Julia Abernathy is the Founder and Director of St. Louis YouthBuild. Julia’s earliest work in the community was with the urban League–first in PR, and later in the housing department.
“When I saw there was an opening in their housing department, I knew that was something I wanted to do, because I was always fixing up the house that I lived in, as a single mother raising 5 children.” Julia felt close to that work—she said she identified with people’s struggles.
In 1994, Julia founded St. Louis YouthBuild, an affiliate of YouthBuild USA. For the past 26 years, Julia has instituted dozens of programs to help people of all ages, including financial security classes, a high school equivalency program, and the titular youth building program wherein young people learn construction skills that they can take into their communities to help rehab houses.
St. Louis Place
Megan moved to St. Louis in 2005 and for her first eight years in St. Louis, Megan worked for banks. Many of her clientele were low-income, minority folks on social security, and her instructions were clear: get these people to open multiple checking accounts, multiple credit cards —push them further into debt, and in doing so, make more money for the bank. “I didn’t want to do that, and I was written up many times,” said Megan. “Eventually I thought, ‘I should not be working here. I should be working at a non-profit.’” Megan and her neighbors created the group Save Northside STL. That experience was the spark for Megan’s involvement in community work and led her down the path of being one of the founding members of Northside Neighbors United and Equitable STLSince then, Megan has graduated with associates and bachelor’s degrees, worked as a St. Louis ReCAST delegate, worked as a grant reviewer at Flourish, became president of the Gateway Elementary PTO, and was recently named to the board of the St. Louis Place, which she helped found in 2016.
Mary got her real estate license in 2002. She has worked for the IRS since 2005. But she started engaging with the Promise Zone community in 2014. Growing up in Normandy, Mary was always rooted in the Promise Zone.
In 2016, Mary picked up and moved across town to The Ville neighborhood, she committed to bolstering her new community by attending some meetings for an organization called The Ville Collaborative. The Ville Collaborative is a group of about 20 stakeholders in The Ville community—churches, businesses, nonprofits—who come together once a month and discuss upcoming activities for residents to get involved in. Next, Mary was being approached by community leaders to co-chair the collaborative. That first ask was the impetus for everything she is doing and will do for the Promise Zone, including Neighborhood Leadership Fellows.
Audrey lived in many communities in St. Louis City—moving from parish to parish and neighborhood to neighborhood—throughout her childhood with her siblings and her mother and into adulthood, Audrey had myriad opportunities to witness positive community living: neighbors sharing and caring. These experiences instilled in her the strong sense of advocacy that she carries with her today.
When Audrey bought her first house in the Covenant Blu Grand Center neighborhood (CBGC) in 2001, she saw a place that needed care, and a community of neighbors who were determined to care for it. Now, nearly 20 years later, 40 new homes have been built in the area.
In her campaign for positive development in her community, she became involved in the Urban League-sponsored block unit program and later saw the need to expand the network by establishing the CBGC Neighborhood Association. She is also in the midst of working with the Great Rivers Greenway Project and advocating for CBGC's inclusion in the revised North Area Plan.
Delesha grew up in the Academy neighborhood. Formerly a part of the Central West End, Academy is bordered on the South by Delmar and on the West and East by Union and Kingshighway.
In 2007 Delesha moved to Washington D.C. with her daughter. There she worked for a variety of nonprofit agencies, first on the client side as a receptionist, then on the policy side with an agency that advocated for affordable housing in the D.C. area. As a receptionist, her exposure to clients from all walks of life cemented in her the desire to continue down the path of giving that her grandmother had paved. In 2015, Delesha and her daughter moved back to St. Louis.
In St. Louis, Delesha started volunteering for the United Way in 2015 and in her newfound quest to work for the good of her hometown, Delesha began as a volunteer at the United Way, reviewing applications for allocations from various area nonprofits. In that capacity, she went on site visits to dozens of agencies and began to reconnect to her community. As she learned more about the United Way, too, she became determined to someday work there. Every time a position opened up, she applied, until three years ago she finally accepted a full-time position. Now she is part of a team that manages a private family foundation and works every day to get a seat at more tables in St. Louis.
Karen Greer's passion for business started when she was just 11 years old. "As a child, I worked with my mother at Frison’s Flea market as a vendor,” said Karen. “I got into business because I was inspired by my mom, wanted to control my own income and to make sure that I was available for my children when needed."
Karen opened her own small business, Angels Within CDS LLC. Angels Within CDS LLC is a Home Health Care Company that provides in-home services to individuals who qualify through Missouri Medicaid.
"Our mission is to promote a person’s ability to live independently in their homes," said Karen. "We work to help individuals meet their needs so that they can live in dignity and achieve their highest potential with greater freedom of choice through education and advocacy.”
Outside her professional work, Karen is also passionate and actively involved in serving the community in the 21st Ward and abroad. Karen has achieved many goals while working for herself and being actively involved in the community. In 2019 she was nominated and awarded the 21st Ward Business of the Year by Mayor Lyda Krewson.
Eltoreon Hawkins bought a piece of property in the Walnut Park Neighborhood in 2012, when he was a college student and father of one. The home cost him $1058 through the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).
El started attending board of alderman meetings for the 27th ward. Around that time, Eltoreon learned that the lot next to his home, which he had been caring for since he moved in, was a vacant lot still owned by the LRA. This realization, and his inclusion in city real estate circles, led to the genesis of the city’s Mow to Own program, and El became the first participant.
He joined the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO) Vacancy Committee. El helped to form an LRA sub-committee of the SLACO Vacancy Committee, through which he began putting on workshops called the “Finest 15,” where they picked the best 15 properties up for sale through the LRA, and encouraged local residents to purchase and rehab those properties. He joined the SLACO Executive Board, the Walnut Park West Neighborhood Association Executive Board, and The Vacancy Advisory Committee, but he recently resigned from all of those roles so he could focus on his family and himself, and think deeply about strategies for moving toward progress in the realm of vacancy.
Kristina Hazley has always been civic-minded, community-minded, concerned with helping others. That concern comes through most strongly in her work with the Urban League Federation of Block Units (FBU), an auxiliary of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis that was established in 1932 to bring a voice to the community of people within their blocks—to help them get information, to help them gather and make decisions about the needs of their block.
The Federation of Block Units has been described as “the oldest, most recognized neighborhood self-help group in the city of St. Louis.” Outside of her civic work, Kristina is constantly concerned with providing her support to the people in her life who need it. Professionally, she is a front office worker at Hazelwood High School and member of the Hazelwood Federation of School Related Personnel, American Federation of Teachers Local 6050, Support Staff Union for Hazelwood School District Clerical Employees, of which she has been President, Secretary and now Treasurer, and through which she acts as a representative of the interests of her peers with the school board.
Kyle is earning his master’s degree and is committed to working in schools and toward the equitable distribution of resources for years to come. This all began in the STLCC system, and later at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, Where Kyle began to get involved with on-campus diversity initiatives.
His first and most formative project was a district wide STLCC fundraiser for the youth of Ferguson called Breaking the Boundaries: Spring Break Bash, which he led and organized, and through which he helped raise $1000 for area children who had been impacted by the uprising.
As a member of STLCC Diversity and Inclusion Council and the UMSL Chancellor’s Cultural Diversity and Strategic Planning Councils, he became one of the most visible young local leaders. During Kyle’s NFL experience he was appointed to the St. Louis County Economic Rescue Team on the Community Development, Non-Profit & Alternative Lending Working Group
Like many young civic leaders in St. Louis, the impetus for Trevaughn Latimer’s interest in racial equity was the killing of Michael Brown in 2014.
Going into college in 2015, Trevaughn became immersed in issues of racial injustice. In the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs dept. at Loyola University Chicago, listening to other peoples’ stories and sharing his story, things started to become clearer.
Trevaughn graduated college and came back home to serve his hometown as a Lead for America Fellow, a program that connects recent college graduates back to their hometowns to work in local government and community development work.
Since his graduation, Trevaughn has become the Community and Municipal Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA at The St. Louis Promise Zone, a Forward through Ferguson Fellow, and the Chair of the Promise Zone Young Professionals Coalition. He has worked on community engagement efforts like the Promise Zone Library Box Program and development projects like the One West Florissant Redevelopment Project.
As the founder of GROW Spanish Lake and the Rustic Roots Sanctuary, Janett Lewis is constantly drawing from her eclectic past as she works for holistic healing in North County.
After cementing herself as a neighborhood leader and caretaker through her efforts with the garden, she joined the Spanish Lake Community Development Corporation, of which she was recently named the chair of the board. In that capacity, she is working to revitalize the area through redevelopment efforts such as the Bellefontaine corridor study and supporting the new Zoo expansion moving into the old pipefitters’ union in Spanish Lake.
Most recently, Janett founded and acquired non-profit status for a 7-acre sustainable urban farm called the Rustic Roots Sanctuary, of which she is the acting President. Though the sanctuary was just finding its footing when COVID came around, Janett is optimistic that she can use this time to develop programs to touch on all her passions—from sustainability to community development to youth engagement.
Catherine Morgan-Smith, President of the Academy/Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, has always been enamored with communities of people. It started in Pruitt-Igoe. Catherine was born in the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects but when it was demolished when she was five, she and her family moved to the Darst-Webbe projects.
Since Catherine stepped in as Academy Sherman Park Neighborhood Association president, the neighborhood association’s membership has gone from about five people attending the monthly meetings to 99 people attending a meeting just before COVID hit. Though she has only held the position for about a year, Catherine has already established relationships with surrounding neighborhoods, organizations and nonprofit agencies.
She has established committees for the neighborhood that cover projects ranging from beautification to safety and security. The social media committee has established social media pages, an Academy/Sherman Park website, and an active NextDoor page.
Shortly after Michael Brown, Jr’s. death “we started going to the predominantly African American church just down the street that was at the center of the protests. We walked into that church not knowing what to expect and just started listening to peoples’ stories....”
The pastor at the church had two primary themes: “Do life together” – join together in strong community – and “Hold Up Your Corner.”
The need to “Hold Up Your Corner” drove Alan to help revive PROUD (People Reaching out for Unity and Diversity). The Mission of PROUD is “to sponsor opportunities that will encourage Ferguson residents to work together to build a community of harmony and equity, within a diverse group of people.”
PROUD provides settings so the community can listen, learn, and engage and take the new understandings and personal relationships to build a better community. PROUD holds regularly scheduled Courageous Conversations on significant social, racial, and political issues. PROUD also sponsors panel discussions, workshops, and social gatherings to help bring our community together. PROUD strives to empower everyone to “Hold Up Their Corner” in their own turn.
Reverend Dawn Price
Reverend Dawn Price, founder and CEO of the Sophia Project, remembers the first workshop that she put on for teenage girls. In the early 2000s, when she was working as a youth pastor through the Regional Council of Churches, she was given a small grant to go into the community and design a program through which she could speak with minority teens about HIV. Through that initial experience, the Sophia Project was born—a non-profit organization that serves young women from 11 - 21 years of age by providing in-school programming about self-efficacy and self-worth.
Now approaching their tenth year serving the community, the Sophia Project, under “Miss Dawn’s” direction, has graduated one cohort of girls every year since 2015. Dawn is proud of the sustained success of her organization, not only because she gets to see her graduates blossom into successful young women, but also because she feels like she is providing them with a form of support that she needed—that every girl needs—as a teen.
Ebonie Reed, Esq.
After high school, Ebonie became a first-generation college student, and with hard work she graduated Magna Cum Laude.
After graduating college, Ebonie moved onto law school. She began her career in the private sector, and she is now a transactional lawyer doing pro-bono and non-profit work in the St. Louis region, which has allowed her to provide people in underserved communities with access to legal counsel—typically an expensive and unrealistic cost for people in a community with around a $30,000 median income.
Outside of her work, Ebonie is proud to mentor law students and young professionals who look like her, and to speak with young people in the Promise Zone about rising above society’s expectations of them.
Although she prefers to work behind-the-scenes most of the time, Ebonie does recognize how important it is for her to be a positive representative from her community— both Walnut Park, where she grew up, and her current home within the Promise Zone.
Rev. Dr. Paulette Sankofa
Rev. Dr. Paulette Sankofa has lived a full and extraordinary life, and she’s not nearly finished. Five years ago—when Paulette was 64 years old and had completed a Bachelor’s degree, two Master’s degrees, a Doctorate in Critical Pedagogy, and post-graduate research at three separate universities, including a fellowship at the Washington University School of Medicine while she was living in a nearby homeless shelter—after all that learning and searching, Paulette settled into what would become her newest passion and the culmination of her life’s work: PEACE Weaving Wholeness, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) in North St. Louis. By connecting adults ages 60+ with resources and programs it helps to reduce social isolation, and promotes ageing in place, Paulette says
“The idea is that it takes a lot of different components for a person to experience wholeness within themselves. Our mission is to help women and men heal and remain whole”
In 2014, Paulette went into her “graduate studies in the shelter,” traveling back and forth from a homeless shelter to the Wash. U. Med School, and conducting “The New Face of Homelessness,” a Community Research Fellows Training program project.
Shavanna Spratt is a certified doula, a member of the Community Leadership Cabinet at Flourish, and spokeswoman for mothers in the St. Louis Promise Zone. Her “passion for sticking up for moms and babies” arose from her personal struggles with pregnancy.
Through her battle with postpartum depression Shavanna found the Jamaa Birth Village—who she highly recommends for a lot of African American women.
“It helped me educate myself on childbirth. Through them I learned I’m not alone. I am supported, and I can speak up for myself. Growing up, I never felt empowered, I never felt like my voice mattered, so I never considered advocacy work. I never had anyone tell me ‘you can make decisions that are important and your opinion matters.’”
Shavanna wants to make sure no one in her community ever feels like that again. As she works with Flourish to bring more resources to the community, she also has some advice for all pregnant mothers: get a doula and watch the documentary “The Business of Being Born.”
O'Fallon- St. Louis City
Toni Stovall is working towards getting her MSW from the University of Missouri – St. Louis and working toward becoming a Financial social worker in order to teach people about budgeting and how to manage their money.
Toni’s other passion within her field is working with teen moms. Toni became pregnant with her son when she was 15 and gave birth at 16. She remembers feeling discouraged and outcast at that time, and she doesn’t want other young mothers to feel that way.
Toni’s compassionate heart may have, in part, been nurtured by her strong faith. She grew up going to the St. Louis Dream Center, a church and outreach center of Joyce Meyer Ministries near O’Fallon Park in the Promise Zone.
Quinton Ward is the young Executive Director of the St. Louis Metro Market, who graduated from Webster University with a degree in Graphic Design in 2018.
Quinton’s senior year of college, he became a Katherine Dunham fellow through the Art Education Counsel. It was here that Quinton developed a strong relationship with CRL. Quinton joined CRL’s Community Design Apprenticeship Program that same year and began work on the Mobility For All, By All project—a study on potentially designing an extension of the St. Louis MetroLink farther North and South.
Since then, he has done a little bit of everything. His first real opportunity in the civic sphere, at least professionally, was as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the St. Louis Zoo right after college.
He began volunteering for the St. Louis Metro Market—a former Metro bus turned mobile grocer that serves parts of the Promise Zone, including Spanish Lake—on and off a couple years ago. On February 3, 2020, he was named the Executive Director, and in that role too, he is applying his mind for design to the good work.
Walnut Park East
Sundy Whiteside helped found the Walnut Park East Neighborhood Association in 2015. In the beginning, Sundy and the other members decided that their top priority would be neighborhood cleanup, so they started a campaign called Keeping it Clean (KIC). The first KIC event was a rousing success.
Around that same time, Sundy started to get involved with the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO). In January 2016, when SLACO held its first Vacancy Committee meeting, Sundy became impassioned by the problem of vacancy, and suggested to the Walnut Park East Neighborhood Association that she, as the neighborhood association’s SLACO representative, switch over from a focus on cleanup to a focus on vacancy work with SLACO.
Later, Sundy and her colleagues at SLACO co-sponsored Proposition Neighborhood Stabilization (Prop NS), which would raise money to stabilize vacant properties in North St. Louis. After she earned her seat at that table, she was always careful about whose interests she was representing and whether she was doing so authentically.
Currently Sundy holds positions as Co-Chair of the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative and Board President of SLACO.
As the Youth Programs Coordinator at beyond Housing’s Pagedale Family Support Center, Alice Wilson is known as "Miss Alice."
After high school, Alice began volunteering with Beyond Housing’s after school program while she studied deaf communications and sign language interpretation at Florissant Valley Community College. Alice continued volunteering with Beyond After School until she was hired in 2010. She quickly rose from summer teacher to site assistant to Youth Programs Coordinator, and the trajectory of her life was changed forever.
Now in her tenth year as an employee with Beyond After School and over twenty serving in their after-school programs, including the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program Alongside her work with Beyond Housing, Alice now serves as an After School Ambassador with the Missouri After Schools Network.
Mike Woods owns multiple properties in St. Louis. He has published three books of poetry and one children’s book on making wise decisions. Through Connected St. Louis Michael has hosted nearly 30 events for black-owned brick and mortar businesses and generated 10s of thousands of dollars for their owners. And through Dream Builders 4 Equity (DB4E) he has given over 40 young St. Louisans employment, equity in real estate properties, and the opportunity to take ownership over their narratives, just as he did.
When they founded DB4E in 2016, Mike and co-founder Neal Richardson started by giving about 10 kids the opportunity to rehab vacant homes in North St. Louis. They paid the students $10/hour and gave them a portion of the profits when the home was sold, in the form of academic scholarships.
Since then, they have expanded their work to include an emphasis on storytelling and entrepreneurship. The youth have published three books and they host a book signing and poetry slam at the end of each DB4E term. They’ve also expanded their network to include more schools in the area, with one caveat—they always want to focus their work in St. Louis city, because Mike and Neal know those kids have a particular story, an important story.
Ted Gatlin, Jr.
Ted Gatlin Jr. had a mantra, “Your seat ain’t safe”. Pointed at publicly elected officials, Ted’s mantra served as a reminder of the very nature our democracy. “That’s not your seat; that’s the people’s seat,” he says, “and we allow you to be there.”
Ted started his own consulting firm, Unlimited results: Experiential Training and Development, through which he took speaking engagements and taught folks how to do the best possible job working with youth.
Ted also hosted his own podcast, Life on Wax with ted Jr., where he invited people who inspired him to talk about music, politics, and activism. Then he wrote his own Medium articles on every episode. Ted was a renaissance man―a multi-talented, inherently motivated millennial content creator, advocate, and activist with a long laundry list of projects―but echoing through all of his interests were those four words: “your seat ain’t safe.” Ted Gatlin Jr.’s mission was specific, as was his impact.
Ted passed away on July 12, 2020. He will be remembered throughout the St. Louis Promise Zone as one of the most dedicated, charismatic, and well-rounded leaders in the community.