Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Photo courtesy of inquisitr.com

For much of my first 20 years of my life, I was Colin Kaepernick.

For those completely shut off from the media, Kaepernick is the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who’s refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The flag-which everyone faces during recitation of the anthem-represents “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told reporters.

As a kid and young adult, I didn’t sing the national anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag. It was against my religious beliefs. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion that taught that pledging allegiance to the flag was a violation of Scripture, specifically Exodus 20:4:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:” Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God" -(King James version)

I was sometimes ostracized by my peers or scolded by my teachers but no one could make me salute the flag. The Supreme Court, in 1943, reversed a 1940 decision involving two Pennsylvania JW students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In essence, the high court ruled that patriotism did not trump an individual’s spiritual right to not violate the Ten Commandments.

I received nowhere near the backlash Kaepernick has endured. Football fans-some gleefully resorting to the use of the “N-word” to describe Kaepernick- are demanding he be fired or that he leave the country that has “blessed him” with a lucrative football career. The San Francisco Police Officers Association wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers president and CEO Jed York, demanding that Kaepernick apologize for besmirching police with “false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

Many will argue, as did the 49ers’ management, that reciting the national anthem or saluting the flag is just a pre-game “opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens.”

That’s all well and good but some people actually pay attention to words. At least the Jehovah’s Witnesses do.

“…the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air… ’Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave…” are examples JW leaders cite that speak to the glorification of war and the celebration of a “craven image.”

It’s also hard to argue that pledging allegiance “to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands…” before even mentioning GOD isn’t placing a symbolic image before a “jealous God.” Further, as many have noted, Francis Scott-Key’s third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner actually revels in the deaths of black slaves who joined British forces during the Revolutionary War.

To be clear, Kaepernick has not relied on a spiritual defense. His rationale seems to be supported by his moral beliefs:

To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

It seems to me that Kaepernick’s decision raises the following question: “Does a moral stance carry the same weight as a spiritual stance?”

Well, yeah. Despite today’s patriotic, hyperbole words still matter. America set itself up for centuries of rebuke when it issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Moral push-back should be expected in response to factually, hypocritical words etched behind the backdrop of human slavery:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Many Americans are faced with an inconvenient truth. Looking at the negative, disproportionate rates of black mortality, health, wealth, poverty, unemployment and diseases, it is self-evident that all men (and women) do not enjoy the rights of “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness” simply due to the color of their skin.

Then there’s the disproportionate rates of incarceration, judicial oppression and the shootings of blacks by police in which Kaepernick bases his argument. According to a project by the Guardian that tracks police killings in America, 136 black people have been shot by police so far this year. In 2015, the project estimated that at least 306 black people were killed by police.

I am no longer a Jehovah’s Witness but my spiritual upbringing influences my moral leanings. I am appalled that my children and grandchildren have to carry the yolk of racial injustice that has burdened their father, grandparents and their ancestors since the birth of this nation. Vestiges of my previous faith remain. I may stand during the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of the Star Spangled Banner but I never swear my allegiance to the flag. It’s my choice.

Be it spiritual or moral, Kaepernick has the right to stand (or sit) for his beliefs in a country that’s still in opposition of its constitutional tenets. It concerns me that many are questioning his allegiance, calling for his job or, like GOP candidate, Donald Trump, demanding that he leave America.

Kaepernick, is exercising the same right as did novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin who wrote:

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Be it spiritual or moral, Kaepernick and anybody else who shares his concerns have the God-given, constitutionally backed, racially-relevant right to criticize their country continuously until that nation stands up to its principles perpetually.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Donald Trump and Mis-Messaging Black Voters

Photo Courtesy of Counter Current News

The last thing I want is to be perceived as a supporter of GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump. If the election weren’t just 60 or so days away or if it wasn’t too late to save Trump’s sinking campaign; perhaps I wouldn’t write this. But, at this point, I believe it’s OK to point out how Trump has blown any chance of garnering any great number of black votes come November.

"You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"

Incredulously, this is Trump’s appeal to black voters. Talking to them as if they are confused and abused children further illustrates why the maniacal, celebrity candidate is simply not ready for prime-time politics. 

Maybe Trump was just putting on a show; denigrating blacks while trying to convince his white voter base that's he's not quite the racist monster people say he is. After all, why would any presidential contender assume that all black people are impoverished, unemployed and uneducated? Why base an outreach message on the bizarre notion that blacks are so downtrodden, so pathetic, so desperate they have nothing to lose by electing someone, anyone who’s not a Democrat?

I’m not going to delve much into what blacks actually have to lose by supporting Trump. After all, this is the candidate who’s been sued for racially-biased housing practices; who publicly questioned the citizenship of America’s first black President; excised people from his rallies based on skin color and religious beliefs; who’s supported by white supremacists and who has accused black protesters of encouraging people to kill police officers.

Although Trump has dug his own grave in regards to minority outreach, I’m compelled to dissect his messaging. Why? Well, Trump’s appeal to African American voters may be the most condescending and crass in recent history but it’s not too far removed from political petitions from other candidates-Republican or Democratic, white, black or “other.” Though more nuanced, Hilary Clinton’s repeated message to black folk isn’t tailored to their needs; it’s based on the fact that we have more to lose if we vote for the boogeyman, Trump, than her.

First and foremost, pandering politicians fail to see black people as most of us see ourselves. Few of us view politics or politicians as the sole deliverers of our collective salvation. Since the abolition of slavery, the brief Reconstruction period and throughout the civil rights movement, it was black people who pulled politicians in progressive directions-not the other way around. Folk like WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Fannie Lou Hammer force-fed reluctant politicians the spoonful’s of “progress” they (mostly Democrats) now claim as their legacy. Politics helped fuel social and economic advancements for blacks but in instances of criminal justice or social welfare reforms or legislation it also impeded progress.

Obama’s occasional mention aside, we’ve yet to see a politician vying for national office who appeals to blacks based on their history of resilience, creativity, entrepreneurism and “can do” spirit. Like Trump, most see black voters as impoverished, unemployed, uneducated victims, solely dependent on government for our ultimate survival and progression.

When Trump uttered his “what do you have to lose” challenge to blacks he spoke before a mostly white audience in Dimondale, Mich. Failing to recognize the success of more than 32,000 black-owned businesses in Detroit, a mere 90 minutes away from Dimondale, was a strategic boo-boo. Trump, who considers himself a “self-made” billionaire, should have grasped the opportunity to validate the entrepreneurial spirit of black Detroiters. These were the people, as noted by Huffington Post reporter, Kate Abbey-Lambertz, who “kept their businesses going on shoestring budgets” during the economic downturn. These potential black voters reflect millions who, as the writer phrased it, “feel excluded from conversations about economic revival and access to (government) resources.”

Many polls indicate that Trump has blown his chance to capture a significant number of black votes. Other GOP candidates, however, still have an opportunity to one-up Democrats by introducing fresh and relevant ideas that may appeal to this demographic. All they have to do is employ and articulate their “bootstrap” rhetoric and revisit promising platforms of the past.

For example, in 1996, former Oklahoma GOP congressman J.C. Watts and Missouri Congressmen Jim Talent (R-MO) introduced the American Community Renewal Act which was signed into law in 2000. Although it wasn’t created to help blacks specifically, the program sought to aim federal dollars at resuscitating 100 poor metropolitan neighborhoods through enterprise zones backed by public-private partnerships, tax breaks, regulatory reforms and school vouchers. The proposal was designed to boost educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for those who needed resources most.

“(Watts) worked tirelessly to grow the Republican Party by communicating our message of compassionate conservatism not only to our base, but also to swing, moderate and disenfranchised voters," said Rep. Tom Davis, former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Watts worked tirelessly to grow the Republican Party by communicating our message of compassionate conservatism not only to our base, but also to swing, moderate and disenfranchised voters.-Rep. Tom Davis

Watts and Talent did a yeoman’s job of presenting a conservative message that resonated with some black voters. Unfortunately, their efforts seem to have been in vain. After the election of George W. Bush in 2001-that drew impressive numbers of black and Latino voters by the way-the Party seems to be losing the war of race, gender and ethnic messaging.

Republicans only point to what Democrats haven’t done for blacks. They never present plans that show what they will do to uplift blacks if they’re elected. Without progressive, inclusive communication, the Party left a huge vacuum that’s been filled by a pompous, race-baiting candidate who seems to believe that a “what the hell do you have to lose” message is enough to sway votes in his favor.

The only real route to collective progress will be dictated by black voters and black leaders who abandon the illusory script of salvation through politics. We must assume the historical role of fixing our own problems while prodding politicians to further our mandates, follow our lead and talk to us as responsible adults with potential-not hapless victims of political policy.  

Based on polls today, Hilary Clinton stands a better chance of becoming our next president than Donald Trump. If and when she wins, rest assured, it won’t be a sign of black progression. It will be just another signal that the Democratic candidate's message is less volatile than that of her Republican challenger.

In reality, when it comes to reaching out, neither Party has perfected the art of talking to black voters. Both rely on emotional, fear-based appeals without any real substance. Both take black voters for granted.

It's just that Trump seems to be a master of mismanaged messaging.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Gathering of the Cool People

 Any of my local Blues Brothers or Sister have (any) free time between 5pm-9pm this Sunday?”
The Facebook message above, posted by local blues icon Marquise Knox, means a lot to me. Knox, who hosted a fundraiser for the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) last year, was asking his friends if they had time to join us this weekend for another fundraiser. This one, co-hosted by the owners of San Loo and Red Guitar Bread, will be this Sunday. You can find more information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1105590769514337/)
Knox is a true friend who continues to offer words and deeds of support. Because of this and more, he fits in the category of the “cool people.” 

Banner from SPP's 2015 blues fundraising concert

As a journalist of color, I’ve had the pain and pleasure of writing, discussing, debating and working in a region that’s still very much segregated. Yet, with all our hang-ups and divisions, there’s always been a subset of people here who rise above racial boundaries and imaginary fear-based borders. They are quirky, tenacious, gracious and earthy oddballs. They are white, black and “other” who subscribe to the unpopular notion that we’re all here to do our thing without demeaning or stepping on the backs of the less fortunate in order to claim our sliver of the American Dream.
They’re the ones who don’t hesitate to say “Black Lives Matter,” who build neighborhoods like the Grove, the Ville and the Cherokee strip without the permission or largesse of the rich and powerful. They are the politicians, spoken word and graphic artists, musicians, bakers and coffee shop owners (I’m talkin’ ‘bout y'all, Mo, Jason and Jessie) who open their hearts and storefronts to anyone and everyone who simply want to…well, be.
They are the cool people and I’m humbled to call them my friends. They are the ones who gave me needed balance when I had my own magazine or wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After writing something race-related, I’d receive a barrage of negative feedback that sometimes made me question my words. The cool people always chimed in to encourage me to keep pushing the envelope, even if they disagreed with my positions.  
After I lost my job at the PD and found myself in dire straits a year or so later, it was people like Tom “Papa” Ray of Vintage Vinyl who called to encourage me to “hang in there” and even gave me a few bucks to ease whatever crisis I faced at the time. Papa Ray is but one of many who’ve been there to support whatever endeavor I was attempting over the years.

Tom "Papa" Ray
The youth we serve are the primary reason I keep trying to push the Sweet Potato Project boulder up, what at times, seems like a tumultuous hill. The secondary reason is that so many cool people believe in and support our mission to educate and empower youth while working to seed food-based economic opportunity in North St. Louis. How can I say “No, I can’t…” when so many down-to-earth, benevolent people who volunteer, donate, mentor or buy our products say, “Yes, you can?”
I’m always in awe of circumstances that, at first, seem tragic but wind up placing me on pathways to my perceived purpose. If I hadn’t been fired from the PD, I would have never started SPP. A year after losing that job, my wife and I broke up. I forget how (and I’m sorta embarrassed to admit this) but I started singing sad “break up” songs at karaoke bars. I’ve since developed a more diverse repertoire and I’m now a certified slut of the local karaoke scene. Singing, dancing and listening to good, live music, mostly blues, is the only release for this old, suave hipster.
I’m mentioning this because I’ve been exposed to a whole subset of really cool singers and performers here in St. Louis. Karaoke people, for the most part, are extroverts who sing because they love music and life itself. They, like me, are hard-working, passionate, creative people who happen to let their hair down through song. For me, music has been the bridge to real conversations with local musicians, performers, singers and otherwise “cool people.”
Attorney Sarah Tupper sings mean versions of songs by Patsy Kline, Ray Charles and other bygone era singers. We became fast friends through karaoke. Most of Sarah’s clan has adopted me and SPP as well. The family firm has given us pro bono services and her partner, Alex, is co-hosting Sunday’s fundraiser. Alex Carlson is a member of the local group Trigger 5 and owner of Red Guitar Bread on Cherokee next to the San Loo Bar. Last year, he met with our youth, talked with them about entrepreneurism while letting them sample fresh bread and pizzas. Sarah, Alex and his parents, Frank and Nancy, have been to every fundraiser we’ve held and have been above-board supportive. 

Alex Carlson of Red Guitar Bread and Trigger 5   
I absolutely love BB’s Jazz & Soups where Knox hosted the fundraiser for us last year. Another favorite blues place is Beale on Broadway across the street. That’s where I met another local blues aficionado, Jeremiah Johnson. One evening we were outside talking about our upbringings in St. Louis. Johnson told me about his humble beginnings and the issues of “race” that he grapples with on a constant basis. He knew about SPP and vowed to lend his support when he could. This Sunday, he’s making good on that promise by joining musicians for our event.

Jeremiah Johnson will perform at SPP's fundraiser this Sunday


I enjoy our fundraisers because I get to meet and converse with the cool people of St. Louis. This was true with the one hosted earlier this year by Dave Golliday, a retired cop and owner of Golliday’s bar and Grill on Chippewa. It also relates to the event we held in June at the Royale, hosted by local foodie Brian DeSmet and the owner, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith. The event was attended by long-time friends, followers and grass root folk who simply want the best for our region.

Photos from the June 21, 2016 fundraiser at the Royale  
   I’ve said that SPP is the most rewarding yet challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do in my lifetime. I’m working with some good people trying to figure out ways to increase funding from traditional and private sector sources. What’s gratifying for me, though, is that we’ve made it thus far and have touched the lives of many, many young people because of the contributions of myriads of wonderful local people.
So, come on out and join us this Sunday. I’m jazzed about the musicians who will show up for the impromptu jam session. I’m geeked about our friends meeting some of our students, hearing their stories and trying out their delicious sweet potato cookies. Most of all I’m looking forward to another great gathering with some of the coolest people of St. Louis.  

What: The Sweet Potato Project Fundraiser
When: Sunday, July 31st 5-9pm
Where: San Loo / 3211 Cherokee St / St. Louis, MO 63118
Hosted by: San Loo, Red Guitar Bread and Earthbound Beer

$2 cover / Local musicians / Snacks / Sweet Potato Cookies

For more information contact Sylvester Brown at 314-341-4071 or sylvesterbj@gmail.com

Sunday, July 24, 2016

In Defense of Demeaned, Dismissed and Denied Young People

I’m in the process of writing a book based on my five years of experience working with the youth of the Sweet Potato Project. The tentative title is “When we Listen.” The book, which will be used as a fundraiser, is based on the one-on-one access I have to the worldview of young African Americans. I have admirably watched how they navigate a world that routinely demeans, dismisses and denies them based primarily on the color of their skin. The words the students have shared with me and the situations I’ve observed will serve to accentuate the need to invest and protect this endangered demographic.

 You see, our youth did not create the environments that feed dysfunction in their lives. They had nothing to do with the abandonment of their neighborhoods or the disinvestment in their public schools. It’s not their fault that they were born into a system that finds it easier to incarcerate them rather than nurture them. If we are to be honest, we will admit that black youth are summarily locked out of opportunity, disproportionately locked up and prematurely labeled as criminals based on stereotypical perceptions rather than facts.

Take for example the recent online petition to label Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group.” Reportedly 140,000 people signed this appeal that was sent to the White House. Never mind that American-made groups like the Klu Klux Klan and its various hybrids have never been labeled “terrorist” even though they are. According to a study by the New America Foundation, radical white supremacists groups are the biggest terror threat in the United States. Yet, Donald Trump and his supporters stoke the embers of white angst by labeling black demonstrators Public Enemy #1.

In order to drive home the message of out-of-control, lawless black youth, the GOP Convention launched a propaganda campaign suspiciously based on the ambushing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Instead of listening and responding appropriately to our young people, many choose to criminalize those who are publicly crying out for justice, accountability and that police simply stop killing unarmed black people. 
As Vox Media accurately noted, there is a troubling fervor, shared by “a deep swath of the American population…that it is important to declare that the lives of police officers matter but to declare the lives of African-Americans those officers stop matter is an unacceptably radical and potentially terroristic act.”

"...it is important to declare that the lives of police officers matter but to declare the lives of African-Americans those officers stop matter is an unacceptably radical and potentially terroristic act.”

However, it’s easy to point fingers at extreme examples of racial stereotyping. What’s harder to accept is our overall complicity in the defamation and degradation of black youth. It irks me that every time a black youth commits a horrific, violent crime, many black adults will publicly damn all black youth or their parents or hip-hop music or the so-called “culture of violence.” We participate in the blame game without even acknowledging that we helped design the game board. Older African Americans are the ones who failed to provide educational solutions, economic opportunities or alternate systems designed to clog the nefarious preschool-to-prison pipeline. 

What’s harder to accept is our overall complicity in the defamation and degradation of black youth. 

The BLM movement was birthed right here in 2014 during protests that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. The shooting led to dozens of articles, commentaries and studies outlining the economic, health, criminal justice and social disparities in our region that help fuel negative interactions with police. All this information underscored the feelings of youth who live hellish lives of generational poverty, social and governmental neglect, police oppression and greedy municipalities that have fed off their vulnerabilities for decades.

I wasn’t surprised when young people in Ferguson came out in droves to speak out against police brutality. Why? Because a year earlier, I watched and listened to my students describe their hurt and sense of betrayal to the “not guilty” verdict handed down in the George Zimmerman case. The indignity they stressed as young people who travel unknown neighborhoods, who eat Skittles and drink Arizona Ice Tea was palpable as they realized their lives really don’t matter. So, when the body of Mike Brown lay in the street for hours; when police showed up with automatic weapons and slathering German Sheppards and later with tanks, teargas and rubber bullets, I instinctively knew “something” was about to pop off.
It stays with me that a year after Mike Brown’s death; after reams of documented disparities contained in the DOJ, Ferguson Report and Wash U’s “For the Sake of All” damning study and after all the promises to “do better”…the biggest news item of the region was an effort to use tax-payer money to build a billion-dollar football stadium in downtown St. Louis. It was as if the powers-that-be, with complete compliance of many local politicians, flipped the proverbial bird to our youth and went about business as usual.
It’s hard to point fingers at far right extremists when left-leaning politicians in the region flat out ignore the conditions and concerns of young, black youth. It’s hard to scream “racism” when black politicians sign off on initiatives and efforts that primarily benefit already rich, white developers.
According to the East West Gateway Council of Governments, St. Louis is the sixth most segregated city in the United States amongst its peer cities in terms of education, health, labor market and wealth.  

"...after all the promises to 'do better'…the biggest news item of the region was an effort to use tax-payer money to build a billion-dollar football stadium in downtown St. Louis.

Politicians, especially black politicians and leaders, can’t pretend they’re unaware of the disproportionate ills that their constituents endure daily. Recently, Michael P. McMillan, president & chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis wrote an editorial about some of these inequities.  At the time of Michael Brown’s killing, McMillan wrote, black unemployment in Missouri “was 15.7 percent in the fall of 2014 – triple the state’s 4.5 percent white unemployment rate at the time.”
Last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch issued an editorial that should have been a clarion call for collective action when it wrote: To be black in the St. Louis region means that you are more than three times as likely as your white neighbors to live in poverty, to be unemployed, to have less education, to die earlier and to see your child die in infancy.”
There is a rabid sense of endangerment for black youth even if they survive infancy. They live in areas where bullets fly on their way to school. The color of their clothing in certain neighborhoods can result in death. Not only do they have to worry about being shot by the “bad guys,” they live with the reality of nervous cops with  fingers on triggers of guns aimed at stereotypes.

A group of elders talking with some of our students
Yet, through all these obstacles our young people manage to maintain, to navigate, to challenge our injustices, dream big dreams and try to make the best out of what a selfish, segregated society provides. 
Now some will read this and interpret it as an excuse for the behavior of violent youth. It’s not. In reality, we may have lost a whole generation of youth who have turned to crime as a means for survival or just a way of life. The point I'm trying to stress is that, unless we find a way to change their environments and nurture their inherent genius and survival skills, we will have more crime, more deaths and more black youth herded into our nation’s already over-populated juvenile detention centers and adult prisons.

Yet, through all these obstacles our young people manage to maintain, to navigate, to challenge our injustices, dream big dreams and try to make the best out of what a selfish society provides. 

A few of the young men who have participated in the Sweet Potato Project
I’ve learned that, if we listen, young people will tell us about the inequities they face and their thoughts on fixing them. The solutions may not be perfect but, if we care, we’ll attempt to address those concerns no matter how inconvenient they seem to be or how uncomfortable they make us feel.
I often wonder if people who support the petition or callously stereotype black youth have any black people in their lives. Thankfully, there are thousands who do. You've seen them protesting with BLM or speaking out against injustices designed to imprison or disenfranchise black youth.

I often wonder if people who supported the online petition or callously stereotype black youth have any black people in their lives. Thankfully, there are thousands who do.

Because I have been placed in a position where I can actually hear our youth, I’m immune to the propaganda. I don’t see young people calling for the death of police officers; I see them courageously reacting to senseless deaths enacted by the “bad cops” of a broken criminal justice system.  I don’t see a generation of thugs and drug dealers; I see young people without direction, opportunities and resources surviving alone in a cold, materialistic world.
What promises may come if we encouraged them to use their energy, creativity and naïve optimism to change their worlds? What gifts will a nation receive if it shifted its priorities from criminalizing and denying a whole generation of young people to empowering them to make great change?
This we will never know...until we listen.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How urban agriculture projects in St. Louis are investing in more than just food

 Published on JUL 6, 2016
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh spoke with the directors of (local) urban agriculture initiatives to hear about how they are growing more than just food in their gardens.
Podcast version available here / SPP interview at 17:30
Sweet Potato Project
Tamara, whose last name will remain anonymous, is a second-year participant in Brown’s Sweet Potato Project. She took a break from planting seeds in a bed in front of Union Avenue Christian Church to tell us about her involvement with the program.
“I didn’t enjoy it at first because it’s a lot of work and it’s very hot,” she said. “But I’ve grown to it, and now I don’t mind doing it at all. I actually like doing it.”
Brown started the Sweet Potato Project in 2012 because he wanted to empower young people like Tamara to make a difference in their community of North St. Louis.
“I really don’t care if they stay in urban gardening or not,” Brown said. “I just want to plant that seed of entrepreneurism and healthy, natural living.”
A former columnist with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Brown sees enormous potential for the area in what he calls the “food movement.” His vision is to use some of North St. Louis’ vacant lots to promote economic development and community pride through urban agriculture.

Accomplishing this mission, however, will require political and financial support that Brown says he is currently lacking. 
"These kids have bought into the notion that they can actually change their communities, and that's powerful stuff."

The kids who participate in the Sweet Potato Project are paid for their work, but this year Brown has encountered significant financial difficulties that forced him to limit to the number of students in the program from 35 to 15. They do not have their own piece of land yet, and acquiring that land is what he identifies as the most crucial next step for the program.
In spite of the many challenges, Brown says this is one of the most personally rewarding projects he has ever worked on.
“The beautiful thing is it’s not just a summer job,” Brown explained. “These kids have bought into the notion that they can actually change their communities, and that’s powerful stuff.”