By Melvin White
Melvin White is the President and CEO of Beloved Streets of America. He is a graduate of Hazelwood East High School, a 4-year Veteran of the United States Air Force, EMT licensed, and 20-year United States Postal Service employee.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of Americas most storied African Americans. He won Nobel peace prize, organized some of America’s biggest protest marches, stood for diversity and is recognized worldwide for his model of civil disobedience.
Beloved Streets of America is a St. Louis-based 501c non-profit organization whose mission is to foster collaboration among individuals, groups, and organizations to generate resources to revitalize and conserve the streets that bear the honorable name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In our seven-year study of various MLK streets nationwide we found these streets to be crime-ridden, poverty stricken places where non blacks seldom travel. They typically lack any sustainable economic vitality. This is not fitting for a man who gave his life to uplifting humanity. It’s time for St. Louis and the nation to change the stigma that has been placed on these streets. We have money for Nike, Ralph Lauren, and baseball stadiums but little money for communities that surround streets that bear the MLK name.
As a child in the 1960’s, when MLK was named Easton, it was bustling with businesses, diversity, and jobs. It was a place where you would feel safe to take your kids to a movie on Saturday. JC Penney, Woolworths, and many mom and pop stores thrived. In 1972, as the street was declining, the name was changed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Fast forward to 2016. Now, there is nothing but vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and little economic vitality. We all have to ask ourselves: is this any way to honor Dr. King? Not only in St. Louis but this is mimicked on many of the 900 streets across America, Senegal, Israel, Zambia, France, and Australia named after Dr. King. Almost all are in predominantly African American communities.
It is hard to evaluate the truth in negative stereotypes, though one report suggests that residents of neighborhoods with MLK streets are $6,000 poorer than those without. It’s ironic that we have attached the name of the most famous civil rights leaders of our time to streets that speak to the pressing need to continue the progress of the civil rights movement.
The city has spent money on highways and tourist attractions that transfer wealth to the rich, demolishing African American neighborhoods in the process. The suburb of Ladue is 94% white with a median house hold income of $177,000. Seven miles away on MLK drive the community is 94% black, with a median income of only $22,500.
Beloved Streets of America is leading a very important National MLK Street Initiative. This calls for St. Louis to be a model for the nation to show what a MLK street should be by bringing jobs back, introducing the area to urban agriculture, solar energy, and black culture and history. The goal is to get rid of the negative stigma that has been placed on communities bearing Martin Luther King’s name.
We will start here in St. Louis and go from city to city redeveloping neighborhoods across the country surrounding MLK streets. We need everyone across the nation to contribute by donating resources to fix this problem and give Dr. King’s legacy the respect it deserves. Support the Beloved Streets of America and the National MLK Street Initiative.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.