ST. LOUIS – Ribbon-cutting ceremonies aren't usually controversial events, but that was not the case in St. Louis this week.
On Friday, local African-American leaders held a second ribbon-cutting event at the Gateway Arch after an event held earlier in the week received backlash for its lack of diversity.
The Gateway Arch Park Foundation held the first ribbon-cutting July 3 ahead of the grand reopening of the Gateway Arch Museum. Pictures from the ceremony show not a single African-American or minority official present for the ribbon-cutting.
Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr. (D-District 78), whose district includes the arch grounds, brought the issue to light and organized the do-over.
“People thought (this) was about a photo. It’s much bigger than a photo,” Franks said. “It speaks to a systemic issue we’ve been dealing with for a long time in the City of St. Louis.”
The Gateway Arch Park Foundation apologized in a statement acknowledging the first event didn’t reflect the community’s diversity.
“I didn’t do the planning. I did not do the inviting. That’s not an excuse," said St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. "In the future going forward, we have a policy we’re going to ask, 'Who’s invited, who's going to come,' because the optics are important and we understand that.”
On the topic of optics, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who’s been critical of Mayor Krewson in the past, addressed the crowd Friday with a call with racial equity.
“We’ve been talking about racial equity since Ferguson. We need to stop leaving our racial equity lenses at home and start asking the hard questions every time we’re in a room about who’s in the room and who’s at the table,” she said.
Many of those in attendance believed the perception of what happened at the first ribbon-cutting speaks to the sad reality of racial issues in St. Louis. They’re not just calling for change, they’re working to make it happen.
“Today’s event is what should’ve happened the first time. Today’s event is actually a true representation of St. Louis. St. Louis City and St. Louis County,” said Farrakhan Shegog, a candidate for State Rep. District 86.
Congressman Lacy Clay was invited to Tuesday's event but did not attend. Our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that other black leaders received invitations to attend the opening but were not asked to be part of the ribbon-cutting.
“We should be beyond calling it an accident that our leaders were left out. That diverse leaders were left out. I love the fact the hashtag has gone from #ArchSoWhite to #ArchSoDiverse because we are that in St. Louis,” said Alice Wilson of Jennings.