weekly perspective 5-10-19

Reformed theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr (born in Wright City, MO in 1892) began sharing a prayer in 1934 that was published in this form in 1951:

….give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

With one week left in Legislative Session 2019, we are forced to accept that there are some things we cannot change…..at least not this year. Yet, as social justice advocates, we also have a responsibility to change the things we cannot accept, like:

  • Close to thirty-seven percent of Missourians either live in official poverty or face unsteady access to basic human needs, although the majority of them are employed.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Missourians cannot obtain affordable health care.
  • Missouri singles out HIV in criminal codes, imposing penalties for activities that cannot transmit HIV (like spitting).

This is not okay. We understand the “fierce urgency of now,” and we grieve when Missouri fails to right wrongs and pass evidence-based solutions.

Still, it is vitally important that advocates not throw up our hands and quit when justice is delayed. When we organize and persist, we can secure social justice victories. Along the way, we must celebrate the accomplishment of the many small steps that go into public policy progress.

Here are examples of those steps from just one of our current priority areas: Empower Missouri has been staffing the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition since 2016. At first we focused on outreach and recruitment of advocates. In 2017, we joined national allies in providing support to a Lindenwood University student, arrested on HIV-related charges. That included reaching out to the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Charles County to explain why we believed he should not retry the student when his previous conviction was overturned. The county prosecutor ultimately did refile charges, but along the way expressed to media that he could understand the need to modernize Missouri’s law.

We were able to get two modernization bills filed in March 2018, but we were not offered a hearing until May, too late to obtain floor debate. Six witnesses testified in support.

Our sponsors filed the bills again for 2019, on the first day possible, and the bills were heard before a House committee on February 4. Fourteen persons testified in support of the bills, including the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Charles County. The committee moved the bill forward (13-3), and it received more than an hour of floor debate on April 30.

These are the building blocks that eventually will enable us to change the law and end the stigma of being HIV positive. Let us celebrate the success of this year and grow the movement so much more is possible in 2020. It is amazing that we’ve seen so much progress on the legislative phase of HIV modernization in only two years; so much of our work involves multi-year, even decade-long efforts.

Let us also pause to thank leaders who have been in it for the long-haul. On June 8th, Empower Missouri presents the Elaine Aber Humanitarian Award to LaTrischa Miles.

Miles called together the first Kansas City area Town Hall on HIV in 2011 and then helped form the Missouri AIDS Task Force, precursor of the current coalition. She participates regularly in MO HIV Justice Coalition meetings, met with the majority party sponsor to share her expertise last fall, and spoke as Treatment Adherence Specialist for KC Care Health Clinic at a press conference with sponsors on Dec. 3, 2018. She testified in support of reform legislation in both 2018 and 2019. Without the sustained effort of persons like LaTrischa, no public policy victory would be possible. Please come celebrate LaTrischa and other award winners at the Awards Brunch.

In solidarity,

Jeanette Mott Oxford (JMO)

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