A loss of words. Something I rarely have. The last 24 hours or so has been a whirlwind. One of the people, places, and memories clashing. Moments of discovering, enlightenment, and exploration. I get asked a lot why I do what I do – walk into strangers houses in neighborhoods some won’t even enter. Today I can fully explain why.
My weekend wanderings led to St. Louis. Friends that are very close to me have told me I should write a book. One describing my life thus far. I frequently get told I’ve lived a lot of life for my age. Perhaps that’s true. My record for living the longest place is 8 years. That would be St. Louis. Stories friends have heard have surprised them.
Reality is what I discovered. As an almost 15-year-old girl, I was angry, upset, and miserable that my parents would make me leave my beloved home. This trip was my journey to the place I revered in my head. The reality was something different. Exploring my hometown as a grown woman and social worker, showed me the reality of St. Louis. The following is a photo journal into my past. Possibly what could be the start of a future book.
The reason we moved to St. Louis. My parents finished Bible College when I was 6 years old and we were sent to this church. They were two of many ministers within the church. We went to church 3- 4 times a week outside of Sunday. On Sunday, we went twice. As a child, I would spend Saturday mornings at church with other children while my parents went door-to-door knocking in every neighborhood to get people to church. I have many clashing memories of joy and sorrow within this church.
I was able to see the woman who used to take us children to the park every Saturday morning and buy us pizza for lunch some days. Memories of running through the halls of the church playing hide-and-seek filled my mind. Also, the memories of watching minister’s families trying to one-up the other in “Christian holiness and perfection” filled my mind. The sermon demonstrated once again that you would never be good enough for God and He will leave you because of you. However, I also remembered the wonderful people in my life who did love me and got to see several of them at church:) My visit ended abruptly outside when gunshots started sounding through the air in the early night hours. Similar to the abrupt ending of many friendships after many of my very close friends at church disappeared without a trace when I was a preteen.
These two pictures show the first places we lived in St. Louis. I have many fond memories of the first building. My parents closest friends lived in that building. Where the windows are is where we snuck and watched “What A Girl Wants” (Still one of my all-time favorite movies). Our families weren’t allowed to watch television as a part of my church and sometimes we would watch movies at this house. When we first moved, my parents and I lived with this couple and three children. It was so much fun!!!
I have memories of all four of us kids sleeping in the living room while the adults had the two bedrooms. You can imagine how exciting it felt to have that many other kids near my age in the house. The right picture shows that my parents ended up moving right down the block and we were still able to be close. I remember setting off fireworks one fourth of July in the street there and continually being on that street through many of my St. Louis years. These people and this area was a very fond memory.
Visiting Ames brought up some of my favorite memories of all. As a second grader, I was accepted into this public school that had a focus on visual performing arts. Throughout my four years there, I was able to take vocal music and art, as well as some piano classes. In my second grade class, we had a pet squirrel that we took care of. Third grade was with Mr. Leisure who was one of my all-time favorite teachers. He put me in the school spelling bee and also had me back to his class once every year through fifth-grade graduation as one of his favorite students (yes, I was a teacher’s pet lol).
Fourth grade was the time we had a roly poly farm in the classroom. Sometimes I would spend my recess playing with bugs. My best friend and teacher were both Jehovah Witness that year and I learned so much about their faith. Since we were nerds, my best friend and I would compare Bibles. Fifth grade was my favorite because I had the most AMAZING teacher of all.
Ms. Grossgloss was the class you wanted to be in. Once I was accepted into her class, she placed me in gifted classes, which had computers (a big deal during this time). I would get to do extra writing and every day we had a period of time where we simply sat and read books. She took me and some others to a state-wide Science competition at the St. Louis science center that year. The picture that says Butterfly garden shows the garden we used to tend to in her class every Friday. We learned all sorts of fun butterfly facts, as well as gardening. She was also the teacher in charge of recycling, so every week we got to take out all the school’s recycling.
Probably this time was the first sign I would be a social worker one day. A girl was on the school bus with me and she said she was new, so she had to go straight to the principal’s office. She said she was scared, so I volunteered my 10-year-old self to sit with her. Instead of class, I went to the office and sat with her. Needless, there was a call to my mom and my teacher freaking out when I didn’t show up for class. I received a lecture from my teacher on being a kid and showing up where I was supposed to.
This picture was perfectly timed. An apartment where I met little mice, saw neighbors throw beer bottles, watched a dumpster burn because kids had set it on fire, and had a friend from this street kidnapped elsewhere in town (she’s never been found). One of my favorite cousins died, accidentally hanging himself with a rope while playing horses back in Kentucky, while I lived here. My mom still has the letter he sent me promising to visit soon and buy me more candy. The dark is such a good depiction of the area because it appears only worse since I left.
However, the bright spots of this time were definitely the birth of my sister! This is when she came along and I was no longer the only kid. We had one of my mom’s best friends living across the street who had a daughter that my sister and I both adored. My mom’s friend was always super supportive of her and giving tons of parenting advice for a young mom.
You may not believe me but this is where I attended school for my middle school and freshman years of school. It was in the back of a church with a house above it. A quiet, little corner where we learned about Jesus and family. To be honest, I can’t say I learned as much about education here as I did about life. Here I had a little family. I used to be told to quit doing my homework because we worked at our own pace and I would fly through the books.
I would get to help tutor other kids and had many friends. We all hung out together at breaks and recesses. Had movies sometimes and went to Six Flags every year. My whole family was very involved with the school. My sister and I both attended it, as well as some friends from church. In order to get here when we only had one car, my mother would walk over a mile one way to get us to the school and then walk back home. The wintertime would find me on the city bus making the trek alone. It was worth it to go to this school, however. I got to see my old principal, old teacher, and their daughter as well as several others while visiting this past weekend:)
Possibly my favorite place we lived in St. Louis. It holds so many memories. My family had a very open door policy. My best friend would literally live in our house for a week at a time sometimes. And we would not even get sick of each other:) Kids from our church and school would come over just to hang out with my family or be babysat. For a while, a woman from church lived in the back bedroom and gave me an American girl doll she found one day.
We also had uninvited guests, however. Someone broke in and stole my cd player while we were at the library one day. Another time, a homeless man kept coming back to try and get more money from my dad. There would be the occasional night where the police helicopter lights would scan the backyard. I also knew that at the end of the block was where you could go and buy drugs. If you were a child in St. Louis, I don’t know how you couldn’t help but know how to get drugs.
One of the staples of the neighborhood was “Grandpa” Pat though. He is retired military and would walk for miles down the streets until he was tired. Every single holiday had him coming to our door with candy. He treated us like his grandkids and always reminded my sister and me that “we had great parents”. After we moved, up until I graduated from graduate school, Pat sent me money at the beginning of the school year to make sure I could get everything I needed. He still sends cards for every single holiday to me and my family.
One of the places that are always my favorite buildings in the world. This was my hideaway. We spent many days and hours waiting for my dad to come pick us up from here at the end of a school day. My family was notorious for checking out 40 books a week! This is the place where I discovered Dee Henderson and Karen Kingsbury.
We would go to see marionette shows, animal demonstrations, and craft days. One day my mom let us go for a henna tattoo day. She didn’t find out until afterward that they last for over a month. Watching her try to scrub it off made me laugh – she didn’t find it as funny!
What amazed me was what a hopeless place it felt like. I forgot that it’s the 2nd most dangerous city in the United States. There were signs everywhere saying “Black Lives Matter” and “We need to stop killing each other”. I heard gunshots and found myself constantly on high alert mode. My friend told me it was like a war zone two weeks ago with deserted streets, military tanks, and cop cars lining the roads. Every stoplight had blinking signs indicating high crime areas. I saw less than 50 people in downtown St. Louis on a Friday night. One of the things I love to do is find the hope in a place where there seems to be a little. These lovely people and places brought hope.
The first picture is a new friend. One I have gotten to know online for the last couple years as the founder/editor-in-chief of Tirzah Magazine. She has been an absolute joy and meeting her in person was AMAZING. Yelena was such a big influence in my faith walk. Also, a reminder that you can be exactly who you are called to be at a young age. There were no awkward hi’s when we met. Instead, it was an inspiring conversation with someone who felt so similar to me – including loving writing and caring for others while not being overly sentimental lol. She is a light for Jesus in the city.
In the middle picture is the St. Louis Dream Center. Matthew Barnett is a hero of mine and I was so excited to see a St. Louis version. Just in driving by, I saw men lined on the side of the building washing people’s cars. It was really cool to see a line of white men volunteering to wash cars in a predominantly African American part of town. In the midst of boarded houses and disarray, their steeple with the attached food pantry and volunteers beckoning, spoke hope to a community in need.
The last picture is my “sister from another mister”. We have called each other sisters for as long as we have known each other just almost. I moved a lot as a kid so I didn’t always get to have those outside of my family who was always present. She has always been around. Our parents met when we were babies living in Louisiana and Mississippi. We both ended up in St. Louis and spent as much time as we could together. She would spend day, after day, after day at my family’s home. There was a period of time where she even lived a block away from me.
We went to church together all the time soon so we were inseparable. I suppose we were a little strange in the fact that we spent hours sitting together reading books. Some days we would write poems together. Both of us have always been writers and readers. I am so proud of her for graduating last week with her criminal justice degree and being such an amazing momma to these two adorable children. She is going to do amazing things!
Before you judge a book by its cover, get to know it’s content. I get many comments on how young I look or people assume I am privileged by my race. Or they judge me based on my level of education now and the care I drive. The reality is a lot different. I grew up in a dangerous place where we didn’t always have a lot but what we had was enough.
Recently I saw Kevin Powell speak and he said two of the most important things to overcoming poverty is faith and family. I absolutely agree. Throughout all of my life, I have always had my two parents. More than that we’ve always had a community. My grandparents would give us cars when we didn’t know how my dad was going to get to work. Church people would give us food some days when we needed it. Our little private school lowered tuition in exchange for my mom volunteering. My “grandpa” helped pay for my school and encouraged my family.
Never let anybody tell you what you are incapable of. Instead, show them what you are capable of. Show others what they are capable of. Love others. You never know who you could help or where they can go. It still amazes me where God has taken me. Before I couldn’t see beyond the small radius I inhabited in St. Louis. Now God has blessed me to minister to others in foreign countries. As well as given me an amazing church full of friends and “family” who love me. Gave me a job where I get to help other people overcome poverty and raise kids. Be a “light in the darkness” for those around you.