Missouri has cast a Black woman as the face of a new tourism campaign four years after the NAACP issued a travel advisory urging Black people to take caution when visiting the state because of discrimination concerns, reports NBC News.
The Missouri Division of Tourism has introduced “Mo,” a smiling Black woman, in a campaign full of photos, videos and even games. The division’s director, Stephen Foutes, said in a press release that Mo represents “Missouri and everything we have to offer visitors in our state.”
More than 200 actors with Missouri ties auditioned for the role, and Foutes said the state is “proud to feature an African American and Missouri native in this campaign to welcome future visitors to Missouri,” according to the St. Louis Dispatch.
The state chapter of thee NAACP, however, issued an advisory in June 2017 that urged Black people “to travel with extreme CAUTION” because “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.” The advisory came three years after the killing of Michael Brown, a Black teenager, by a White polic officer that sparked days of unrest in Ferguson
The advisory noted that Black people in Missouri are 75 percent more likely than White people to be stopped and searched by law enforcement. It also cites the passing of a bill that made it difficult to sue for discrimination and referred to the recent deaths of Black men in confrontations with law enforcement, including Tory Sanders in 2017, a Black inmate at a rural jail who died after a White law enforcement officer pressed his knee onto Sanders’ neck.
The state attorney general at the time, Josh Hawley, now a U.S. senator, and the current attorney general, Eric Schmitt, declined to file charges in Sanders’’death. Both are Republicans.
The national NAACP echoed the advisory’s warning two months after the state chapter did so, a first in the organization’s long history.
Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel acknowledged the state’s attempt to think “inclusively” with the casting decision for the tourism campaign, according to the Post-Dispatch. But he said the advisory will remain in effect until the state takes meaningful steps to address “the systemic abuses affecting people of color.”