Monday, July 11, 2011

Expanding the Dialogue of Development in the Region

photo by Suzy Gorman
Sylvester Brown, Jr., founder of of When We Dream Together, Inc. discusses the critical need for civic and political leaders to expand the dialogue of development in order to spark progressive and sustainable change in the region.
Click here to read and add your thoughts:
 
From the commentary:

 As the city's population declines and its poverty, crime and unemployment numbers rise exponentially, it's time to expand the dialogue of development in our region. It's time to invest in the "small fish" and use public private resources to rejuvenate long-ignored and neglected communities. It's time to grow up.

What must be emphasized is that much of the federal dollars backing or supporting these projects are derived from government initiatives designed to breathe economic vitality into metropolitan cities and disadvantaged urban areas.

The major hindrance, to be frank, is institutionalized White privilege in public, private and nonprofit sectors. The government can't mandate systems that empower people in disadvantaged areas. This is the challenge, especially in the St. Louis region, that local governments and public/private institutions face.

We have more than our share of challenges but, thankfully, we also have institutions and agencies, students, professors, politicians and visionaries working with dedicated residents to reclaim and revitalize urban areas. Unfortunately, are not dreaming together.

READ THE ENTIRE ESSAY HERE:

Monday, June 13, 2011

If you were face-to-face, what would you ask Tavis?

What would you ask Tavis in a face-to-face interview? I have questions but I want yours represented as well. Of course, you can come to the Friday afternoon event and ask him yourself. But, for the shy amongst us, share your thoughts. Remember, keep it respectful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back to My Roots

How a political whippersnapper reinforced my mission

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.

For years, I considered Antonio French my protégé of sorts. I’m about 20 years older than the 21st Ward Alderman.  I ended the publication I started in 1987; Take Five Magazine, a few months before I was offered a job with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2003. It broke my heart to kill “the baby” my wife, Victoria and I nurtured for almost 16 years.  But it was time.  With two young girls, we could no longer endure the challenges or the mounting debt associated with the struggling monthly magazine.

Yet, I will never forget that I honed my craft, worked with great writers and was gifted with the ongoing loyalty of many, many in St. Louis who tried to support us and faithfully read the magazine.

At the time, French was operating his fledgling publication, Pub Def. It had the same bold, take-no-prisoners, stand-for-truth and the “little guy” flavor as Take Five.  I was touched that French acknowledged me as an influence when he called to tell me that he intended to carry on our journalistic battle in the black community in print and online.

Fast forward eight years, and there I was talking to French about writing for “The Northsider,” the monthly newspaper published by the ACTS partnership, a community-based development organization in the 21st Ward.  I gave French a litany of reasons why I couldn’t write for the newspaper:  It couldn’t pay me a fraction of what I had made as a columnist with the Post-Dispatch. Nor could it match what I was making after losing my columnist gig. In 2009, I went to work as a researcher and consultant with SmileyBooks in New York, owned by TV and radio commentator, Tavis Smiley.

As if talking to myself, French still insisted I apply for the Northsider writer position.

“You need to get back to your roots.,“ he said matter-of-factly.

Protégé or not, just who did this young whippersnapper think he was talking to? A part of me took umbrage to his comment.  Why, didn’t he know I was the black go-to guy at the Post?  I worked for a book company that published the work of black visionaries and “big thinkers” like Cornel West, Tom Burrell, Iyanla Vanzant and Smiley. I was well in touch with my roots, thank you very much.  

Turns out, French was right.

Take Five’s readership was 95 percent black. The Post-Dispatch operates under a flipped demographic. I may have been the go-to-guy on all things black but my job, for the most part, transcended race.  Still, I truly value my time at the Post. My colleagues and certain editors helped me become a better writer and storyteller. I received national recognition and earned a diverse group of friends and readers who I would never have met through the pages of Take Five Magazine.

My departure from the Post—as unsavory as it was- came at the right time. Unbeknownst to me, my years with the daily had taken a heavy toll.  Little chunks of my spirit had been chipped away as I fought with editors who didn’t seem to respect or couldn’t accurately reflect the feelings or concerns of minorities in their newspaper.  It was also a drain deconstructing stereotypes and writing about “black problems” while feeling utterly impotent in addressing them.

The Northsider was exactly what I need at this juncture of my life. 

Around the same time I had talked to French about the Northsider, I had established When We Dream Together, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering the inspiration, information and resources so that everyday people can be empowered to reclaim and revitalize urban areas. 

Years ago, I established Take Five to inform and inspire my community. The magazine didn’t just report problems and challenges. We sponsored lectures and forums and hosted weekend bus tours to take people shopping with struggling black-owned businesses. We believed in the inherent potential of the black community and tirelessly worked to nurture and mold it for progressive change. 

This month, I will officially launch a new grassroots endeavor.  I do so inspired by my role with the Northsider.  No longer do I write in rote response to tragic events or negative headlines. The faces I’ve seen and stories I‘ve heard are reminiscent of my youth and days as a publisher. Today, I live beyond stereotypes where resilient people make miracles with limited resources. In the 21st Ward alone, I see rebirth and folk of all colors, class and economic means work to reclaim a troubled community.

Most important, I see what dreams may come if we empower the powerless,  roll up our sleeves and invest the resources, energy and our hearts in these long-ignored areas.
Life is strange. I am back in that precarious but thrilling place of 24 years ago. It feels right.  And thanks to a young whippersnapper and a small North side newspaper, I am right back to my roots.

Sylvester Brown Jr., is a senior writer for the Northsider and founder of When We Dream Together, Inc., an agency dedicated to urban revitalization.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Reduce Recidivism and Eliminate Barriers to Employment” A plan with promise

Otis Rolley Details Plans to Increase Employment and Reduce Crime by Targeting Recidivism
I don't know anything about Baltimore mayoral candidate, Otis Rolley, but I like his plan to increase employment and reduce crime by targeting recidivism. Rolley wants to create a tax credit for companies that hire ex-offenders or support organizations that do. Although the focus on major companies instead of building and/or supporting small community-based businesses that offer ex-offender support, I like where he's heading and feel there's the possibility of implementation in the St. Louis region. Like Otis points out, instead of spending $26,000 to "incarcerate an inmate annually," redirect that money toward more positive outcomes. -- SBJ



It's Official: Tavis to host When We Dream Together Fundraiser

Friday, May 27, 2011

Perhaps we're dreaming too small?

Michael Hancock
Denver mayoral candidate Hancock promotes urban gardens as economic engine

Michael Hancock's "People's Plan" includes a proposal to "'create thousands of new jobs for Denver citizens' by returning to one of the oldest human endeavors on earth: farming."


This article downplays the potential of large scale urban gardens. Some conclusions are valid. However, what's missing in the equation is the alignment of urban grocers, food processing, manufacturing and distribution. If the urban garden movement is connected to an overall urban empowerment agenda, then we'd be talking about innovative, real and substantive improvements.

Remember, Pennsylvania took a $30 million state investment, leveraged it into a $190 million plan that resulted in 83 markets in underserved communities across the state, improved access to healthy food for more than 400,000 people, and more than 5,000 jobs.


Read the article Click Here

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

While Washington politicians bicker about US infrastructure investments...

... the World Bank loans China more than $300 million for Urban Rail Development.  

The FINANCIAL -- WASHINGTON, DC May 10, 2011 – Today the World Bank ’s Board of Executive Directors has approved two loans to the People’s Republic of China to help improve mobility and quality of life for the people living in Kunming and part of Sichuan through construction of an urban rail line and provision of road, water and sewerage infrastructure in a number of small towns.  The Kunming Urban Rail Project, funded by a US$300 million loan from the World Bank , will support the construction of the 19.5 km Line 3. 

“Though Chinese cities have a lot of experience in successfully building urban rail, we hope this project, the first urban rail project the World Bank is supporting in China, can provide a demonstration of an integrated public transport system,” said Shomik Raj Mendiratta, World Bank Lead Urban Transport Specialist and task team leader for the project.

CLICK HERE:  "World Bank Supports Urban Rail Development in China"

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama renewed the call to improve the nation's "crumbling" infrastructure, create jobs and help the nation compete in the global economy.

The U.S. "infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped," Obama argued, adding, "Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports."

After his speech, many right-leaning government officials, including Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, complained that White House spending proposals will cost Americans too much.

This argument wanes when compared to countries like China and South Korea that are leading the wave in railway and internet technology and development.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A "Small" Local Effort with Huge Potential

Corner Store Sell Fresh Produce
The Northsider
by Sylvester Brown, Jr.


Carrie’s Corner Market at 4500 Athlone Avenue
 O’FALLON – On a sunny weekend in late March, Carrie’s Corner Market at 4500 Athlone Avenue introduced a new line of products that produced robust sales. According to the store’s owner, a shocking 40% of sales that weekend were from these new products.


What are the products? Fresh fruits and vegetables!

The story is newsworthy because of the small store’s location. Carries Corner Market, in the 21st Ward, is located in what researchers define as a “food desert” — a typical low-income environment where there’s limited access to to healthy foods.

A joint effort by the University of Missouri Extension, City of St. Louis, and the St. Louis Development Corporation aims to tackle the barriers that prohibit access to food retailers and nutritious, healthy foods in local food deserts. The collaboration has led to the launch of a pilot program with three area corner stores — two in the 21st Ward and one in the 25th Ward. Suppliers on Produce Row have been identified and a fresh produce delivery system has been implemented.

Kara Lubischer, community development specialist with UMSL Extension, said the project was inspired by a 2009 USDA study that recommended working with small corner stores.

Through UMSL’s involvement with the grocery co-opt in the Old North neighborhood, Lubischer said she and her colleagues realized that other outreach efforts were necessary.

“The Old North St. Louis neighborhood was able to open a community-run grocery store but not every neighborhood in the city has the capacity to open grocery stores, nor should they,”

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE:





Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why can’t a Green Impact Zone happen in St. Louis?

Why can’t a Green Impact Zone happen in St. Louis?
Click here for full article

Sylvester Brown, Jr.

Recently, The St. Louis American published a commentary by Marc Morial, president of the national Urban League, where he praised the “pro-active” plan aimed at defeating unemployment and revitalizing a distressed urban area in Kansas City.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D–MO) announced that funding had been targeted for a collaborative effort at home rehabilitation, green job creation and training, and energy conservation in an area designated the “Green Impact Zone.” According to Morial, the zone is located in a portion of the city where the unemployment rate hovers between 20-50 percent.

Initially established with stimulus seed money, the effort has been embraced by influential entities in the region, including the Mid-America Regional Council, Kansas City Power & Light, University of Missouri Kansas City Center for Economic Information, the Urban League and various neighborhood associations within the Zone.

Reminiscent of the infamous Frank Capra film, Kansas City players are exhibiting Oz-like characteristics – brains, heart and courage – to pave a way (as Morial put it) “for the rebirth of a neglected neighborhood.”

Does Kansas City have something we lack in the St. Louis region? The answers are “no” and “yes.”

First, let’s look at the commonalities.

Cleaver, state and local politicians, and Kansas City’s influential players stepped up to the plate. The Department of Energy and Missouri Department of Natural Resources allocated $4.5 million in federal stimulus money toward weatherizing homes in the Green Impact Zone and surrounding areas. City council members in the city directed $500,000 of its $1.8 million Neighborhood Stabilization funds to the endeavor. Wells Fargo Bank agreed to transfer ownership of 23 foreclosed homes to the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council. In addition, it contributed a cash donation of $7,500 per home — a total of $172,500 — to help rehab and remodel homes. Reportedly, Kansas City Power and Light has expressed a willingness to invest and deploy an efficient Smart energy grid within the Zone.

Let’s see, St. Louis has congressmen – Wm. Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan come to mind – Democrats with close ties with the Obama Administration. They have influence with state, regional and local legislators and civic leaders. Wells Fargo has a headquarters here, and we’re surrounded by other influential lending institutions. We have Ameren Missouri, a powerful energy company. And, most important, we have distressed areas with the same dire crime, unemployment, housing, transportation and energy needs as Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone.

We are not in want of influential players or resources. Unfortunately, our region is still haunted by its segregated past. While crime and unemployment rates soar in distressed areas and our population dwindles in the city, regional leaders cling to the outdated notion that we can rebound with yet another multi-billion dollar “big idea.” They hang on to this fantasy while stubbornly ignoring urban opportunities and refusing to collectively invest in small but promising neighborhood endeavors.

What’s so utterly unforgivable is the fact that there are committed residents, individuals and agencies already working to stem the violence, reclaim lives and revitalize troubled neighborhoods. These efforts should be the next “big idea.” If just a fraction of the passion and resources dedicated to downtown development, the one massive Northside development project or the notion of revamping the Arch grounds were re-routed to small neighborhood endeavors, the St. Louis region could, like Kansas City, be the recipient of positive headlines and national praise.

If we exhibit the courage, the heart and the necessary collective brainpower, St. Louis could reverse the negatives that define our region and be far traveled on the brick road to our very own urban OZ.

Sylvester Brown Jr. is a freelance writer and founder of When We Dream Together, a local nonprofit dedicated to urban revitalization.

Friday, April 8, 2011

“Our Time” or Are We Out of Time?

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
March 30, 2011
Insight2Incite Magazine
FULL ARTICLE HERE


There I was –humiliated but defiant. In front of me, a cluster of reporters scribbled, recorded and filmed my words. My wife, two daughters and family members sat to my left and right. A large group of my friends, supporters and readers stood behind me in solidarity.

It was Monday, April 13, 2009. Days earlier, I learned that I was to be fired from the job I had held for almost six years, as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The St. Louis Newspaper Guild, our union, had unanimously voted to appeal the termination and get the job back. I gratefully declined the offer. I no longer wanted to work for the Post. With the help of my wife and many of our activist friends we organized a stealth press conference. I was determined to break the news to the public of my departure and exist on my terms.

Without revisiting the whole sordid ordeal, managers used a trip to Washington DC — that I had paid for out of my own pocket — as an excuse to fire me for violating the newspaper’s ethics policy. It matters little now. As far as I’m concerned, the managers at the Post just didn’t get it. It was “our time!” The country had just elected an African American president, Barack Obama. I was fired up with the belief that it was time to institute an agenda that would revitalize long-ignored urban cities, create innovative black businesses and development communities of opportunity.

The same week, I learned that I was to be terminated from the Post; I received a call from SmileyBooks –founded by public radio and public television commentator Tavis Smiley. I would be working with writers and big thinkers who were, like me, passionate about the advancement of black people. In my mind, I wasn’t rejected by the Post; I was redirected by the universe.
It was indeed our time!

How naïve I was back then.

Racism – ugly, vile and divisive – once again raised its ugly head. Republicans seem intent on thwarting the President at every turn. Black leaders fussed and fought about Obama articulating a “black agenda” instead of enacting one for black people. Now with looming budget cuts, a divisive far Right anti-Obama mission and another military engagement – this time in Libya – in play, the “hope and change” I anxiously anticipated seems another dream deferred.

Is it “our time” or are we almost out of time?

CLICK HERE FOR FULL COMMENTARY

About the Insight2Incite
Insight – understanding the true nature of something
Incite – to urge to action

INFORMATION TO ACTION
Insight2Incite Magazine is an interactive lifestyle magazine that promotes change through information, inspiration, and implementation. Our goal is to provide insightful topics that are fresh, appealing, pertinent, yet digestible. Our unique columns come to life by covering areas that influence our behavior socially, economically, politically, as well as spiritually. Through an innovative path, we want to Incite our readers to positive action by inspiring generations and empowering communities. Insight2Incite Magazine opens the doorway by creating clear strategies with the use of practical resources, progressing forward, developing new leadership, while fostering accountability.

INSIGHT2INCITE HOME PAGE

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks in Employment

by Michelle Natividad Rodriguez
The Open Society Foundations
March 28, 2011

Today, Americans with criminal records are at a crossroads. A substantial portion of our population—some 65 million people, more than one in four U.S. adults—have an arrest or conviction record, and most large employers now perform background checks. As a result of employers’ misuse of these background checks, millions of workers have had the door of opportunity slammed in their faces.

Many job ads include language like this: “No exceptions! No misdemeanors or felonies of any type ever in background.” People with records, ready and willing to work, can’t find jobs to support their families and contribute to their communities.

The National Employment Law Project's new report, 65 Million "Need Not Apply:" The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment," provides a wake-up call to America about the harsh reality that confronts workers with arrest and conviction records every day.
READ FULL ARTICLE HERE:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wooed by youth with hopes for the city

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
Full commentary can be found at the St. Louis Beacon

You will make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. She was made to be wooed and won by youth. — Winston Churchill




The words of the late British Prime Minister sum up my feelings about the two-day "Open/Closed: Exploring Vacant Property in St. Louis" event hosted by nextSTL.com. Shortly after arriving at Friday's opener at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, I realized that the conveners, volunteers and attendees were mostly young people - bright-eyed, idealistic 20somethings, ready to boldly tackle problems that have plagued our region for decades.


According to a recent report by the Show Me Institute, there are more than 9,000 parcels of vacant property in St. Louis. Yet, when Andrew J. Faulkner, 27, a graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, described the problem it was done with refreshing optimism:

"If land equals security, stability and potential wealth in the American cultural psyche, then we are sitting on a potential goldmine," Faulkner said before detailing the intent he and his peers had for the event: "The key to discourse is to identify shared goals, shared experiences and potentials for shared success. I hope in our own small way that we managed to build a foundation for such a discourse."

Through panel discussions, a caravan tour of vacant North St. Louis properties and a communal dinner in the basement of Holy Trinity Church, the youngsters were able to thoroughly dissect the subject of vacancy in St. Louis with a contagious vibe of progress. Oh, there were contentious moments -- discussions about solutions and how vacancies negatively impact the region were bound to make a few city representatives and developers jittery. But the disputes and differences were minor blips in the otherwise engaging discussions.

For the rest of the commentary click here

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Advocating for Equity

Founder of national equity agency urges blacks to lead again
By Sylvester Brown, Jr.

Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research agency dedicated to social equity, worries that America is about to miss another profound moment.

Building stronger environments, especially in low-income areas, has been Glover Blackwell’s long-time passion. From 1977 when she worked in public interest law to the founding of the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, California in 1987 to her role as senior vice president for The Rockefeller Foundation up until she founded PolicyLink in 1999, advocacy for equity has been a consistent theme of her three decade career.

Glover Blackwell, a St. Louis native, was in town recently to speak at the event, “Housing: Building a New Foundation for Economic Prosperity,” hosted by Focus St. Louis. Before her speech, we discussed proposed cuts in President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget, other promising White House initiatives, the role of the black press and black voters in the Obama era and her nagging fear that this country is about to miss another historic opportunity to be “truly great.”

“Missing moments is something we keep doing again and again, Glover Blackwell told me. “We missed it with the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education decision. If we had gotten on a different path, we’d be telling a different story about urban and metropolitan areas today.”

The landmark decision that made segregation in public education unconstitutional helped fuel sprawl, she explained. Rather than integrate schools in urban areas, whites fled to the suburbs in droves with middle-class blacks soon to follow. Roads, highways, exclusionary housing patterns all led to still segregated enclaves in suburbia while urban areas suffered benign neglect.

Divisive and spiteful partisan politics also weighs heavily on Glover Blackwell’s mind.

“Cuts to community development block grants, cuts in the area of health – any effort to try and balance this budget on the backs of America’s most vulnerable ought to raise alarms. Yes, we have a fiscal crisis and we have to tighten our belts but we certainly can’t allow those people that I characterize as mean-spirited to use this fiscal crisis to hurt America’s most vulnerable even more.”

Even with deep cuts looming, Glover Blackwell insists there’s hope on the horizon. She noted President Obama’s “Sustainable Communities Initiative,” a joint-agency between HUD, EPA, and the Department of Transportation. The approach, Glover says, is Obama’s attempt to “reshape the broken and counterproductive way we've built our communities.”

“There is $150 million for sustainable communities and additional resources from EPA and other agencies. St. Louis has been lucky enough to get one of the planning grants to really allow communities to think in smart and inclusive ways about how they build community.”

With 25 percent of America’s black and Latino population having no access to cars and disproportionately dependent on public transportation, “smart and inclusive” planning means developments that connect people to jobs, schools, housing, health care, and grocery stores, Glover Blackwell explained.

The Sustainable Communities initiative, coupled with programs such as the Promise Neighborhoods and Healthy Food Financing Initiative won’t lessen the sting of social service cuts but they will create jobs and help foster “regional equity” in urban areas. Glover Blackwell said.

Another opportunity to shift course was lost after the terrorist’s attacks on September 11, 2001:

“[President George W. Bush] used the word ‘united’ -- and I was surprised because I hadn’t heard it in so long, Blackwell Glover recalled. “We missed that moment to unite. We went right back to business as usual –back to being in separate camps, we went back to being small-minded.”

When asked what African Americans must do to capture this moment, Glover Blackwell harkened back to her youth, growing up on Terry Avenue just blocks from the Central West End.

She was raised in an era when segregation defined everything for blacks -- where they lived, went to school, worked and other aspects of everyday life. Yet, Glover Blackwell fondly remembers a sense of “community” and shared aspirations. She recalled how her parents and other adults relied on black newspapers like the St. Louis American, the St. Louis Argus and the Amsterdam news to keep them informed of the unfolding civil rights movement. Caring adults, locked out of mainstream society, she said, where determined to create pathways to success and equity for all.

“The black press, the black media… all people who care about redress and a prosperous future for the nation – we need to educate more. We need to educate the black and Latino communities and we need to start leading the nation.

“I actually think that the best things that have happened for this nation is because black people led. When black people lead for America, they not only put real force behind a movement for themselves, they help America to see its future.”

Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a freelance journalist and founder of When We Dream Together, a local nonprofit focused on urban revitalization.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Disappointed but never disenchanted: An interview with PolicyLink's Angela Glover Blackwell

By Sylvester Brown Jr., special to the Beacon

Posted 12:35 pm, Mon., 3.7.11

Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of the national research and action agency, PolicyLink, has been fighting for equity in America for the past three decades. Last year, when President Barack Obama hosted a round table meeting to discuss his $50 billion infrastructure proposal, Glover Blackwell was the only public-interest advocate among the gathering of governors, mayors, labor leaders and four former transportation secretaries.

Glover Blackwell, a St. Louis native, has become a leading voice for the voiceless -- low-income people and people of color. Last week, she spoke at the symposium, "Housing: Building a New Foundation for Economic Prosperity," hosted by Focus St. Louis. The conference geared toward developers, policy-makers, local government representatives, grassroots groups and others involved in housing, including affordable housing, in Missouri and southwest Illinois.

Local journalist, Sylvester Brown, Jr., sat down with Glover Blackwell moments before she delivered her address at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis to discuss proposed cuts in Obama's 2012 budget, mean-spirited politics and revitalizing low-income communities. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


You've been on this path a long time. Obama, whom you support, is in office, but you still don't have the change that you've worked for all these years. Are you disenchanted?

Angela Glover Blackwell: I'm not going to be disenchanted. I refuse to go there. I do get disappointed though. I am disappointed that America keeps missing its moment. Missing moments is something we keep doing again and again. I'll give you three examples.

We missed the moment in 1954 with Brown vs. the Board of Education. If we had gotten on a different path, we'd be telling a different story about urban and metropolitan areas today. We missed the moment after 9/11 when [President] George W. Bush used a word, and I was surprised because I hadn't heard it in so long. He used the word "united." We missed that moment. We went right back to business as usual. We went back to separate camps, back to being small-minded.

Then we elected Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. I was in New York the day Obama was elected. When I walked out onto the streets that morning, there was a difference. People were just smiling at each other; we had done something as a nation. New York is probably more liberal than the rest of the nation, but I think all of America -- and I heard it on the news -- people who had not voted for him said they were proud the nation had taken that step.

Rather than going forward we went right back to being small-minded. The economy turned out to be worse than anybody thought and when you have bad economic times, people get scared and start looking for enemies. Those of us who were so happy he got in and worked to put him there, underestimated how quickly the right would organize. I mean when you think about what the tea party has been able to do in two short years, it is stunning.

So, I'm disappointed but I'm not disenchanted. I think the issues are on the table and there are a lot of us who see them and if we keep pulling forward, I think we'll go forward.

There are historical patterns of white flight across the nation. Now whites are coming back to urban centers, and many blacks and low-income people fear that they will, once again, be shifted out of communities. How important is it that we consider what communities can be?


Glover Blackwell: It's essential that we re-imagine communities and that we get over the divide that race has created in this city and in this nation.
In some ways this conversation is all about race and in some ways, it's not about race at all. It's all about race because it was our failure to deal with the opportunity to be a racially integrated nation in 1954 with Brown vs. Board of Education and beyond. The failure to embrace integrating the schools and living in integrated neighborhoods caused white flight. Then as the schools and communities went down, it caused middle-class, black flight. It left communities of concentrated poverty. It's no question that momentum had a racial base.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL INTERVIEW:

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Do-for-self Project We Can Do Ourselves

21st Ward Alderman Antonio French needs our help. 

In collaboration with the Acts Partnership, a community-based development organization (CBDO), the alderman wants to purchase a vacant, historic church in the O’Fallon neighborhood on the corner Red Bud and Rosalie Streets. French has issued an urgent call to raise $15,000 to purchase the church. The Incarnate Word Foundation has agreed to match the donations.

"If you can donate $50 today, French wrote, "The Incarnate Word Foundation will match your donation with another $50."

Sounds like a plan.

Recently, I established When We Dream Together, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering the information and resources to help ordinary people enact extraordinary change in long-ignored urban areas. Part of our mandate is to encourage participation in projects and initiatives that African Americans can do themselves, without government or corporate support.

This project, in its initial stage, offers such an opportunity. The church is just a block away from O’Fallon Park where French has hosted a number of outdoor concerts within the past two years. The concerts have reinforced a sense of community and helps alter the image of an area singularly tagged for criminal activity. French and the Acts Partnership want to turn the church into a community center -- a hub for positive community interaction.

I'm not trying to co-opt the project but from my conversations with French, I have a pretty good take on his vision. It's a do-for-self vision. With our support and matching donations from Incarnate word, the church can be purchased and WE can help turn it into a mechanism for holistic inner-city change.

On Sunday, I wrote about the need to put wayward youth to work this summer. Perhaps this is the project where former gang members can work alongside caring adults and professional volunteers. Imagine the sense of dignity and ownership if youth rehabbed the building and helped build a powerful institution in their own neighborhood. Maybe French could use his clout to secure a few neighboring vacant lots that can be turned into community gardens. Kids and adults can grow badly needed, nutritious food that can be sold in the neighborhood. While they earn, they can learn. I don't think French would turn away folks who want to offer computer training classes or programs in the building that address violence, low self-esteem, childhood obesity, physical fitness, business development and other community woes and needs.  

The point is, this project provides an opportunity to educate and care for kids and offers a dignified path to community empowerment. French is doing his part. He's working to add structure, sustainability, safety and community in a disadvantaged area in need of serious uplift.

Let's help him out. If we dream and work collectively, we can raise the $15,000 and, along the way, develop a new paradigm for urban redevelopment in our city.

To donate and more information click here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Youth violence event is a reminder why we must dream and work together

Social Media to Spark a Social Regional Revolution!
The staggering numbers stayed with me long after leaving the “Call-to-Action!” youth violence forum at Vashon High School yesterday:

  Almost 1,080 churches in the St. Louis area alone.

The St. Louis Public School district spent $25 million to address youth violence.

$1,100 spent per child, per year at Mathews-Dickey’s Boys' & Girls' Club compared to $50,000 spent per year, per person in the region's jails.

• 144 homicides in the city last year. An average of 3,000 homicides within the past 20 years with another 23,000 wounded in gun-related incidents in the same time frame.

"Call to Action" forum at Vashon High School

The forum, hosted by Washington Tabernacle M.B. Church, was convened to answer a question: “What role can the churches and faith community play in bringing about solutions to the problem of youth violence?” Panelists included 5th Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, St. Louis Chief of Police Daniel Isom, SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams, the Rev. Dietra Wise, Chaplin of the Juvenile Detention Center, St. John’s United Church of Christ’ Pastor Starsky Wilson, Father Rick Potts of St. Alphonsus “the Rock” Catholic Church and Cedric Clarkson, the executive director of the faith-based “Call To Oneness” organization.

Overwhelmingly, panelists insisted that ministers and their congregations must “come out of the church,” intervene, interact and personally get involved with young people. Chaplin Wise told the tale of youth locked in juvenile detention some with no parental or adult visitors. She urged churches to organize mentor groups that would help keep children out of “the system.” On the same note, Alderwoman Griffin asked the church community to “adopt” families and kids trapped in dysfunctional environments. The organization, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Griffin said, has a long list of North St. Louis kids desperate for adults who will just commit to talking spending time with them.

Other panelists reinforced their arguments with breath-taking figures. Superintendent Adams said he has no choice but allocate $25 million from his budget for security guards, social workers, counselors, nurses and “extra staff” just to deal with the issue of youth violence.

Although his department arrested 28,000 people in 2010 for "minor and serious crimes," Chief Isom said that 40 percent of black males between the ages of 21 and 25 will be re-arrested within the next two years. The figures, Isom stressed, are based on Justice Department estimates.

The event's MC, Flint Fowler, president of Mathews-Dickey’s Boys' & Girls' Club, underscored society’s misplaced priorities by comparing the cost of a child served by his agency in one year ($1,100) with the annual incarceration rate of $50,000 per prisoner, per year.

Community collaborations, focused resources, aid and support to families trapped in the paradigms of poverty and holding everyone -- including parents -- accountable were offered as remedies to stem youth violence.

For me, the forum underscored the urgency to coalesce and address our regional problems differently. Absent from the stage were the mayor, the county executive, heads of the city’s elite corporations, agencies that have received federal dollars to bring “green” and other major initiatives and developments to the urban core. This is not to say that these people aren’t playing roles in addressing societal ills plaguing our region. But it is an indication that collaborations between powerful individuals and agencies and the grassroots groups and ordinary people in depressed areas are still nonexistent.

I left the forum informed but malnourished. With more than 1,000 churches in our midst, I expected the announcement of a major jobs program for troubled youth or a church-led mentoring movement. Surely, we can gather the flock, pool our resources and tap into city, state, private and nonprofit resources to keep a few hundred kids off the street and positively engaged this summer.

This is not a put down of the “Call to Action” forum. Quite the contrary. In order to have collaborative action we must first articulate the need and outline a course to inclusive and effective collaborations.

Still, we must also avoid “talking too much,” as Superintendent Adams noted. The money we spend on incarceration, addressing youth violence is staggering. The young lives and human potential we lose each year is immoral. We know the problem, we can find the resources and there’s a potential army of soldiers sitting in churches every Sunday. What’s missing is a strategic approach that aligns inner-city development and public/private resources with faith-based activism and community-wide engagement.

When we dream and work collaboratively, we send a message that there’s a shift in our collective priorities. We set a course toward reclaiming wayward youth, revitalizing disadvantaged neighborhoods and re-imagining our region.

Washington Tabernacle M.B. Church has invited other churches and individuals to answer the “Call to Action.” For more information call the church at (314) 533-8763 or send an email to: ad_here2serve@sbcglobal.net

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Can we do something like this in St. Louis?

D-Town: African American Farmers, Food Security and Detroit

Source: Black Agenda Report


The Black metropolis of Detroit is, in many respects, a “food desert” where “both economic and physical barriers stand between people and their access to healthy and affordable foods.” But D-Town activists believe the people can grow and organize themselves out of the desert, through urban agriculture. “In the process of controlling the food supply, the farmers see themselves as developing self-reliance.”


“Detroit is the future for urban agriculture.”
D-Town: African American Farmers, Food Security and Detroit

by Monica M. White, Ph.D.


The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), started in 2006, is a non-profit grassroots community organization spearheaded by Malik Yakini, a long-time Black liberation activist, bookstore owner, and school administrator. Mr. Yakini called together a group of people who were interested in engaging in urban agriculture to “grasp larger control over the food system and to build self-reliance in our community” (personal communication). Organizationally, they wanted to address Detroit’s food insecurity on four levels; to create a city-wide food policy, to develop a food buying co op, to engage in youth education and to establish an urban farm. Since its inception, DBCFSN was instrumental in engineering a comprehensive food-security policy that would provide citizens with an “adequate amount of nutritious, culturally appropriate food at all times, from sources that are environmentally sound and just” (p.1). Not only was the food policy unanimously adopted by the Detroit City Council, they also agreed to create the Detroit Food Policy Council. They operate the U-Ujamaa Food Buying Co-op where members are able to purchase healthy foods, supplements and household items at discount prices. In addition, D-Town farm, developed as a critical project and began in the planting season of 2006, is located on two acres of city-owned land in Rouge Park, with the expansion of an additional five acres yet to be approved. D-Town farm “utilizes sustainable, earth-friendly food production techniques to produce thousands of pounds of high quality, fresh produce each year.”
 
Read the entire article here

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Urban grocers in distressed urban areas: Are we ready in St. Louis?

“We’re here to make sure that in America, where a child grows up doesn’t determine whether they have access to a better—healthier—future. By introducing powerful incentives for private investors to take a chance on projects – like a new, healthier grocery store – we can make that difference for America’s children, while creating new jobs and services in their communities.” -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner
Last year, the Obama Administration announced its $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative designed to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities. The Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have all partnered on the initiative. Obama's 2012 budget proposal has $310 million slated for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative with, according to the Washington-based think tank PolicyLink, "more flexibility given to USDA to use additional resources as needed -- to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities."

Is St. Louis taking advantage of this initiative?

As stated by White House officials; "Lack of healthy, affordable food options can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer." St. Louis, like other hard-pressed urban areas has its share of low-income neighborhoods that lack healthy, affordable food options. These areas are known as “food deserts” were residents are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Last year, I attended meetings hosted by the Human Development Corporation where the policy was discussed. I learned that the Healthy Youth Partnership (HYP) was actively seeking to formulate a St. Louis Food Policy Council (FPC). The mission of the St. Louis Food Policy Council, according to HYP "is to promote a just, equitable and sustainable local food system."

The national program was modeled after the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which helped finance 83 supermarket projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties.

Are we ready in St. Louis? If not, we should be. And we should be working on it collectively with grassroots agencies at the table. 

The Treasury Department announced that it will support private sector financing of healthy foods options in distressed areas. I'm not sure how much progress St. Louis has made in taking advantage of this initiative. I believe the possibilities are momentous. Imagine urban gardens developed in tandem with urban grocers. Imagine inner-city jobs created to address inner-city challenges and social needs. If aligned with educational and prison recidivism programs, this initiative could be used to help educate children, employ newly released inmates and support other endeavors.

The possibilities are profound ... when we dream together.

Join the movement:
http://sylvesterbrownjr.blogspot.com/2011/02/social-media-to-spark-social-regional.html 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We can reach black teens, but it will take some imagination

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
Courtesy of the St. Louis 
Post-Dispatch
January 11, 2009

* I wrote this column for the Post-Dispatch a bit more than a week before the inauguration of President Elect Barack Obama. I'm sharing it now because it underscores the mission of my current endeavor.


We can reach black teens, but it will take some imagination

This column is an invitation to imagine a totally revamped, radical approach to reach black teens — those who are killing and being killed.

It will take money, across-the-board commitments, perhaps new laws and the reversal of resources from prisons to people. We must also support and build on examples of what's already working.

Come, let us dream.

What if there were schools, working in conjunction with the juvenile courts system, designed to turn perceived problems into positives?

Consider this scenario: Jamil, 12, is a rock-headed youth. He's horrible at school, disrespectful with teachers and fights with his classmates. Jamil's peers consider him quite fearless. His "rep" is partly due to his older brothers, who are known neighborhood drug dealers.

Jamil commits crimes; let's say he's a repeated shoplifter. But instead of locking him up, the juvenile judge sends him to Urbana Academy (a school we'll make up for the purposes of our dream).

The new government-subsidized school is staffed with a healthy dose of black, no-nonsense male educators trained to educate and inspire troubled black youths.

Successful black entrepreneurs serve as mentors at the school. Millionaire rap artists, like Nelly, play a part, showing talented kids how to succeed. There's much to learn. After all, young black artists created rap and hip-hop, but very few dominate the business side of the multibillion-dollar industry.

At Urbana Academy, the curriculum is designed to connect black kids with what some consider "real life." The drug trade, for example, is an example of supply and demand. But rather than dealing drugs, the kids are steered to recognize the other demands, and needs, of their communities and shown how to generate capital — legally.

Specialists are trained to transform negative, aggressive behavior into entrepreneurial leadership skills. Like the nation's Junior Achievement programs, kids create urban corporations that promote and sell consumer
products in their own communities.

In our vision, the school is linked to St. Louis Urbana Inc., a nonprofit group that employs adults and folks once considered "unemployable." Factory workers create "Urbana" label products to be sold by the school. A crop of website developers, direct-marketing technicians and salesmen use innovative methods to promote and sell products.

The community is on board, eagerly buying Urbana products, like they do Girl Scout cookies. They know they're investing in the future of Urbana students.

In a society based on "stuff," Urbana Inc. offers salary-generating alternatives to drugs, unemployment and welfare. Even kids with good grades have the opportunity to earn weekend and after-school money with parental permission.

Now, Jamil's peers look up to him for different reasons. He's a savvy young salesman with his own cash. He's done so well at Urbana, school administrators awarded him a government-backed college scholarship to continue business studies.

Sound far-fetched?

Consider a real-life example: Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based economic development program that creates niche merchandise and provides job training and work experience for at-risk youths, gang members and ex-offenders.

Also in real life, Muhammad Yunus and his bank, Grameen, have provided more than $4 billion to 4.4 million impoverished people in rural Bangladesh. They have given small loans, mostly to women, to help them start or grow businesses.

Yunus and Grameen received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Yunus' "micro-lending" concept has turned poor female villagers into entrepreneurs. In his book, "Creating a World Without Poverty," Yunus introduces the concept of profit-driven "social businesses" as a way to spark "economic engines" throughout the world.

His plan can definitely spark engines in urban areas.

Corporations that set up co-ops — say an Urbana-Starbucks or a Del Monte-Urbana food plant — could receive valuable tax incentives or credits. The profit-driven industries would be designed to create jobs based on consumer demands. For instance, an Urbana entrepreneur establishes a neighborhood co-op that supplies fresh fruits, vegetables and other products to Urbana schools.

With a little help, this urban entrepreneur could turn abandoned neighborhood properties into produce-yielding fields that serve the nutritional needs of school children.

Since the beginning of this month, I've discussed the research indicating a rise in the number of black boys (between the ages of 14 and 17) who were killed or killed someone from 2000 to 2007.

Among other recommendations, the researcher, criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, said the government should invest more money in the lives of these kids.

Some readers were insulted that I called for an investment in black kids and not all kids.

That's easy to address. Black boys are the demographic with rising homicide rates. Let's use the car analogy. The motor and transmission need maintenance, but if there's a faulty carburetor, it will sputter, waste fuel and eventually stall.

Let's fix the busted carburetor.

Other readers reject the idea of spending more tax dollars to fix a problem parents should address.

But I also heard from people who are already investing passion and energy into black boys. These people understand Fox's call for investment because they see results, albeit on a small scale.

In this debate, there's a basic question: Why are black kids killing?

My opinion: dysfunctional parents, a lack of self-worth and vision, too few examples of attainable success and too much soul-crushing poverty. There's also the perceived payoff from the drug trade.

I disagree with those who say kids are forever doomed without proper parental intervention.

Dysfunction is colorless and classless. Alcoholic, abusive or emotionally absent parents in any neighborhood can damage kids. What's missing in low-income communities are societal supplements.

I believe that an orchestrated movement can turn kids' lives around and reduce homicide rates.

Community and nonprofit organizations here and all over the country are already having some success saving black kids.
So imagine another, larger step — a school system designed to turn positives into negatives, that teaches kids to recognize and utilize the gold in the "ghetto."

Imagine a new publicly supported collective aimed at gathering successful programs under one federally funded mandate. Imagine engaged and motivated kids with the resources and help needed to repel dangerous temptations.

Why, that would be Nirvana. Or, better yet, Urbana.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social Media to Spark a Social Regional Revolution!

Can We Use Social Media to Spark a Regional Social Revolution? Yes We Can!


Are you willing to:

• Help plant and maintain a community garden in an urban area?
• Buy products produced by low income people trying to reclaim their lives?
• Donate to a summer program aimed at keeping gang members off the streets?
• Take a weekend bus ride to shop at local urban gardens or grocers?
• Help build and support a Harlem’s Children’s Zone model in St. Louis
• Volunteer with alternative educational centers for disadvantaged youth?
• Support health and fitness programs aimed at battling childhood obesity and malnutrition?
• Join professors, activists, nonprofits and others working to revitalize long-ignored urban areas?
• Help St. Louis live up to its potential as a truly vibrant and richly diverse metropolis?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you can be a part of a regional social revolution.


Most of you know me as the former publisher of Take Five Magazine or as the columnist who “used to write for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.” Some of you are aware that, upon my departure from the newspaper, I was researching ways to revitalize urban communities by combining federal initiatives with innovative national and international ideas and efforts designed to reduce poverty through empowering, self-sustaining methods.

The historic election of Barack Obama further convinced me that it was indeed “our time” to turn our attention to disenfranchised urban areas. This is our moment to use innovative, revolutionary ideas to empower ordinary people to enact extraordinary change in their lives. This is a mission that must not be blurred by divisive, distracting or destructive politics.

Join me.

The questions I ask above are based on incremental projects and embryonic ideas across the country and in our region. Community gardens are sprouting up in urban areas; state and federal subsidies and programs have helped bring urban grocers to neighborhoods starved of nutritious, green produce; micro-loan programs are supporting small business growth; former male and female felons are producing products sold in cafes, online and through mass distribution; fitness programs have been developed for inner-city youth and cities are working to build block-by-block protective zones where children can thrive at school and in their neighborhoods.

All these efforts are underway but they are disconnected, unknown or they do not receive the public/private funds, community support or media attention they deserve or need to survive.

In short, a people-up approach to inner-city development has yet to catch on, especially in our region.

Last month, I established “When We Dream Together,” an agency with a simple but powerful mission: Provide the inspiration, information, support and resources that will empower ordinary people to enact extraordinary change in their lives and communities.

Within the past 60 days, I have met with individuals and organizations whose efforts echo my passions. I’ve talked to local ministers and activists working vigilantly to convince young people to “put down their guns” and end street violence. I visited with the owners of a new North St. Louis grocer with plans to open an urban farm on the premises. I sat with professors and city administrators planning to build an urban garden that works in tandem with a brand new and historic public school. I had the privilege to spend an afternoon with grassroots visionaries recently awarded small stipends to develop projects that include growing fresh produce for seniors, teaching job skills to youth, helping fathers become entrepreneurs and creating inner-city learning and resource centers for disadvantaged families and children.

These projects and endeavors are promising but without resources and the consistent network of support, they are in jeopardy. More important, there needs to be a force that links these ideas and efforts together and expands their visions. Teens pulled away from drug-dealing and gang violence must be provided alternative, money-making opportunities. If we dream together and combine challenges with opportunities we can revitalize neighborhoods, address poverty, crime, prison recidivism and stop the waste of human potential.

I have written about these possibilities for too long. It is time for action. We cannot wait on government, national or local leaders to enact this change. Again, “this is our time!”

I’m calling for an experiment of sorts -- a social media experiment. We can jump start a social revolution in our region with FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other new media efforts.

By the first of May, I plan to launch an interactive website that will provide inspiring stories and videos of international, national and local efforts aimed at eradicating poverty, unemployment, crime and hopelessness through sustaining endeavors. Unlike traditional media outlets, the goal is to dissect the stories, present the strategies and provide links to the organizations and individuals engaged in transformative activities. There will also be an accompanying blog where ideas can be presented, discussed, modified and monitored. Hopefully, this component will inspire partnerships that bring these innovative ideas and projects to life.

This is a cause without a call for cash and there is a role for everyone. When the website is launched, I want a cadre of soldiers ready to make change in St. Louis. If you answered “yes” to any question above, you qualify. Send me your name and email address and the area of your interest. A data base will be developed that connects needs with those willing to fulfill those needs. You will be alerted and consistently updated on activities, projects and ideas that fit the criteria of your concern(s).

If we collaborate, I am convinced that this summer we can develop and/or support projects that can put troubled youth to work and address malnutrition and obesity in low-income areas. As a collaborative group, we can purchase more produce from burgeoning small and large community gardens; urge legislators to tap into federal funds aimed at implementing innovative sustainable ideas, stable communities, promising neighborhoods with urban grocers and other vibrant small businesses.

Our army will enhance and extend the hard work of nonprofits, grassroots agencies, social architects and visionaries diligently working to bring empowering opportunities, dignity and hope to the discarded and dismissed.

We can indeed change the culture of our region. We can reclaim our young people, revitalize our communities and re-imagine our world …

When we dream together!

Sincerely, Sylvester Brown, Jr.

* Sign up today. Send your name, concern and email address to: whenwedreamtogether@gmail.com







Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Incarnate Word Offers an Invitation to Dream Differently

Thursday's “Marketplace of Ideas” Supports Grassroots Innovation

Posted in the St. Louis Beacon

H
opefully, the recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch series on the region’s failure to compete with other metropolitan cities sparked a collective desire to dream differently. It’s obvious that our stubborn reliance on big development projects as panacea for job growth, increases in tax revenues and neighborhood stabilization has not achieved desired outcomes in the region.

If the articles failed to inspire, perhaps an event this week will. On Thursday, the Incarnate Word Foundation will host the “Marketplace of Ideas,” a showcase of seven proposals developed by local collaborative grassroots groups. I will serve as MC of the event.

The competition sprang from the need to have grassroots organizations propose solutions that will address the needs of children, families and communities in North St. Louis. Material from the “Marketplace of Ideas” application package defined the purpose of the pilot project:

“It seems that too often community ideas are not heard and creative collaborations are not explored in North St. Louis. Therefore, the Marketplace of Ideas has been created to spur collaborations between community stakeholders, to uplift the community’s solutions to community problems and to provide publicity to the richness of community activity in North St. Louis.”

The seven selected ideas include a green garden and market project designed to increase access to healthy food in distressed areas; the creation of a one-stop grassroots resource center for systematic neighborhood development; an outdoor concert series arranged to build a sense of community and beat back negative perceptions; initiatives specifically developed to train and employ at-risk youth; and church-based programs that will offer educational, computer and business training services with the goal of building stronger families and communities.

Each finalist will be awarded $5,000. During the showcase they will present their ideas before a panel of potential local funders. They will detail their plans, explain its need in North St. Louis and share information about the collaborations that will implement and sustain the endeavors.
“It seems that too often community ideas are not heard and creative collaborations are not explored in North St. Louis."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch series also discussed the exodus of innovative minds from the region. Many students graduate from our prestigious universities and head for greener pastures in more progressive cities where their enthusiastic and pioneering spirits are appreciated.

The seven ideas presented on Thursday provide opportunities to keep those adventurous minds here. The projects already have seed money and the potential to attract more funds. Institutions of higher learning that offer research and public policy know-how can expand these ideas.

With help, youth training centers can be linked to new local business enterprises or federally-supported urban grocers, green jobs or other infrastructure opportunities. Church-based educational centers can become even more effective if backed by social scientists and health practitioners who are well aware of groundbreaking techniques, curricula and successful health service models. Students can help rehab dilapidated buildings, train at-risk youth, plant seeds, harvest gardens and volunteer at community grocers, gardens and urban centers.

Most certainly these seven ideas won’t solve the multitude of problems plaguing North St. Louis nor will they immediately boost tax revenue or create a groundswell of new jobs.

Still, it's a detour in unchartered waters. Backing and partnering with the finalists serves as an affirmative nod to a long-ignored segment of our population. It welcomes those who use creativity everyday just to navigate the obstacles of poverty, unemployment and crime into the arena of progressive community change.

In short, it’s a powerful invitation to dream differently.

The “Marketplace of Ideas” will be held on January 27th at De La Salle Middle School at 3pm. For more information call the Incarnate Word Foundation at 314-773-5100