A new dream for MLK Drive
Beloved Streets of America continues work to improve streets named after civil rights icon
By Nicholas Elmes
A local nonprofit is continuing its fight see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of beloved communities become a reality on street named after the civil rights icon.
Beloved Streets of America began its journey in 2004 when founder and CEO Melvin White saw the growth of the Delmar Loop area and wondered why similar growth could not happen on St. Louis’s Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
“I said that is just a mile away,” White remembers. “Look at the difference. It just hit me from the heart. I just felt like Dr. King should be represented well on the street named for him.”
White started touring the country in his free time and soon learned that there were similar stories in other cities where roads named after King were in severely blighted areas.
“I found the majority of them were in the same condition as ours,” he said.
So White got started trying to do something about the issues, founding Beloved Streets of America in 2009.
The organization started to working with the community providing free “giveaway” days where they provided free food and clothing to those in need and starting plans for a centerpiece improvement which could garner national attention.
That centerpiece, a planned Legacy Park, would provide a public meeting area which would also serve to highlight the region’s rich African-American heritage.
“We have lost track of some really great people,” said White. “We want to honor them. We want the park to be a place where students can come and find out about our local African-American culture and history as well as the history of people in St. Louis. It could be a gathering place as well as a place to galvanize the community.”
The end goal to use the park to help spur cultural and economic development along Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
“We are working to bring businesses and jobs back to the community,” said White. “We also want to focus on arts, culture and history. Then we want to talk about entertainment and bringing in some nice restaurants.”
But White says that, as with most things in life, achieving his dream all boils down to being able to raise the money to make it a reality.
Estimates for construction of the Legacy Park range from $250,000 to $600,000, according to White, who said his organization is seeking funds through a variety of efforts.
“We have written over million and a half dollars’ worth of grant proposals and are waiting to hear back on them,” he said, noting that they have also raised some money through community meetings and marches. “We also have a fundraiser called the MLK $10 Challenge. We tried to piggyback of some of the other challenges like the ice bucket challenge. We challenged everyone across America to donate $10 and do a one minute video talking about what they would like to see their MLK street become and then challenge three other people to do the same.”
Videos from the challenge can be found at http://mlkchallenge.net.
White said that his organization is also working to improve access to food through an urban agriculture program.
“We got a grant through Wells Fargo to start that,” he said. “We have utilized hydroponics and are currently growing vegetables at a place in the Central West End. We are growing lettuce, tomatoes and basil and are contacting local stores that would be interested in purchasing from us.
“We want to focus on urban agriculture, we want to focus on education, we want to make the area secure, but all of those things cost money,” he said, noting that getting the Legacy Park built was a key priority as a proof of concept to make changes on MLK streets across the country a reality. “We would love for everybody to contribute in any way that they can. Get involved. Reach out to me and see the ways that we can help this initiative continue to grow.”
He said the group had most recently tried to re-spark interest in the project by posting “sharing the love” posts on its social media profiles throughout the first half of February, as well as hosting a Valentine’s Day card writing event with its new partners, the Moorehouse Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
“We can throw numbers out; we can publish the info right to the people’s faces but we would rather share the love that we have for these streets,” said White. “To make giving contagious, why not start with opening our own hearts and let others’ follow?”
For more information on Beloved Streets of America, or to make a donation, please visit belovedstreetsofamerica.org.
CUTLINE: Submitted photos The non-profit organization Beloved Streets of America is implementing a comprehensive plan to reverse the urban decline and decay of the communities and buildings surrounding the streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, like this one at 5901 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, and provide a positive environment for growth.
Beloved Streets of America founder and CEO Melvin White wants to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of beloved communities become a reality on street named after the civil rights icon.
This is an artistic rendering of Legacy Park, which would provide a public meeting area which would also serve to highlight the region’s rich African-American heritage.