Wednesday, May 4, 2016

We’re Gonna Do it Anyway…

Dave Golliday is a retired St. Louis City policeman. His bar, Golliday’s, off Grand on Chippewa, serves as a refuge for some of the coolest, most down-to-earth people I know. Dave has also become a good, supportive friend of mine.

One of these years I’m going to start the Sweet Potato Project’s summer program with enough money to operate already in the bank. Unfortunately, this is not that year. As in other years, responses to our grant requests have either been negative or they’re still pending. With the program’s official start date less than a month away, our board, volunteers, students and I are going to have to increase our hustle if we are to meet our goals.

That’s why Dave comes to mind. He hosted a fundraiser for SPP at Golliday’s in March. It was a Saturday night affair where I got up a few times in between karaoke singing, said a few syllables about SPP, while the gracious barmaids sold raffle tickets for sweet potato cookies and/or gifts or drinks Dave provided.

The point is, I may not have the money to run this program effectively but I do have a lot of “Daves” in my life. They are friends, followers, supporters who truly get what we’re trying to accomplish with the Sweet Potato Project. Maybe this support has been garnered from writing about injustice, oppression, racism and exclusion in the region for almost 30 years. Maybe it's a result of being engaged in community activism for most of that time. Perhaps it's because I've publicly chronicled my journey from a small newspaper publisher to columnist for the region’s largest daily newspaper, to becoming the director of a fledgling nonprofit dedicated to empowering low-income youth and adults.

My life serves as inspiration for what we’re trying to do with SPP. I was a high school dropout and, at one time, a person destined to live the life of a statistic. But, for some reason, benevolent people always stepped in to remind me that I had/have something special. More important, they walked me to opportunity. That’s the mantra of the Sweet Potato Project: we train youth (ages 16-21) to plant food on vacant lots, we help them learn marketing, branding, sales, and product development skills, and expose them to opportunities in their own hard-hit neighborhoods. In other words, we walk them to entrepreneurial opportunities.

Realizing that youth need nurturing environments to employ these new-found skills, we’re inviting churches, community groups and residents to use vacant lots to grow food with us. We already have a major buyer for the produce. The big picture includes getting youth and adults to grow massive food in the region, create a “brand” for our food and food-based products, then getting major and community institutions, entities and consumers throughout the region to “buy in” by purchasing food and food products from North St. Louis.

Our program is not an all-out panacea for the challenges facing low-income youth, adults and communities but it’s a viable, organic start that can lead to other collective, self-sustaining efforts to bring jobs, small businesses and vibrant economic activity back to North St. Louis.

We’re going into our fifth year of operations and I still can’t pinpoint the reasons why we always come up short in operating funds. Maybe it’s supposed to be this hard, maybe this is supposed to be a truly grassroots effort backed by the kind of people who have supported all my endeavors. I don’t know. This much I do know; we have to do this anyway. Some of my students are returning from college. They are ready to get started with our summer program and baking cookies for distribution. Some have asked their friends or siblings to join SPP this summer.

I have to make this year’s program happen with what I have at hand, and what I have are my friends and supporters. So here’s the real deal: I need my “Daves” to come to my rescue…again. I’ll be specific:

First and foremost, we need money, lots and lots of money. Even if the grants we’ve requested come through, it won’t be in time to start classes or paying at least 20 students' salaries starting next month. Anyone and everyone can make a donation of any amount on our website by CLICKING HERE.

To all my musician friends, bar and venue-owners and my "peeps" with influential friends of their own: let’s go ahead and schedule those fund-raisers some of you have mentioned. We can do events like the one blues man, Marquis Knox did last year or the event Dave hosted in March. A few of my students and I are available for more intimate home or business gatherings. Email me ( and let’s work out the details.

2015 Blues SPP Fundraiser at BB's Jazz & Soups featuring Marquis Knox and band 
Secondly, I have about 15 possible garden partners so far who have agreed to grow sweet potatoes that we will purchase in the fall. I can use some help collecting soil samples to determine if we can plant in the dirt or have to build raised beds and buy organic soil. We will be planting later this month but all the sites have to be ready for planting sweet potatoes by mid-June. I’ll publicly post and send out press releases and invites to volunteers who wish to help. In addition, we could definitely use a bank or two to sponsor the costs of buying material for low-income partners with contaminated soil. If you are a banker, corporation or just a generous soul, I have a letter with more details for you or someone who you think may respond accordingly. Send an email to for specifics.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Sweet Potato Project, I think, is our approach to exposing youth to their inherent gifts and opportunities within their neighborhoods. We have a unique five-point curriculum designed to be implemented by entrepreneurs, entertainers, educators or anyone who understands that our youth need validation and exposure to positive people or those who simply give a damn about them. 

Please take a look at our “Five Point Curriculum (CLICK HERE)” for a week-by-week listing of our program. There’s no funding for instructors this year, so anyone wishing to conduct classes or presentations, help transport students to business sites or simply want to assist as supportive aides, please send an email ( to arrange times suitable to your schedules.

I’ve posted a more detailed listing of our 2016 needs on our website (CLICK HERE) that breaks down our needs and the money we have to raise post-haste. Please take a look and share the link with your friends, neighbors, bosses or anyone who can help us help our youth and our hard hit communities. Contact me if you need this in letter form.

Recently, I made the conscious decision not to take our lack of funds personally. I can’t dictate the journey but this much I know: the Sweet Potato Project is the most rewarding, fulfilling yet most challenging endeavor of my life.  I have this awesome opportunity to interact with young people grappling with the poverty and challenges of my youth. I have the chance to tell them that "you have something special" and try to walk them to opportunity. Most important though, is that I have never been alone on this journey…not in the past and not now. You-my “Daves,” my friends and supporters-have my back.

Yeah, I’m a little bummed and a little nervous about the program this year but, despite the obstacles and hardships, I can cautiously say “we’re gonna do it anyway.”