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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