Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard of the 26th ward looks forward to returning to in-person events; she misses the music and energy that comes with them. She’s not rushing it though; she wants everyone to stay safe and healthy.
The 26th ward in the city of St. Louis stretches northeast from just north of Forest Park to Sherman Park at Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Kingshighway Blvd. It includes Visitation Park, portions of Skinker-DeBaliviere, DeBaliviere Place, Hamilton Heights, West End, Academy, and Kingsway West neighborhoods.
Shameem was inspired by her grandfather to become a community activist. Joseph Clark, Sr. was a renowned alderman in the 4th ward from 1963 to 1973; he later went on to become the first African American Director of Public Safety and Director of Welfare in the city of St. Louis.
Mr. Clark retired in 1981, at a time when unions did not accept African Americans. He responded by starting Self-Help Housing Corp. Shameem says, “He would literally pick brothers and sisters up off the corners and teach them the construction, electrical, and plumbing trades. That’s the kind of spirit I grew up under.” People in the 4th ward continue to live in the houses they built.
In 2012, Shameem was elected committeewoman of the 26th ward. She knocked on doors in the precincts with a traditionally low voter turnout to connect with constituents. She asked about concerns and helped them register to vote. Her key message? “Don’t let your distrust cause you to disengage.” Shameem served as a committeewoman for four years before officially taking time off to be with her husband and five children. Unofficially, she continued answering calls, connecting people to resources, and participating in meetings.
In 2018 when Alderman Frank Williamson chose not to run again, Shameem made a last-minute decision to run for the vacancy. Despite facing popular competition and a smaller funded campaign, she won the seat. Shameem has been on the ground learning ever since, with a focus on being accessible and accountable to her constituents.
Delmar Boulevard infamously became the segregating line for many racially-based housing restrictions and development in St. Louis in the early 1900s. This created stark differences in health and economic prosperity of neighborhoods, thus being referred to as the Delmar Divide. For example, the median home value in the predominately African American neighborhoods on the north side of a section of Delmar is $78,000, compared with $310,000 on the predominately White south side.1 The 26th ward encompasses portions on both sides.
Shameem would like to see the north side of Delmar Blvd. use every tool in the toolbox to infuse money into the area and make improvements. She points to Special Business District (SBD) and Community Improvement District (CID) designations, in which a business area and its surrounding neighborhoods raise sales or property taxes to pay for repairs, beautification, and improved security.
Shameem says special taxes should be framed as an investment in the community and be quantified in a way that people understand, such as giving an annual expected cost instead of a percentage increase. “One of the things that they have scared our community with all the time is taxes,” she continues, “but if people understand the return on these taxes, they will likely accept it and the difference will be seen in the community.”
Using public safety as an example, Shameem explains how the south side of Delmar has five layers of public security: MetroLink police, St. Louis Metropolitan police, Washington University security, neighborhood security paid through SBDs and CIDs, and an advanced camera monitoring system. The north side of Delmar–particularly during the current police officer shortage—may have one officer for an entire district for the night. She says she gets more calls from the side with five layers because the other side thinks calling won’t help.
Getting work done
Shameem has been a licensed cosmetologist for 26 years; she owned and operated two successful salons for more than half those years. She closed a salon in March just as restrictions were put in place and many businesses shut down. She empathizes for small business owners who couldn’t survive during the pandemic, but is also excited to learn about people who have used the pandemic as an opportunity to get their vision in place and start new endeavors.
Small business owners were not her only constituents affected. Shameem says, “COVID-19 came in and ripped the band-aid off the wounds we were trying to heal prior to the pandemic—and, I mean, ripped!” She is grateful for the CARES Act funding and those behind the scenes fighting to make sure it is spread throughout the community to help with necessities like food, rent and utilities. She was also happy to see the push for community location COVID-19 testing and flu shots.
Shameem spends much of her time as alderwoman taking calls and connecting people with resources. She says, “The blessing—the happy hour—is when [something] gets done and I get to either report back, or sometimes they report to me first. That makes my day,” she says.
Each month, Shameem holds regular and floating meetings to hear from and speak to her constituents. Although meetings are held via Zoom now, she continues to share information through Facebook posts or live streaming often as she did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In time, Shameem will be physically back in the aldermanic chamber of City Hall, sitting in the same desk where her grandfather sat, with his shirt draped around the back of her chair. She says, “It keeps me fighting.”
1 Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis University. (2014, Revised 2015). For the Sake of All.https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.wustl.edu/dist/3/1454/files/2018/06/FSOA_report_2-17zd1xm.pdf