Who's Afraid of Anthony Shahid?

He's a hero to some, a pain to others. Either way, he makes people very nervous.

Nance, former president of the St. Louis Board of Education and head of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, heard his mom's stories about young Anthony, and he's been watching the adult Shahid for 35 years. He swears the man is mellowing: "He started off as the shaky one that got people ticked off, and then the rest of us would go in after him and negotiate. But he's maturing into being a player; he's learning how to be a part of the process. You are more effective if you not only raise hell, but you can define what the hell is and how to deal with it." Nance was especially proud of Shahid during the University City calendar crisis because instead of taking it to the street, Shahid negotiated directly with the U. City mayor.

Miller says Shahid has always understood the difference between his own freewheeling role and the compromises those in established positions must make. "Many a time he's called and said, "Brother Oval, I want you to come to this [march, rally], but I understand if you can't." Usually Miller couldn't; he'd built an organization with credibility in the larger community, and he had relationships to protect. So he watched from his office, sometimes disagreeing with Shahid's rhetoric but envying him the chance to fight without inhibition.

"I believe Anthony does what everybody wants to do but is afraid to do," Miller says suddenly. "Anthony's a self-made man."

The observation taps into the fiercest part of Shahid, the part determined since childhood to be a black man, pure and strong, unaffected by white people, white power or white systems. That's the part of him that even people of gentler temperaments respect. That's also what's makes him a natural provocateur, shit-disturber and separatist. And when you strip away the rhetoric and hype, that's what remains to be reckoned with.

Late last month, defense attorneys Kessler and Diemer found themselves back at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, fighting for access to another client, who was in police custody on the eighth floor. Alleged gang member Larry Lewis had run a red light in a stolen car, causing a traffic accident that left him in critical condition.

This time, the lawyers called Shahid themselves.

He was there in fifteen minutes.

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