Clark has given this exact speech at least 50 times over the course of the three-day amnesty program, each time with the energy and conviction of the first time. Amnesty is just like any other resource Clark and Better Family Life offer: bait to get people to listen to his message.

He talks about the importance of education and how it's not valued enough in inner-city neighborhoods: "One thing I know for sure is when we say you should go to college, we might as well say you should go to Saturn. Or you should go to Jupiter. Or you should go to Pluto. It's that distant. Fellas, this is how it works. It's either education...or incarceration. State pen...or Penn State."

The audience laughs. They have stopped scribbling. Every eye is on Clark.

"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.

"It's like our young people have a swing set, a seesaw and a sandbox. And that's all they have to play on.... And then we take 'em to a place called Six Flags. And they see the Screamin' Eagle, the water park, the roller coasters that take 'em to the sky and drop 'em down. They could eat turkey legs this big. They can ride ride after ride after ride after ride.... They will never go back to that sandbox ever again..."

Clark says he wants to introduce a living example of how education can open up new worlds. He calls McClain to the stage.

"This young brother, Kenneth McClain," he says, "when we first met him, two or three years ago, he had dreads down to here. His pants were sagging. He reeked of marijuana."

McClain grins bashfully, hands in his pockets.

"Now Kenneth is about to graduate from Forest Park Community College with an associate's degree."

After Clark finishes speaking, the crowd cheers. Over the three days, more than 34,000 people get vouchers and hear Clark speak.

In a seat near the front, Ahmed smiles and nods his head at Clark.

"It's always individuals that drive causes," he says. "And sometimes you have individuals that's got all of the ingredients. It's all there. They're wired to do exactly what they're doing. James is such a person."

Clark steps down from the stage and takes a seat toward the back of the auditorium, beside his wife of nine years, Pechaz, who works in the research department at Washington University and has been helping usher in the crowd today. They slouch into the red cushions, relaxing before the next wave.

"Boy, I'm tired," he says.

It's draining work. Just last year, in the span of a few months, Clark's car got shot up in front of his house in Penrose, somebody stole a copper spout from his property, and then somebody cut his alarm system and stole an aluminum door.

Clark's wife didn't feel safe, and for the first time in his life, "James Clark left the 'hood," as he says. They moved into a loft downtown and let the bank foreclose on their Penrose house. Clark couldn't afford to pay for two properties because trying to fix St. Louis isn't a lucrative business — he makes $48,000 a year. But that's fine. He has no biological kids and only two hobbies: lifting weights and political campaigning (he's worked on campaigns for Congressman William "Lacy" Clay Jr. and St. Louis county executive Charlie Dooley).

Beyond that, God and family, his life is all about the movement. Everything else is a useless distraction.

"Too many times, these young people, they've seen nothing else," he says. "So what they have, right in front of them, right outside their front door, is all that they experience. And if they ever go and experience something different, they're not going back to that. And that dynamic is really what keeps me doing what I am doing. Because to see that happen time after time after time after time..."

It is a perpetual struggle. Clark can tame the lions, but they still have to go back into the jungle. Last summer, McClain — one of Clark's biggest success stories and a foot soldier for three years — was robbed at gunpoint while passing out fliers along Natural Bridge Avenue. That night, McClain admits, he was overpowered by his old demons. He and an older gang member he used to run with hopped in a car and drove around, guns loaded, looking for the robbers.

They didn't find them. A week later he found out that the men had been arrested.

"That's God, you hear me?" says McClain. "'Cause I was gon' kill 'em. And now they're locked up."


One of Clark's soldiers has just gone to jail. Earlier in the week, "Fred" was hanging out with a friend who sold drugs. There was a drive-by. The police came. Everybody in his friend's house was arrested, and Fred was charged with intent to distribute.

Clark had warned him out about hanging out with that guy. The 25-year-old had turned his life around since meeting Clark and enrolled in community college. But Fred and the drug dealer go way back. Fred calls him his brother. He wasn't just going to stop kicking it with his boy.

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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

 
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