Tag Archives: st. louis

Swimming Safely

24 Jun
The original handwritten caption to this photo: "Negroes at Fairground Swimming Pool."

The original handwritten caption to this photo: “Negroes at Fairground Swimming Pool.”

I grew up in North St. Louis County, Mo., specifically Jennings. Midway through high school, my district decided to (finally) open the pool that had been sitting dormant since the ’80s. We were ridiculously excited. The pool had closed because of lack of funding in the district. Don’t ask me where the sudden burst of cash came from. Jennings is still a pretty low rung on the ladder when it comes to getting money from state.

Jump back about 30-35 years, and you’ll still be in Missouri, but a few miles south in St. Louis City, where my parents grew up. Fun fact: my parents went to the same high school, are both one of at least six siblings (who all went to the same high school) and had never met each other until my father returned from the Vietnam War. Across the street from their high school is Fairground Park, which had a municipal pool.

Fairground Park’s swimming pool has a storied history. The pool was built on the grounds of the World’s Fair amphitheater. It was a ginormous pool, hosting up to 12,000 swimmers a day. It was the largest municipal pool in the country at one time. And it was only open to white people. In 1949, the year my father was born, the pool finally opened to black residents. That didn’t go over well and eventually lead to a riot.

Flash forward to present day and me still trying to get my sea legs back. I’ve thought a lot about this in the past week as I’ve watched a world grapple with the racism that is so inherant that there was actual debate about taking down a treasonous, racist emblem casting a shadow over a town recovering from tradgedy.

The pool I swim in each week has people from all walks of life. As with all workout routines, sweat cares nothing about your bank account. We are all large, small, tall, short, 1%, the rest us. There was a time in many Americans’ recent memory that the color of our skin would have kept us from enjoying our morning routines together. The hate that once would have kept us separated is the same hate that took nine lives a week ago today.

Charleston is Baltimore is New York is St. Louis. It is every city, every hamlet, every unincorporated part of the country. It is a cold bucket of water to the face that race relations may have improved, but haven’t done a complete 180. Symbols of hatred and oppression and tyranny can be washed away, burned or even shot into outer space. We can do our best to scrub the taint of these symbols away. But it’s not enough to push them aside and act like it never happened, especially to the people who can recall the events so vividly.

An honest, no-holds-barred conversation needs to happen between all races for there to be at least a modicum of understanding. Until then, we’ll continue to front like stowing away the symbols of hate in a broom closet will solve all of our problems.


Justice and Exhaustion

4 Dec
Scene from a New York protest across the street from Rockefeller Center.

Scene from a New York protest across the street from Rockefeller Center.

Editor’s note: This is an off-topic post, not about physical health and wellness, but about mental anguish and exhaustion from recent events.

This is difficult. Writing is my medium of expression, yet I find it hard to convey how I’m feeling right now. The best I can come up with is exhaustion.

It didn’t begin as exhaustion. It began as anger, then morphed into frustration. Now I am lulled into exhaustion. Since the summer I’ve been working very hard to stay physically fit. But I haven’t been emotionally ready for the events that have taken place since then. Eric Garner, Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley, all unarmed, have all died at the hands of the police.

To make those tragedies worse, the officers who killed three of them won’t face any charges (the officers who killed Rice and Gurley are still awaiting a grand jury decision).

The case that’s close to my heart is Mike Brown’s because it happened where I grew up. To see your neighborhood on the news, to hear reporters talk about West Florissant, to have to explain the anger and frustration that is happening in your community is an eye-opening experience. To watch the judicial system go through its process and still not work, over and over again, has been wearing me down.

Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “I’m sick and tire of being sick and tired.”

I am worn out from crying, protesting, donating, explaining and fearing for my people’s lives. More than that, I’m tired of people listening to us scream and not hearing the reasons why.

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Police Officers Association took issue with a handful of St. Louis Rams players who decided to show their support for members of the community by walking onto the field using the “hands-up, don’t-shoot” gesture, which has become synonymous with protesters standing in support of Mike Brown’s family. Instead of respecting these players’ First Amendment rights, the SLPOA issued a statement asking for an apology from the NFL and the Rams and also for those players to be disciplined.

The NFL, rightfully, declined. The players were showing their support for a community—my old home—that was hurting after a grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson. Peacefully expressing your frustration is not only legal, but it is a protected right. It is a right that the officers of the SLPOA are sworn to protect. The Rams are members of the community that the SLPOA has sworn to protect. And instead of protecting those rights, the organization sought to punish the players for taking advantage of those rights.

I thought a lot about this incident a lot the day it happened and throughout the week. What would make a sworn police officer think he has the right and duty to infringe on another person’s rights? How did we get to this point?

The answer is that I just don’t know. I don’t understand where we go from here. But wherever we go, it’s got to be somewhere better.

Last week during our Thanksgiving dinner, we all went around the room to say what we are thankful for. My 15-year-old cousin, whose father owns a business right up the street from where Mike Brown was shot, said she was thankful to have her family with her. We have a lot of young black men in my family right now, with majority ranging from 14 to 22. She looked at them, and with tears in her eyes, said, “It could have been anyone in this room.”

My exhaustion occasionally tips back into the realm of anger when I think about this. That this 15-year-old girl is scared for her family that way pisses me the fuck off. That those boys’ parents fear for their sons’ lives that way enrages me. That a grand jury can have video proof and an autopsy report showing an unarmed man’s death was a homicide and still not send the case to court makes me want to scream.

It is senseless. It is cruel. It is unjust. And, unfortunately, it is reality.

Forever an STL Girl

14 Aug
photo: The Associated Press

photo: The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This will be brief because it’s off topic. But I have to share.

One night, many, many moons ago, my boyfriend at the time was driving me home from night at the movies. My boyfriend had a Ford Taurus, which at the time was the isht car to have.

It was about 12, 12:30 in the morning when we were pulled over less than a mile from my house. The officer asked him to step outside the vehicle without asking for license and insurance. They talked for what seemed like 15 minutes, then I had to pass the insurance info out the window. When my boyfriend got back into the car, he was seething.

One thing you’ve got to know about this guy is that he was and is one of the most easygoing people you’d ever meet. Sure, he’s he’s an enormous human being, but it takes a lot to get him to grit his teeth in anger. The officer pulled us over not because he was driving recklessly, not because he was speeding, not even because of some citywide curfew for teenagers that didn’t exist. It was because my young, black, teenage boyfriend was driving near the speed limit. That’s right: boo had the audacity to drive 34 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone in a nice car.

I tell this story because this light form of police harassment happened almost 16 years ago less than two miles from where an 18 year old, not unlike my ex in stature, was killed by a police officer working in North County St. Louis.

Not all police officers choose to be antagonistic toward the black citizens of North County. But I grew up not far from where the turmoil from last weekend started. I know the anger and frustration that the people there feel. I still have family living in that community. My cousin owns a business in that community. And my heart breaks every day that I see new stories come out.

I’ve met some of the journalists covering this story, one of whom was arrested, and I commend them for going after what appear to be war-zone stories. I have to watch from afar, relying on MSNBC, Twitter and the occasional family phone call to keep me updated.

What I can tell you is North County is not Iraq nor Afghanistan nor the Ukraine. It is my home, and it is hurting. I want justice for Mike Brown. I want peace in the home that I love so much. And I want a resolution that causes no more pain to a grieving public.

I’ll leave you with a song that has been on heavy rotation on my iPhone since my cousin suggested it the other day. I hope it eases you as it did me.

A Taste of Home

28 Jul
Home of many tasty things.

Home of many tasty things.

Right now I’m in the middle of what I’m calling a three-city tour. It started with Chicago and hanging out with the Carters and a few of my Chi-town friends. Now I’m back in my hometown of St. Louis (STL, dog!) to visit friends and family before going to Boston for a conference.

Going on vacation means taking a break from your routine. My routine is work-gym-home. Sometimes it’s run-work-grocery store-home. It keeps me focused on maintaining my fitness level and not getting too distracted in a city full of distractions. Vacation throws all of that out of the window.

When I go to Chicago, I always get Garett Popcorn. I prefer the mix of caramel and cheddar popcorn, but others just like plain butter. Doesn’t matter because is good old corn sullied by sodium and corn syrup. And it’s delicious. An entire bag is probably my daily allotment of calories, but when I have it, I’m in heaven.

Next comes home. Let me explain to you a few things about St. Louis food: my dad makes the best smoked barbecue ever, you’ve never had good Chinese food until you’ve had it at ahometown hole in the wall, the best White Castle on the planet is smack dab in the middle of the hood, and no one makes a thin-crust pizza like Imo’s.

None of this is good for me: we coat our barbecue in sauce in St. Louis, filling ourselves with overprocessed tomato sauce; the Chinese food is full of MSG and sodium; and the White Castle is…White Castle.

I hadn’t been home in almost a year, so I have to get my fill of the good stuff while I’m here. But I’m going to have to work even harder to maintain some modicum of restraint around my hometown comfort foods.

I learned this lesson in Rio. We were eating all the wrong things and laying out on the beach everyday. One day we were out for lunch and found a spot with a salad bar. We thought we were in heaven. Leafy greens, tomatoes, beets, carrots, balsamic vinegar. It was like an angel chorus was singing to us as we filled our plates.

That’s what’s probably going to happen as I begin the third leg of my tour in Boston. I’ll have to cleanse myself with steamed vegetables, baked fish and snackable cashews. But in the meantime, I’ll have my running shoes with me. A lot of my folks back home have started working out again. I’ll be surrounded by people who are taking active care of their health, so I won’t be led too far astray.

Ten years ago, not many of us were taking good care of ourselves. Sure, there were a few who’d maintained their high-school athleticism. But a lot of us let our slovenly ways take over. I’m glad that I’ve stayed in contact with such hard-working people who want to do better for themselves.

If you live away from your hometown, what’s your go-to comfort food? How do you reconcile your desire for a taste of home with your need to maintain a healthy lifestyle?