Monday, June 02, 2008

St. Louis Black Men March Against Violence

From The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Anti-violence march in city draws 20,000
By Michele Munz

El Howard, 13, sat with his sisters on the wooden steps of their four-family flat on Newstead Avenue in St. Louis on Sunday. They talked about what they see on the sidewalks around them — syringe needles, beer bottles, drug pushers and crime scenes. They can't walk anywhere without being asked for money. They are never out past dark.

But on this day, the siblings saw something different — thousands of people, mostly African-American men, peacefully marching down their street, calling for an end to violence. The miles of marchers pointed to the sky and chanted, "One, one, one," prompting those lining the streets to join in.

As the last of them made their way past, El thought about what he had seen. The teen looked up and said: "It's inspiring."

The march was part of an initiative, "A Call to Oneness," organized by local church leaders along with civic, public and private institutions. Organizers wanted to march through crime-plagued areas and send a positive message to young black men.

"When you are one of the cities which leads the nation in homicides, you don't have many options in terms of thinking about doing something," said the event coordinator, the Rev. Freddy James Clark. "When we march through north St. Louis, we hope to create a moral climate. We hope to reclaim, through the vehicle of reconciliation, respect for the other and sanctity of life."

There was no official count, but organizers estimated that they had surpassed their goal of 20,000 participants. The procession stretched the entire length of the nearly two-mile route, which started near Page Boulevard and Kingshighway and ended at Tandy Park in front of Sumner High School.

The initiative grew out of a chat between Clark and Eric C. Rhone, a board member of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association. Disgusted over the grim statistics, they realized it was time to stop waiting for others to fix the problem. The march was the culmination of three days of workshops and discussions over issues facing African-American men. Organizers were planning a meeting Thursday night to plan their next step.

The march came at the beginning of summer, when crime rates usually rise, and after a deadly couple of months that put the city's homicide pace far above last year's. During one day in May, five people were murdered.

Many along the route said the march helped restore the sense of pride and community they felt when the Annie Malone May Day Parade followed the same streets. Two years ago, that parade moved downtown for more space.

"Things like this in the community, in the 'hood' as we say, remind us that we need to fight together ... that we're not just one person trying to fight this big old problem," said Thomas Maxwell, 56, who lives in Dellwood but grew up near the march route.

Those reminders are important. Fighting a drug problem, he said, he was homeless for three years and spent 18 years in prison for robbery. He now has custody of two of his children and plans to become a counselor.

"Things like this gave me strength to get back in there and struggle," he said.

April Irons, 17, watched the marchers through the tall, black gates surrounding her home in the Ville Apartments. She was impressed as they kept streaming by. "I didn't know there was going to be so many people," she said to her mom.

Rest of article at link above.


I was very heartened to read this story. I know that we have a lot of problems as a community, but you have to take an initial step. Maybe this is it.

1 comment:

Brian said...

My family lives in the Newstead area, where the March took place. I myself lived in the area for a while many years ago when I had no place to live ( had to live with my folks). The experience left me shell shocked. I only visit now for funerals. Terrible!

St. Louis goes through this kind of reconciliation every 5-10 years or so...when the carnage gets bad. But not much comes from these marches. There is little follow-up. Hopefully something will be done this time.

But the real underlying issues have to be dealt with.

The city of St. Louis has been losing private and corporate tax revenues...due to population shrinkage. At the least, it hasn't kept pace with other cities. Combine that with the devestating impact that white flight has had on the city...and the city has been a recipe for disaster.

The police are undermanned and outgunned... (low tax revenues means Police officers can't be hired). The city also has a horrible time with redeveloping its destroyed neighborhoods. Investors don't want to come in because of the risk... real estate developers don't want to come in because they can't make any money, insurance would be too high, the crime is too high and the surrounding property values are too low. Then you have a school system that collapsed last year...losing its accreditation. The district is now being run by the State of Missouri. It's hard to lure new corporations, new businesses and new residents to your city when the school district has fallen apart.

There are not enough resources for Black youth (or for the citizens overall). Few community centers, or job training opportunities that are worthwile. Thousands of young black males, (and black females) with nothing to do but be fed a steady dose of BET, Poverty, and Rap culture. Of course this is leading them nowhere.

St. Louis has been in the same funk for a long time, but it is especially rough at the moment because there is this perfect storm of a lot of bad circumstances coming together at once.

On top of all that...there are rumors that the St. Louis Rams may be leaving the city....and the City's most prominent corporate headquarters may also be lost- Anheuser Busch - (the city has lost a string of big corporate headquarters over the past 10 years or so), including McDonald-Douglas, TWA, AG Edwards, Ralston Purina just to name a few (although some of these companies remain after being swallowed up by other companies).

It will be interesting to see if there will be any follow-up to this latest reconciliation & healing effort. I'm not a big fan of marches...but getting 20,000 Black folks together to do anything that doesn't have to do with a Festival, or a Barbeque, is indeed a triumph.