Equipped with trash bags, rakes, grabber tools and brooms, volunteers set out from St. Alphonsus “Rock” Church to make Grand Boulevard look a little more grand.
Parishioners described it as one step in addressing numerous social concerns in the community.
The volunteer effort Sept. 12 was held in collaboration with Operation Clean Sweep, an annual event sponsored by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, along with area organizations, churches and corporations. The event included cleanup along a more than two-mile stretch of Grand Boulevard from the Rock Church to the historic Grand Avenue Water Tower, which received a new coat of paint. Several vacant buildings also were demolished as part of the cleanup.
St. Alphonsus parishioner Carol Henderson Powell, a member of the Social Action Committee which organized the kickoff event at the church, said the cleanup is just one part of other efforts regarding racial inequities that parishioners will be addressing. Other areas include law and order, economic justice and health care.
“We don’t just do this one day and stop at it,” she told volunteers. “It has to happen consistently in order to keep our beautiful Grand, grand, as a matter of fact.”
More than 100 students from Cardinal Ritter College Prep and John Burroughs School participated in the day of service, departing from the Rock Church, and heading north and just past Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church nearby in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.
Cardinal Ritter seniors Malachi Davis and Kristin Booker learned about the cleanup from their basketball coaches. “I would say it’s really part of our mission” at the school, said Davis. “Our mission is academic excellence, faith development and leadership. We want to go out into the community and take action. We are the future, so it ultimately falls on us to make change. We’ve got to get into the streets and do the work.”
Cardinal Ritter students met up at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Montgomery Street, an area that has a reputation for drugs and prostitution. James Clark with the Urban League, who grew up in the neighborhood, charged the students with cleaning up a vacant lot just across the street.
“This is ground zero,” said Clark, who left Better Family Life earlier this year to become Urban League’s vice president of public safety. “This is why we want you all to see it. At the same time you can get a
real sense of giving back.”
Pointing to Sts. Teresa and Bridget, Clark said he grew up in the parish and was married there. His parents’ funerals were there, and he said, “my funeral more than likely is going to be at that church. This area means a lot to me, but we want you to really get the gravity of what you’re doing and how you’re serving humanity right now when humanity needs to be served like never before.”
Cardinal Ritter freshman Tyson Moore said he came out because he wanted to make “Grand look better. We’ve got to start now before it’s too late.”
“We’ve got to make the community better for us and for the next generation,” said freshman Miquel Davis.
Freshman Hannah Wallace also learned about the service cleanup form her basketball coach. She observed a lot of trash along Grand, “but there’s a lot of good people who live here and deserve a good
environment to grow up in — and just live.” Regarding the vacant lot, she said, “it looks so much cleaner.”
Camille Scott swept the sidewalk just south of Grand and St. Louis Avenue. She owns a house just a few blocks away; her daughter, De’Lesia, is a senior at Cardinal Ritter. “For me, it’s emotional,” she said. “I have a financial obligation to the neighborhood because I own property here. My daughter cannot walk home from school. I worry about her some nights when I have to stay at work.”
Scott moved from St. Louis County to the city almost two years ago, drawn by the property values in north St. Louis. The neighbors immediately near her look out for one another and upkeep their properties, but she still has concerns about some of the nuisances along Grand. She regularly communicates those concerns with her local elected officials.
“It hurts the community,” she said. “People don’t want to buy, people don’t want to live in the community. Not everyone has my attitude and sees the beauty in it. I want to see this more,” she said of the cleanup, “but I know this is just a Band-Aid on a bigger problem.”
Gov. Mike Parson announced Sept. 9 a $1 million grant to the Urban League for the expansion of its Serving Our Streets Initiative, which addresses violent crime and improves community engagement. The initiative also includes other projects, including the annual Operation Clean Sweep.
Another Operation Clean Sweep event is scheduled for Oct. 17 along North Kingshighway and Martin Luther King Drive.