ST. LOUIS - It could have been any hip hop video, shot in black and white with a booming baseline, but the lyrics proved that not all rap glorifies gun violence.
“They think it’s okay, you put it down, we ain’t with that gun play,” went the rhyme.
It's urban storytelling with an anti-gun message. “We do a lot on gun violence because it is the main issue that the youth want to work on,” said Susan Colangelo, president of St. Louis Story Stitchers Artist Collective, a nonprofit based in University City. “We work collaboratively here, so we look at and listen to what’s happening in the community and we generate ideas.”
Story Stitchers provides a creative outlet for young artists ages 16 to 24. Ideas for Story Stitchers include dance, spoken word, hip hop, videography, photography, writing workshops and publishing.
“We help them get their voices out,” said Colangelo. “We do discussions with youth that are youth-led. We take that information and generate books, songs, plays. We are picking the city up. I think what we’re doing is community building.“
Story Stitchers member Antonio Clark is a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. “It’s a habit. I can’t stop dancing,” he said. “I love it and that’s why I do it.”
Clark, who enjoys dancing, joined Story Stitchers to be a role model.
“I like standing out, you know what I’m saying? You’re not gonna see me with guns or anything like that,” he said. “I just want the rest of my youth, the rest of my generation to understand that there’s no point in what they’re doing. I know a lot of people that lost their lives to violence, family members, friends, people that I knew from school.”
The message to drop the gun is personal for some of the Story Stitchers and that’s why many of the organization’s performances take place in the neighborhoods where members live. “We have been going into the neighborhoods where our youth live, so Walnut Park, Jeff Vander Lou, we’re going to the juvenile detention center.”
Story Stitchers goes beyond performances, organizing community forums like gun violence summits featuring stakeholders and experts from the community. It’s young people using their skills to be part of the solution.
“I can use my talent as a weapon for people to see that we can stop the gun violence,” said Mariyon McFadden, a member of Story Stitchers. “They may not listen to an older adult, but they might listen to me because I’m on the same level and same age as them.”
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