North St. Louis reclaiming one corner at a time

ST. LOUIS - When we say the words north St. Louis, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Do you think bloodshed, violence, murder?

The New York Times recently ran a front page story looking at gun violence on the north side. It prompted a Clayton pediatrician to contact 5 on Your Side in hopes that we would look at some of the positive things taking place as well.

That pediatrician, Dr. Ryia Ross, is part of a group of local professionals teaming with people who live in north St. Louis with one goal: to reclaim the area, one corner at a time.

The first corner is located at Althone and Carter in the O'Fallon Park neighborhood of north St. Louis. The corner looks like any other is the area but here something unique has happened.

"One corner at a time, as Rabbi Susan Talve said. We will reclaim one corner at a time," said Ramona Williams, a former business development director and now proud great-grandmother.

There hasn't been a shooting near this corner in four years, and that is saying a lot.

"It was like the wild wild west. I would say it was very dangerous," explained Zuhdi Masri.

Masri owns Yeatman Market and has worked there for 32 years. He knows most of the young men who died near his store, but the young man who died in his arms in 2009 was the final blow.

"We swore it was going to be the last one around here," said Masri.

"Zuhdi organized and mobilized gang members, and basically called for a truce," said Williams.

Masri said it worked because he basically helped to raise the young men who lived and grew up around his store. Many of the gang members refer to him as Uncle Zuhdi.

What police and politicians couldn't do, Masri and Williams did. With the help of Reverend Otis Bryant, Rabbi Susan Talve, Imam Adil Imdad, and those who live near this corner, peace has come, they say.

"Every day I think of what I could do to make this neighborhood in North St. Louis a better place to live. I think about that every day," said Williams.

The peace came in large part because gang leaders agreed to listen to Masri and Williams.

"I used to pack a gun for my safety," said one member who identified himself as "Mr. D."

Like an estimated 60 percent of the men in this area, Mr. D is unemployed, but says he wants to work.

"I actually wanted to be a motivational speaker so where I come back into my community and to be able to better it in a different way and tell the children the streets ain't the only option that they have," he said.

And that takes us back to Williams, who started an organization called M-SLICE. Metro St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity, M-SLICE was founded in 2008. She's brought together those who live in the neighborhood with business leaders and professionals from outside, to help reclaim more street corners.

"I love the north side of St. Louis. There is a uniqueness about the north side of St. Louis that you won't find in any other area of the city. It's so indigenous of who we are as a people," said Williams.

M-SLICE is not a government funded project. In fact, everyone involved is a volunteer.

"It is just an honor to be able to express and to share a different side of who we are in the North side of St. Louis because we are fantastic people and we just want a good quality of life for our children, for our seniors, for us, just like everyone else," he said.


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