St Louis News

"Dear Lou": Doug Black

Dear Lou,

It’s been 17 years since I first came here, reluctantly, for a job interview with BJC from my original hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Though my father trained at Washington University School of Medicine, and my brother was born here, I knew very little about St. Louis.

I took the job thinking I would be here a couple of years, but I fell in love with a local man and now call St. Louis my permanent home. I also came to fall in love with you, the city and region, and felt you were undervalued by outsiders who do not really know you.

I tell people who are unfamiliar with St. Louis that you are a town with a soul and great character. All the old neighborhoods, the parks, the architecture, arts, restaurants, and music scenes make this a very culturally rich place to live. There is a lot of diversity here, which feels good to me. As an openly gay man, I have felt more at ease here than in any other town.

I’ve seen many changes over the years. Many of these have been for the better, but some have been for the worse. I feel we have become more focused on what is important to “me” versus what is best for “us.” Instead of looking to the good of all and trying to lift everyone up, we are more focused on our own neighborhoods, schools, and communities without giving much thought to others. I find that disheartening.

Every part of our region matters. Each part is important to the whole. The City of St. Louis needs a thriving and growing surrounding region, and the surrounding region needs a strong city at its heart to continue to thrive. If we are going to become a stronger, more successful region, we need to think about what is best for all of us and have a common understanding and shared vision. We need to realize that the success our own communities and ourselves requires that those around us succeed as well.

I feel like there was an opportunity after the death of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that followed. We lost that opportunity to shine a light on our region’s problems and come together in a meaningful way to change things for the better.

I would like to see investment in the impoverished communities of our region in housing, jobs, healthcare, and schools. How different would it feel if the region cared about and celebrated success stories of our poorest school system versus thinking how glad we are that our kids do not go there?

I would like to see more corporate responsibility in our region as well. Our corporate leaders have a strong collective voice and could become powerful advocates for change. We need our corporate leaders to make their voices heard and care deeply for the larger community they have chosen to call home for the good of their career versus looking at it as a “fly-over” point in their lives. After all, the success of their companies now and in the future is tied to the success of the greater region.

In the end, I would like opportunity to not be determined by where you were born or reside and for everyone in our region to feel like they have the opportunity to thrive.

Despite our many issues, I remain hopeful for our collective future. I know that change is possible and within our reach.

Our challenges are not unique. We are not alone in this. Other metropolitan areas are struggling, but few have come up with solutions on how to make real progress. We have an opportunity to try something different. We could become the pilot program and lead the way for others across our nation to follow. If we come together and invest in our historically disinvested communities and create opportunity for others to thrive, our entire region can become stronger and more successful, once and for all.


Douglas Black
Former Executive, BJC HealthCare


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