"I wasn't a part of the shooting, but they made me watch," he recalls, pointing to the spot where it happened. "They shot him right here."

Morris can see the patterns of his youth repeating themselves in today's north city. Walking down Aldine Avenue, a stronghold of the Bloods back in the day, he stops to watch a group of kids shoot hoops a few blocks away. Three teenagers lounge against the side of a red SUV, watching the game.

"What you see here are cousins trying to have fun and another group of kids watching out and selling dope. That's what's going on. That's the front," Morris says.

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

He used to work for a city-funded sex-education and STD-awareness program in 2006, where he used his old street connections to arrange gang truces and talent shows. But the funding dried up, and the program shut down in 2011. These are the kind of kids he would have tried to approach and get into the program, but those days are over now.

"That's what killed our community," says Morris. "All of those big brothers who were standing out, turning on the fire hydrants for us when it was too hot. They became lieutenants looking out on the block to make sure the money was coming in."


Jasmin Aber lays her palm atop the seven-inch-tall stack of ring-bound portfolios that she's just thumped onto the surface of a circular conference table in the Creative Exchange Lab in midtown. BSA's Derek Lauer sits to her right with a binder full of laminated printouts. Across the table in a dark sweater vest and button-down shirt, White stares at the glossy cover warily.

"This is the kind of thing we need to do," says Aber, a German-born architect who founded CEL, a nonprofit that supports community development through design and architecture, in 2010.

Aber and Lauer first met at a conference in 2004, and Lauer got BSA and CEL in touch after he agreed to help White design Legacy Park last year. Aber designed the luminescent sculpture on the side of Grand Center, the one that spells "ART." CEL has deep ties to development organizations in St. Louis, private and nonprofit alike, not to mention connections with institutions including Washington University, Harris-Stowe and Saint Louis University. With CEL on board, the BSA suddenly has a vetted, relationship-rich partner on its side.

Aber flips through a few pages with design sketches for an old proposal on the city riverfront. She's trying to teach White about the nitty-gritty of chasing serious funding and how to write a project proposal.

"This is the kind of thing we need to do for a section of the MLK, since these," she taps the top binder's cover, "are not as big as the MLK project we're talking about."

White slides one of the portfolios off the stack.

"And you need all these different proposals?" he asks.

She tells him yes — and that sometimes these types of proposals can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Damn," says White.

Lauer interjects: "You have to go through all this stuff up-front. In the traditional model, you have the city saying, 'We have money, and we're going to do this.' But this is a different situation. There is no client. There is no public project. There is no project!"

Although things seem to be moving in the right direction for Beloved Streets of America, what White really needs right now is a completed project. For all the promising meetings and commitments from other organizations, the only tangible progress White can point to is a list of vacant properties he bought from the city's Land Reutilization Authority, and the clothing and food giveaways. The amount of money White will need — potentially $200 million — sounds absurd.

At the same time, White is plagued by smaller problems, like the fact that BSA does not have a functioning toilet.

"I don't know how they did it," he fumes as he opens the door to the tiny ruined bathroom.

His dress shoes crunch on shattered porcelain, and he points at a ragged hole where his sink used to be. The toilet bowl is filled with grime. Someone broke in and ripped out all the pipes last August. It seems even the people he is trying to help are against him.

"I just don't know what happened," White continues. "There's no way to get in but from the front, so I don't know how they got in here to do it. These people," he shakes his head. "I just don't get it, man. I just don't get it."

More than a month after White's three-week deadline to break ground for the Legacy Park, the vacant lot across the street continues to fester. But he has not backed down from the promise to have something developed on the lot before the upcoming Legacy Walk in August. What he really wants — what he needs to begin making the kind of impact he envisions — is several million dollars.

"Do you know what I could do if I got the opportunity to get $7 million to this organization? Do you know what that could mean?" White says, giddy by the very idea. "Do you know the scope of what I could do to change this? Man. That's all I need, just a little bit of money, and I promise you, I will change this whole place."

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