Part of a year-long series, presented by The American and the Brown School at Washington University, on changing the narratives and outcomes of young black males in St. Louis.
Growing up, I was told St. Louis makes people tough. It was said people came from all over the country to St. Louis to gain street credit. Today, we have many young black males in St. Louis fleeing to other cities to escape the tragedy of St. Louis.
I spent most of my childhood in the Mark Twain neighborhood of North St. Louis. Mark Twain had both crime and drug issues. With that being known, many men and women tried their very best to keep young men like me far from trouble.
When I was 9 years of age, some friends and I were outside our home playing. There was a newly planted tree placed there by volunteers from Operation Brightside. We saw it and immediately began plotting to destroy it. While in the midst of destroying the tree, workers at the Creative Touch Beauty Salon came outside and stopped us. My friend ran, and I paused in my tracks. I was told to sweep the shop as punishment.
A few days later, I was invited back to be a part-time sweeper. The owner, Keith Jefferson, paid me. Keith constantly reminded me to take responsibility for my bad decisions and then let them go. He said, “Don't blame others or make excuses for yourself.” Once in a while I remind him of his impact.
Punishment for destroying someone else’s property had turned into a job. As a result, I did not have much time to destroy property. This experience made me take more pride in my community and to value my neighbors much more.
I intend to be a role model and good example for young men in my neighborhood. My deacon at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church is preparing me to always take a spiritual approach to the problems and issues we face and providing me with an unlimited source of strength. I seek to be part of the plan that will make St. Louis a fairer and more just community.
I serve as president of Young Voices with Action. We are a group of young people committed and dedicated to challenging each other to take leadership roles within our homes, churches, schools and communities. I am actively involved in various community activities and engagements that are steered toward uplifting, motivating, and inspiring young people.
For example, our Civics Ambassadors program promotes civic responsibility and develops leadership from a grassroots perspective. Classes begin January 2019; to enroll, visit www.youngvoiceswithaction.org.
Farrakhan Shegog serves as president of Young Voices with Action.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.