway to success for our children. I see justice thriving tomorrow because we took action today.

Respectfully submitted by Sen. Brian Williams.