This undated Missouri Division of Tourism ad shows Ashley Santana, a St. Louis-based actress, model and soprano playing a character named Mo for a campaign released March 15, 2021. Nearly four years after the NAACP warned travelers that their civil rights may not be respected if they visit the state, a Black woman has become the face of Missouri's tourism campaign. (Missouri Division of Tourism via AP).

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Black woman has become the face of Missouri’s tourism campaign, nearly four years after the NAACP warned travelers that their civil rights may not be respected if they visit the state.

The Missouri Division of Tourism kicked off the campaign Monday, describing the woman the agency dubbed Mo as “a character and tour guide of sorts,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. She is featured in a promotional video hiking, watching a baseball game and riding a roller coaster. Pictures also show her posing as a Foodie MoBarbecue MoLake MoHistory Mo and more.

“Mo embodies Missouri and everything we have to offer visitors in our state,” Stephen Foutes, director of the Division of Tourism, said in the release.

But Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel said the group’s travel advisory will remain in effect until Missouri makes “meaningful progress in the systemic abuses affecting people of color.” The state group warned travelers to be careful while in the state in June 2017 because of what it described as a danger that civil rights won’t be respected. The national NAACP took up the warning a couple of months later.

“I don’t quite understand where they’re going with the campaign, and why put a Black face on it,” Chapel said.

“Missouri is a place that has been marked by violence and Jim Crow,” Chapel said. “It’s good that they’re trying to think inclusively for people they should invite to the state,” but it’s also unfortunate when the government “hasn’t done anything to address those risks in a meaningful way.”

Ashley Santana, a St. Louis-based actress, model and soprano, plays Mo. She declined to comment through the agency that represents her.

In a statement emailed to the Post-Dispatch, Foutes did not directly answer whether the casting decision was related to the NAACP advisory.

He said Visit Missouri, the tourism website that features Mo, “auditioned over 200 actors and actresses with strong ties to Missouri. As Mo came to life, we wanted to reflect the down-to-earth, easygoing and inviting personality of Missouri. … We’re proud to feature an African American and Missouri native in this campaign to welcome future visitors to Missouri.”

Brian Hall, chief marketing officer for Explore St. Louis, said efforts to position St. Louis and Missouri as warm and welcoming have become especially important since Michael Brown’s death in 2014 focused the nation’s attention on the region’s unresolved racial justice issues.

Though systemic change is still needed, Hall said, the casting of Santana “sends an important signal … that our state is proud to feature an African American woman as a representative, an ambassadress, for our state.”


Nashville OKs $2.25M settlement in fatal shooting by officer

(AP) – Officials in Tennessee have agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a Black man who was fatally shot by a White police officer from behind during a 2018 foot chase.

The Nashville Metro Council approved the record civil settlement Tuesday without discussion in the fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick, 25, by Officer Andrew Delke, news outlets reported.

In a statement on behalf of Hambrick’s family, attorneys Joy Kimbrough and Kyle Mothershead expressed disappointment with the amount, but said they appreciated the city has taken at least “modest accountability” in his death.

Delke’s defense attorney, David Raybin, said the civil settlement would have no effect on the criminal case against the officer, who remains charged with first-degree murder in the July 2018 shooting and is slated for a July trial.

The city says it and Delke, 27, aren’t admitting wrongdoing or liability with the settlement.

Delke’s attorney has said the officer acted in line with his training and Tennessee law in response to “an armed suspect who ignored repeated orders to drop his gun.” District Attorney Glenn Funk has argued Delke had other alternatives, adding that the officer could have stopped, sought cover and called for help.

Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said the settlement is a step toward closure after a painful time in the city’s history.