What will it take for every Peorian to live up to their fullest potential?
In Peoria, 1 out of 4 people live in or near poverty, and many more are precariously only a paycheck or two away. Simply put, this means our elected leaders have failed ALL of us. If our leaders continue to fail to act, this will only get worse.
I often ask myself that question: “what does it take for every Peoria resident to live up to our full potential?” I think the answer is found in my story. When my mother moved my siblings and me here 25 years ago, she saw Peoria as a promising land of opportunities for herself and us. I still remember the excitement, hope, and relief I felt as we approached the city and the skyline came into view. I didn’t know a lot at ten years old, but I knew this new city represented a fresh start, a new beginning. The life we left behind was filled with pain, hurt, and disappointment. It had become a normal way of life for us. But, I was hopeful that a new city would provide for us a new normal.
I don’t have to tell you every single detail of my story from age 10 for you to fill in blanks. Life in Peoria presented many challenges; it was HARD. My story is similar to many of your stories. I found myself entangled in a cycle of loss, disappointment and hopelessness. It didn’t take long for me to realize that we left one city that lacked opportunity and came to another that also lacked opportunity and offered no clear path out of poverty.
Between my childhood and adulthood, I moved 17 different times across Peoria. Being poor made it nearly impossible for us to keep up with the basic necessities of life, like paying rent and utilities or buying food. Like so many others, poverty pushed me into the court system.
I needed a car to get by, but when I couldn’t pay small tickets, keep up with insurance and basic upkeep like broken taillights and headlights, it plunged me into a never-ending cycle of court dates, fines, suspended licenses and arrest. I was chronically stressed and often found myself making life altering decisions on a nearly daily basis. Like most of you, my heart was in the right place- my intentions were too- but I just couldn’t get my physical reality to match up.
My experience of discrimination, poverty and struggle felt defeating, and worst of all, it wasn’t unique. Peoria has been rated the worst city in the nation for black Americans to live. We have extremely high rates of poverty and unemployment.
When I enter the city council chambers, the faces of all of Peoria’s mayors stare down at me from the wall. Not a single one looks like me. For too long, political power has been held by a select few: usually white, usually male, usually wealthy. We have been tragically forgotten by our political leaders. They falsely believe that if we support our most struggling neighborhoods, then other neighborhoods must somehow lose, but I am here to dismiss that idea.
Caring for your sister who is sick does not mean your brother who is well must suffer. Your brother’s health means he can care for his sister, too. Likewise, taking action to invest in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods does not mean our neighborhoods that are well-off will be neglected. This is not a question of rich neighborhoods versus poor neighborhoods; it is a question of Peoria versus poverty. We are one family, and as we care for each member, our entire family is better off.
The crisis of Coronavirus shows us important things about our leaders and community members. It exposes the weaknesses in our safety net when people are in crisis, whether that’s an individual crisis or a mass crisis. It also shows us that when given the opportunity to be included, as a community, we show up for each other, we take care of each other when leadership has failed.
Normalcy is us only seeing a mayor when a crisis impacts people who have the same privilege and comfort as them. Those previously unseen and labeled as “unskilled” workers like grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and others who have been deemed essential during this pandemic have actually always been essential to the well functioning of our city – but they have long gone ignored by our leadership, seen as disposable when times are good.
Normalcy for us is broken promises. Sixteen years ago, our current mayor promised that underserved neighborhoods would be his top priority. Why are they still not getting the attention they deserve?
Normalcy is when the community attempts to hold its leaders accountable it is seen as an attack. But it isn’t. It is an attempt to participate in democracy.
It would be easy for me to campaign and champion what I am against. I’m going to tell you what I am for: Building a better future for Peoria, a new normal.
We often hear about being invited to the table, but far too often, that isn’t a table built for us, where everyone has power and influence. We need to rebuild the table.
Imagine a table where everyone is celebrated and diversity and inclusion welcomed. Where startup and small businesses have support and tools to thrive. Where everyone feels safe and protected in every neighborhood.
Where everyone has a shared unity of purpose and shared sense of destiny.
By rebuilding the table we can ensure that input from all Peorians is woven into the DNA of every decision.
Together, let’s build a table! At our new table: we will rejuvenate the economy by centering our focus and appreciation on small and startup businesses and invest directly into our residents so that they can participate more fully in the local economy. We will reimagine our approach to crime and violence as a public health issue complete with prevention, intervention and reintegration instead of more policing and arrests. At our new table, we will govern together to engage with each other in ways that reduce inequality, create equity, empower each other and foster solidarity.
I invite you to join me and make this a shared vision for all of us. We will use the influence of public office to empower others. We will set an example that shows people they matter through right decision making. City government should work for the best interest of the people by implementing policy ideas where racial equity and working families are the priority. As a community organizer and activist, I support a growing progressive movement that is only just beginning in our city. In order to move the city forward, we have to see Peoria not as it is, but as it should be.
It’s time for a new candidate with ideas that will work to eliminate poverty, reform our criminal justice system and allow residents to participate in our democracy in a meaningful way.
I want my neighbors to understand the power they possess to make changes in their communities. The leader you choose to represent you will either empower you or gain more power for themselves, leaving you powerless.
Many things we take for granted today were once thought unimaginable- that is- until someone imagined them.
I imagined a new normal for our city and I have a plan to get us there. It’s time that those who lead our city to be more representative of the whole city, not just a portion of it; It starts with this campaign for mayor.
My name is Chama St. Louis. Today, I am announcing that I have made the decision to run for Mayor of Peoria, so that together, we can create a new normal for our city.
If you believe that Peoria is ready for a new normal, join me in rebuilding the table.