"This kind of community work is time intensive," he says. "And sometimes that doesn't fit into the routine of sitting down and writing. You get less reward for going out and hanging out and trying to do things like change communities and more for publishing papers in journals."

This "publish or perish" paradigm, he argues, is why so many inner-city programs, particularly community-mobilization strategies, have failed in the past. Researchers, often underestimating the interconnectedness of the forces that cause urban blight, end up falling back on models that target a single "cause": crime or drugs or declining education or unemployment or gangs or limited health care. The result is a sort of Whac-a-Mole game.

"We target aspects of a huge problem," White says. "We put Band-Aids on cuts all over the place. There are all these programs right now designed to make a change in communities. And they're all doing the same thing. They're saying, 'Find the problem, and fix that one thing and we'll be OK.'"

"We have got to fight for peace in our neighborhoods. This time we've got to get our civil rights from each other. And when we do that, it's gon' change America. It's gon' change the world," says James Clark.
Jennifer Silverberg
"We have got to fight for peace in our neighborhoods. This time we've got to get our civil rights from each other. And when we do that, it's gon' change America. It's gon' change the world," says James Clark.
Unlike many other academics, Norm White immerses himself in the neighborhoods. He spends his free time cruising north city and county, stopping to talk to residents sitting on porches or walking down the street.
Jennifer Silverberg
Unlike many other academics, Norm White immerses himself in the neighborhoods. He spends his free time cruising north city and county, stopping to talk to residents sitting on porches or walking down the street.

White and Clark instead constructed the Neighborhood Alliance model to be dynamic, to address all the negative forces that plague a neighborhood.

It's a daunting task.

"I admire Norm for what they're trying to do," says Bursik. "But, goddamn, I mean, you're getting at the structural roots. That's not easy to shake."

But while the plan to saturate a community with resources and personal attention may be ambitious, it is not unique. The most promising parallel is the much-better-funded Harlem Children's Zone, created by Geoffrey Canada in the 1990s. While Canada's model centers on charter schools, he also developed a network of social services to address all the peripheral needs of the students, things like health clinics for families, violence-prevention initiatives and "Baby College" workshops for new parents.

Measuring the actual effect of any model can be tough. Since 2009, the crime rate has decreased by 36 percent in Hamilton Heights and 31 percent in Penrose, compared to 8 percent in St. Louis as a whole. But there are too many variables, and there's been too little research to definitively link these numbers to any particular initiative.

For instance, in the last few years Hamilton Heights has had a neighborhood-accountability board installed, a police command van added, the Department of Justice's community-based "Weed and Seed" program initiated, and, after police officer Norvelle Brown was shot and killed by a fifteen-year-old in 2007, the police increased their presence throughout the neighborhood. Were all these factors equally responsible? Or was one significantly more effective than the others?

Measuring the model's effectiveness, though, is White's next task. Before he and Clark expand Neighborhood Alliance, they want to fine-tune it. He's been gathering data. On some days, Clark's platoon hands out surveys in addition to fliers. The surveys ask residents what resources they need, what needs are being met and how they think the neighborhood can be improved. It won't be a band of outsiders dropping in and knocking on their doors. It'll be neighborhood guys like McClain and Robinson.

White and Clark hope for the model to be replicable in other cities. In 1982, social scientists posited that maintaining order in urban neighborhoods could prevent outbreaks of more serious crime — and the theory, known as Broken Windows, was used to set policy in numerous cities after its success in New York in the late '80s and early '90s. With poverty deepening across the Midwest and Rust Belt, St. Louis might offer a relevant laboratory for a new age: If you can fix St. Louis in 2011, you might be able to fix Cleveland and Detroit and Gary, too.

Of course, any assessment of Neighborhoods Alliance raises the question: How much of its effectiveness is tied to the model, and how much is tied to James Clark?

"You have to be able to replicate the model without the dynamic leader," says White. "It can't just be about personality. Because when that leader isn't there, what happens to your model?"


Looks like two or three hundred people are in line outside St. Louis Community College-Forest Park's theater. They're all here to get warrants cleared at Better Family Life's amnesty program. This year, Clark got 44 municipalities, including the city of St. Louis, to forgive outstanding misdemeanor warrants for those who participate in the program and then face their original charges in court.

This line may be the most telling sign of Clark and Better Family Life's credibility around St. Louis. Halfway up the concrete ramp, a man in a red polo tells the woman next to him that he couldn't believe he was about to get his four warrants forgiven. "Coulda swore this'd be a sting," he says with a chuckle.

But people know Clark. He's built a brand, and if Mr. Clark says your warrants will be cleared, you can believe him.

The auditorium fills up, and Clark takes the stage. Under his black suit jacket is a white T-shirt with "Put Down the Pistol" in large maroon letters.

"Lemme tell you how this whole amnesty thing started," he says to the crowd, as they scribble away filling out vouchers for the amnesty. "We would take in an individual. We would give them the necessary education. We would give them the necessary skills. We would help them get credentials. We would walk them through the oral interview, help them prepare for the written exam. We'd take them all the way to the point of getting a job. They would get hired. Monday would be their first day. Monday, they would meet their supervisor. He would take them to their cubicle, show them their desk, hand them their employee handbook. And he'd say, 'By Wednesday you need to have a clear police record check to human resources.' Tuesday would be their last day."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
38 comments
Alex3redromero
Alex3redromero

oh yeah! River Front Times, should have more articles like this every monthly issue and special reports..keep up the good work RFT

Alex Romero
Alex Romero

yeah I was told by a friend to read this compelling story of change in the st.louis area and community..it was worth my time thanks...keep up the good work of community outreach..hopefully this will and should catch on like wild fire

Martha
Martha

I am a student that transfered from L.A. valley community college to Saint louis University, i know that Los angeles has its problem with crime and poverty..but i believe like Dr. Norm White that our inner city neighborhoods need resources and more job readiness initiatives for the urban enviroment and people that see no hope...keep up the good work Dr. White and Clark...P.S. I pray that this project works and grow to every city west of the Arch until it reaches the gang capitol of the world Los Angeles and then the rest of America..

Margo Elrolas
Margo Elrolas

I really thought that this was a story that is very awsome because every inner city from new york to my home town of los angeles need a neighborhood alliance built from the gound up and not the top down to rebuild the united states inner city...good job mr,clark and better family life

Donte
Donte

Good Article...Like 2Pac said "they will see me in Hell before they see in Jail..peace in the streets

Luvator
Luvator

I really love how Mr. Clark and Mr. Bush always educate and inform young men every Saturday @ the BFL "put down the pistol" meetings..towards young black men Respecting women, even if they do not respect themselves.I heard them both say "a man is never violent or aggressive with women, a man is a father to his children, a man is a role model for all children. Also a good man respects the law, and knows this does not make him weak..I really agree that with a relationship with God a man is active in the building of his block and neighborhood. He sets an example, that others follow..We must teach this everyday to our boys and girls , to help them grow to become productive men and women in our community and families.we need basic morals and good personal ethicsand not AT RISK lil kids having lil kids,,babys raising babies...Keep up the Good Work BFL Outreach...Mr Bush and Mr clark

Luvatormarys
Luvatormarys

I really love how Mr. Clark and Mr. Bush always educate and inform young men every Saturday @ the BFL "put down the pistol" meetings..towards young black men Respecting women, even if they do not respect themselves.I heard them both say "a man is never violent or aggressive with women, a man is a father to his children, a man is a role model for all children. Also a good man respects the law, and knows this does not make him weak..I really agree that with a relationship with God a man is active in the building of his block and neighborhood. He sets an example, that others follow..We must teach this everyday to our boys and girls , to help them grow to become productive men and women in our community and families.we need basic morals and good personal ethicsand not AT RISK lil kids having lil kids,,babys raising babies...Keep up the Good Work BFL Outreach...Mr Bush and Mr clark

susieque2
susieque2

Talk to your kids like this when they're young: "One of the things you own from being born in the United States is a free education. You own it, it's yours.''Now if someone stole your lunch, your books, your Ipod, you'd be pssd. You'd be mad. You'd try to get even. You'd go looking for your stuff back. When you mess up your free education you're robbing yourself, and not even blinking about it. Even those kids on the street corner selling dope have to add and subtract, multiply and divide. The ones who can't are sort of slaves to ones who can.'When you say, 'No, I'm not gonna do well in school,' you're giving away money for the rest of your life. When you say, 'No, I'm not going to college' you're giving away money for the rest of your life. When you're a baby raising a baby, you're giving away money for the rest of your life. When you get caught with dope or become and addict like (fill in a real person's name here) you're giving away freedom for the rest of your life.' 'You're robbing yourself, and you're not even smart enough to be mad about it."Then, go to the bars, the dope houses, the churches and tell everyone, "You can have a house for $1." because that's what the LRA sells 'em for. Home ownership is where the poor community falls down for generations. Look at 203k loans. Look at HUD's programs to invest in 'blighted' communities. There's money there and people can have work working on rehabbing houses. They can own their own homes.

Ebony
Ebony

I remember Mr. Clark from the1990's....he came to speak to us at the Juvenile Center.....he has been helping people for a long time.....

St. Louis is in trouble.....there is too much violence.....we need to stand UP!!!

Ben W
Ben W

It's awesome to read an uplifting story about St. Louis, and the work of these two men.

CityFred
CityFred

James Clark should run for Mayor.......He would get my vote!I hope the City gets behind this program....

Advent Gabriel Rall
Advent Gabriel Rall

We have ah modern Martin Luther King among us..let us not wait until this hits ah higher stage to support and help this movement grow and catch on fire in every hood in America..the writer of this RFT article Albert Samaha, did ah great job of describing the fire in this Vision of "Put down the Pistol"... also big shout out to the photo shooter Ms. Silverberg...and the BFL family peace Fam,cuz,shorty-mane

NoBS
NoBS

So James Clark claims he wants to clean up St.Louis neighborhoods? Why did he and his wife then abandon a home and leave it to foreclosure, not only ensuring its vacancy for months but also driving down property values due to the foreclosure. He could have at least attempted to sell the property instead of just becoming another deadbeat because it was more convenient for him. This is a role model and a neighborhood improver? Gimme a break.

Donte
Donte

yeah u sound like ah little grown as Dude

guest
guest

talk about missing the bigger picture

anton
anton

Nobody is perfect. Forelosing on a home does not make James Clark a deadbeat. He is still considered a great guy doing a good cause.Celebrities and athletes have foreclosed on their homes, too.To name a few, but popular ones: Michael Jackson on his Neverland was auctioned.Latrell Spreewell, Jose Canseco, Micahel Vick, as well.Good job, James Clark and Norman White!

Larryjohnson2
Larryjohnson2

NoBs, I agree that leaving a house was a bad thing to do. But, the man's car was shot up....his home was broken into, burgular alarm wire cut. His wife said, to him, "I do not feel safe". For me, I would have done the same thing......also...the house sold, and he is still active in that neighborhood.....

The young men that he works with pledged to stand guard at his home, morning, noon, and night.....he told them that would not last long. He appreciated their love and pledged support, but he moved for his family....yet, he continues to serve the neighborhood

 
St. Louis Concert Tickets
Loading...