"I have a housing agency," says Moore of the commission. "If there's any grants to be given it goes to them. That's who has exclusive rights to develop in this community, not anyone else."

Martin Luther King Boulevard, there's some violence going down."

But the reality is that MLK is still deeply troubled. Last week, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Sam Dotson announced he was designating the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood, in Boyd's 22nd Ward, as a violent crime "hot spot" because of the nine fatal shootings that have occurred there since January. Moore's ward encompasses Kingsway East, where a twenty-year-old was shot in the back with an assault rifle in early April, and Kingsway West, where an eleven-year-old girl was shot during a drive-by intended for her father. Neither crime has been solved.

But aldermen do have reason to be skeptical of outside groups, says Allen. Big promises are easily made in places like north city, and whether it's mega-bucks private developer Paul McKee or an out-and-out con man like Fredrick Douglas Scott, who once promised to revitalize East St. Louis' riverfront, these projects can take a very long time, create lots of controversy and, sometimes, lead to big disappointment.

As a postal-service worker, Melvin White spent years walking the troubled streets of north St. Louis city, including MLK.
As a postal-service worker, Melvin White spent years walking the troubled streets of north St. Louis city, including MLK.
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd says he has done everything he can to help the BSA, but he's skeptical of White's ambitious goals.
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd says he has done everything he can to help the BSA, but he's skeptical of White's ambitious goals.

"They would have to create jobs to succeed," Allen says of BSA. "He would need to focus on job development if he wants to sell housing units, and that's really tricky. Paul McKee is struggling with all the public subsidies known to man, and he's done this before."

White is clearly not popular with the aldermen [Ward 3 alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. angrily vented that White ought to run for office if he wants to do this work], who are the gatekeepers of community influence, city and state funding, and crucial to local cooperation. In late April, White claims there's been a breakthrough: He has managed to arrange a meeting with all six aldermen on May 20 to talk about making BSA's vision a reality. He mentions this repeatedly to nonprofits and potential partners. But when Riverfront Times asks the aldermen about it, they say they have no idea what White is talking about.

"I don't know what more Melvin wants of me," Boyd sighs. "I don't have any funding I can give him. I've done every possible thing that I can."

Moore, who also denies a meeting is set, says exasperatedly that he does not want anything to do with White.

"He can't just come in here and take parcels of land and begin to develop. Everyone wants to come in and save us, but the majority of the people in this community chose me to lead and bring back what we can bring back," says Moore. "Are we not competent or not capable of doing this on our own? Who is Melvin White? Who in the world is Melvin White?"

The grainy pre-digital footage is all shot from a moving car. One clip, called "MLK Street — Miami, FL," pans over a colorful mural of King and zooms out to capture a large empty lot bordering what looks like a crumbling housing development. Another video shot in Houston shows a barren section of a street that suddenly turns upscale, with large houses and well-kept lawns. Washington, D.C., whips by in yet another video called "MLK Street," its old brick buildings looking almost like St. Louis, if not for the healthy crush of people walking around.

These are all clips from White's YouTube channel. He began documenting the look and feel of Martin Luther King streets around the country in 2004. By then Rock's quip about MLK had entered the cultural cache, and the mockery intrigued White. He wanted to know for himself: Could every MLK Street really be falling apart like the one in St. Louis?

"I don't know what came over me," recalls White. "I could see what was happening here in St. Louis, but I wanted to see if it was like this everywhere, like everybody else was saying."

The declining north city of the 1980s served as the backdrop to White's childhood, though according to Maurie White, Melvin's 71-year-old mother, her son did catch the tail end of the neighborhood's heyday.

"We lived off Semple and Wabada, and he was eight or nine before we moved to north county," she says. "The neighborhood was stable then. Wellston was thriving, it was beautiful, and I remember we used to get up on Saturday and I'd get them dressed and we'd spend a whole day down in Wellston, just walk around. It was nice."

When he turned eighteen Maurie gave him a choice: college or military. He chose the latter and spent four years in the Air Force. He returned to St. Louis for good in 1991.

"That was a pivotal point in my life," says White. "When I got out of the military and came back was when the crack epidemic was at a high peak. A lot of my friends had got hooked on drugs, a couple of them had got killed, and you could just see the change in everything."

His mother joined the postal service in 1970, and he followed in her footsteps. He got hired full time in 1996, and actually carried mail in the neighborhoods around MLK for two years. But the job hardly fulfilled his life's ambition.

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