Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Justice No Peace

The Justice for Trayvon National Day of Action Vigils in 100 Cities
July 20, 2013
Downtown St. Louis

Hundreds gathered across from the Federal Court Building in St. Louis


The hope and the dream

Children's Artist Group performance

Recording history: "It's we're still in the 60s," she said.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Duchess, the Greatest of Danes

You never know who you’re going to run into when you roam the city of St. Louis. You certainly don’t expect to meet a 6-foot dog.

But this is Duchess the Great Dane, who is arguably the tallest dog in St. Louis. The five-year-old weighs 180 pounds and is 3-feet tall when she’s on all fours. But when she rears up on her hind legs, Duchess is 6-feet-4-inches tall! And that still doesn’t qualify her as the tallest dog in America. Another Great Dane named Zeus, who hails from Michigan, holds that record at 7-feet-tall.

Duchess is an astounding sight. She’s almost like a tourist attraction as runners, bikers, dog walkers and even park staff slow down or even stop to see if that’s really a dog. And Marty Connolly, Duchess’ owner, doesn’t mind a bit.

Marty, a 63-year-old retiree from South St. Louis, is glad to share the story of his rescue dog. Duchess is originally from California and came to this area with her family. But demanding jobs and a new baby didn’t leave Duchess much family time. So Marty stepped in. Marty had lost his first beloved Great Dane, Duke, recently and Duchess fit right in.

The gentle giant ambled happily along with Marty during one of her two daily walks in the park. When she stopped to say hello, she leaned into the stranger that was petting her. An instant connection. And when the stranger’s yappy dog tried to get her goat, a sniff and yawn was all the response her sweet soul had to share.  

“All I know is she loves people and other animals and her mission from God is to help others,” Marty said.

But Duchess’ new friend wasn’t so sure.The 15-pound little dog tried to get to know Duchess by sniffing her hind quarters. But all her little nose could reach was Duchess’ legs. They parted with a plan to meet again soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sleeping at the foot of the bed

Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see the thing that has been right there all the time. And even though Mama Love is 93-years-old, it took sleeping at the foot of the bed for her to see something that had always been there for the first time.

It was a cool spring night when Mama Love decided to change her sleeping position on a quest to soothe the tired bones that have served her body for the last nine decades. The next morning as the sun rose over the Metro East property her family owns, she delighted to see out of her window a blossoming tree in the distance. High above the green tree tops rose the tallest tree sprouting white spring flowers.

“Ha! Now I thought, I’ve been in this house for at least 70 years and I have never seen that tree,” Mama Love marveled when she relayed the story. “And all it took was sleeping at the foot of the bed. We might not like it, but we all need a little change now and then you know. You never know what you might discover.”

Mama Love knows about change. When she was born, women couldn’t vote. When she grew up in the Southern Illinois community just outside of St. Louis, black kids didn’t swim in the city pool or watch movies on the main floor of the local theater. Water hoses and balconies would have to do. And most kids in her community didn’t go to high school. But not Mama Love. She was one of the first African-American graduates of her integrated high school. Even though she knew a high school education wasn’t going to let her work at the phone company or local drug store like her classmates. A high school education was not going to save Mama Love from a lifetime of being “the help.” For more than six decades, she spent her life going to white people’s homes to cook their food, clean their homes and wash their clothes. Then she went home and did the same thing for her own family.  

But Mama Love has always been a believer of change. When her kids’ white friends asked her why her kids couldn’t go swimming, she decided to integrate the pools. When her educated and successful children grew up and weren’t allowed to live in certain parts of town, she used her connections to mobilize the community and sparked a fair housing movement. But the biggest legacy of change in her life is that despite the fact that she never took one college course, she made sure all three of her children got bachelors and masters degrees. Education paid for one dirty dish at a time.

Change, Mama Love says, is why she’s still here when so many of her friends are gone, when her beloved husband of 62 years has been gone for more than a decade and when all of her own children are now eligible to collect Social Security. Change has been what has kept her spirit fresh and her mind active.

“But you got to have an open mind to see things,” she’ll tell you. “Just like that tree. Been here all this time. It didn’t change. I did.”

Then she pointed to another tree closer to her house and closer to her heart. The tall, thick tree rose majestically as it sat at the foot of her backyard deck. Its roots planted firmly in the family homestead.

“Now this tree, it hasn’t always been here,” she explains. “The boys planted it when they were kids. Of course that had to be close to 60 years ago. And look at it now, it’s still here.”

And that is one thing the mother of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of five hopes will never change.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Day in Dutchtown

The colorful hijabs and elaborate hookahs displayed in the window entice Nasrulla Hazrat’s customers to come into his store, the Afghan International Market. Located on Grand near Chippewa, the grocery and housewares store sits in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis. But you don’t see too many of the community’s first residents, the Deutsch, or Germans as we know them, around anymore.

“Most of the people who come here are refugees,” said Hazrat, an Afghani national. “People who live around here or study English at the International Institute.”

The International Institute is steps away. Established in 1919, the nonprofit organization provides adjustment services to immigrants and is key to the development of St. Louis’ thriving immigrant population, which stands at 8 percent of the citizenry and includes the largest Bosnia population outside of Bosnia.

Dutchtown itself is home to a large Asian population that includes Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian. There are also people of Mexican heritage, and immigrants from Africa and India along with African-Americans and whites.

It’s a hodgepodge of humanity that is in your face. A tour of the neighborhood will uncover an Iranian grocer, a Vietnamese restaurant and an African clothing and hair braiding establishment. It’s not uncommon to see Arabic or Chinese lettering on store signs. And a woman wearing a burqua or a man in a Buddhist kasaya robe is just as normal to see as a kid with his underwear peaking out of a pair of baggy jeans.

Back in the Afghani International Market, a variety of languages fill the store as owner and customer negotiate prices. Hazrat says he speaks both Pashto, the Afghani national language, and Dari, a Persian dialect spoken by Afghanis. But today, he is speaking English to a Liberian customer, who barely speaks it herself. She wants a better price for a rug. Somehow, through gestures, eye rolls and smiles, she gets it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


The first time I practiced yoga was enchanting. The soft breeze from the Mississippi River tingled on my skin as I stretched my arms high above. Looking up to the sky, the sun warmed my face as it gleamed over the landmark St. Louis Arch. My newly-purchased yoga mat was lying on the freshly-cut grass of the national park. And I was positioned perfectly in front of our yogi, Maury. Surrounding him were a few dozen people who, like me, were taking advantage of the free lessons and the perfect weather.

The morning couldn’t have started better. I didn’t even think twice that I ran into my boss in traffic on the way downtown. It didn’t matter to me then where she was going as she abruptly, some might say rudely, cut in front of me on Tucker Blvd. But when I looked at my cell phone after the hour-long yoga session and saw the missed calls and voice mails, I realized that she must have been on her way to meet with the human resources representative at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The entire time I was guiding my body to be one with the universe, two people were spending that continuum of space trying to inform me that I no longer had a job.

So here I am, an unemployed journalist. I wrote more than 540 stories and took hundreds of photographs in the two years that I was employed by the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. I’ve also worked at the Belleville News-Democrat and several publications in my hometown of Detroit. I have been blessed to be paid to write. As it stands today, writing is no longer my profession. But it is still my art.

So in pursuit of that which feeds my soul -- my art -- I present to you Saint Louis Stories. My first Saint Louis Story was my own. But future Saint Louis Stories will be about the people and places that make up this richly cultural and diverse metropolis.