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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org