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UPDATE: Since originally publishing this article, Tishaura Jones has been elected the 47th mayor of Saint Louis, MO. She won the election on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 with 52% of the vote.
Tishaura Jones told viewers of the March 23rd St. Louis mayoral debate that, as a child, she swore she would never enter politics.
“Well my momma used to say that the quickest way to make God laugh is to tell Him what you would never do,” she quipped.
Since then, Jones’ career in politics has been defined by breaking down long standing barriers. She’s become the first Black woman ever to serve as Missouri’s House Assistant Minority Floor Leader. She’s the first Black woman to serve as St. Louis treasurer. And, on April 6th, she hopes to become the first Black woman elected to be the city’s mayor.
In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Jones said she is running to serve her hometown with the support of “a coalition calling out for help and leadership”. She believes that bold, equity-centered mindsets at city hall are necessary in a moment where “so many disparities have been exacerbated” in the time of COVID-19.
Jones describes herself as a “recovering legislator”, representing a deep blue city in a predominantly red state. She views her experience and relationships with state officials as critical to ensuring that the needs of St. Louis residents are elevated in statewide conversations.
“Economic inequality and lack of access to healthcare were huge issues laid bare by the pandemic,” she said. “We need to realize there are some things we disagree about, but there are some things we can do to lift all boats in the tide.”
While these disparities and inequalities along racial and socioeconomic lines are true in cities across the country, the similarities between Saint Louis and The Black Wall Street Times’s hometown of Tulsa, OK are striking.
A City Reckoning with a Racist Past
In 1917, the East Saint Louis Race Massacre left an estimated 250 Black residents dead and another 6,000 homeless when a white mob attacked the city. Four years later, the 1921 massacre on Greenwood destroyed Black Wall Street, killing 300 Black residents and leveling the homes of 10,000 more.
Saint Louis, like Tulsa, remains deeply segregated. The city’s Delmar Boulevard forms what is known locally as ‘the Delmar divide’. It separates predominantly Black neighborhoods in the north from predominantly white neighborhoods in the south. The division is eerily similar to Tulsa’s segregation between white and Black neighborhoods on either side of I-244.
Jones, who grew up north of the Delmar divide, said the city must face its history of systemic racism head-on.
“We have to realize the harsh realities of our past in order to try to move forward,” she said. “If you don’t realize your past you’re doomed to repeat it.”
Part of this difficult past involves acknowledging and correcting the “intentional disinvestment” in predominantly Black areas of the city. Jones plans to hire a deputy mayor for racial equity and community engagement who will be tasked intentionally reviewing every policy decision through an equity lens. She plans to ensure this approach extends beyond city hall to make certain that corporations and community partners across Saint Louis know “this is how we are going to do business in the city”.
Jones said she wants to be “very cognizant of how gentrification moves” throughout the city as investment begins to grow in areas north of Delmar Boulevard. She plans to proactively implement best practices from around the country to mitigate the effects of gentrification for residents who have long called these neighborhoods home.
Repairing broken trust
Generations of harmful, racist policies targeting Black residents of Saint Louis have caused deep distrust between citizens and city officials.
Jones believes that “while trust can be broken overnight, it takes time to rebuild.”
“You rebuild trust by showing up,” she said. “You rebuild it by developing strategies in communities that work with your neighbors and for your neighbors rather than doing something to your neighbors.”
If elected, Jones said she plans to hold regular town halls across the community to increase communication and transparency. She plans to task her administration with ensuring that there is a diversity of voices at the decision making table.
“It’s something real simple,” she noted, “but if we aren’t delivering services to our citizens in an equal fashion, then we aren’t doing our job.”
The City’s First Black, Female Mayor
Last June, the nearby city of Ferguson elected Ella Jones (no relation) as its first Black and first female mayor. In November, Saint Louis residents elected Cori Bush as the first Black woman to represent the city in Congress.
Now, Jones describes the prospect of becoming the first Black female mayor as both “humbling and daunting”.
“What I really don’t want to do is let people down,” she said. “That’s my biggest fear – letting people down.”
“But I also think it’s going to inspire young Black girls and young Black boys that they can be anything they want to be,” Jones continued.
“And I also want to inspire other single parents. I want them to know that this is possible. You can still succeed and follow your dreams and raise a family in the middle of all of that.”
Jones then paused and muted her video to answer a question from her son as he walked into the room.
“That’s family,” she said smiling into the camera as the audio clicked back on.
For Tishaura Jones, this moment extends far beyond the possibility of becoming the first Black woman to lead the city.
“I don’t take this lightly,” the Saint Louis native said. “I’m not doing this just because I want to make history. I’m doing this because I see people where they are and I want to serve them.”
Election Day in Saint Louis is Tuesday, April 6th. To learn more about Tishaura Jones, click here.