Jesus Children of STL

“Dreams and Aspirations” by Charly Palmer

“Dreams and Aspirations” by Charly Palmer

Written by Andrew Gibson (Freedom Arts & Education Center)

As I stood in Love Bank Park on a June Sunday for a community event hosted by the powerful Cherokee Street Reach team, Mama Cat approached me with the usual greeting: a warm hug, a “how you doing,” and a direction. She asked me to tell her of any places that sold really nice dresses for 11 year olds. This was because she was helping Jessica Bailey organize a funeral. The funeral was for Jessica’s 11 year old daughter Charnija who was shot and killed while playing in her home.

This last weekend brought the shooting deaths of three more children:
8 year old Jurnee Thompson was shot and killed while leaving a high school football game on the westside.
15 year old Sentonio Cox was shot and killed near the Carondelet neighborhood.
10 year old Nyla Banks was shot and killed downtown.

Princess Nyla is reportedly the 22nd child shot and killed in the St. Louis area in 2019.

So while our Board of Alderman President is high fiving stadium-building CEOs who have built their wealth on the prison system…
…while our Mayor cuts ribbons at coworking centers and ignores the cries of our unhoused community…
…while many residents celebrate the coming of an MLS team and debate the team name…
…mothers like Jessica Bailey are trying to scrape together enough cash to give their babies dignified, way-too-early funerals.

Our priorities are off. Our urgency is misplaced. Our children are being killed and communities further traumatized. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus said “whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” I’m not 100% sure what a millstone is, but I am quite familiar with those parental threats of the creative, subtle variety. So if I’m reading it correctly, Jesus is saying we’re better off quickly drowning than having to deal with him if we hurt these babies. 

St. Louis might be drowning. Lord, help us, because we - all of us - are causing the downfall of our children. These 22 children have all been shot and killed in the St. Louis area in 2019:

Justice Johnson, 18 years old
Malik Moore, 17 years old
Curtis Marshall, 15 years old

Kayden Johnson, 2 years old
Jaylon McKenzie, 14 years old
Kristina Curry, 15 years old
Jashon Johnson, 16 years old

Kennedi Powell, 3 years old

Charnija Keys, 11 years old
Myiesha Cannon, 16 years old

Michael Henderson, 15 years old
Derrel Williams, 15 years old

Omarion Coleman, 15 years old

RJ Dorsey, 16 years old

Davaun Winters, 17 years old
Eddie Hill, 10 years old
Ien Coleman, 14 years old

Xavier Usanga, 7 years old
Jason Eberhart, 16 years old

Jurnee Thompson, 8 years old

Sentonio Cox, 15 years old

Nyla Banks, 10 years old

A couple of years ago, the COO of a successful local business approached me with the idea of donating funds and labor to build a playground in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood where many of the young people I work with live. I shared with him how his funds could be better invested and why a playground might be a good idea in the future after some other goals are accomplished. About a year later, his company instead started investing monthly in the current programs serving those young people. He respected what I told him and shifted his investment. After all, he did come to me with generosity, compassion, and a desire to do something good.

I want to encourage you all - and myself, today - that positive change IS happening for our children. I am witnessing it take place every single day. But our babies are still dying. The positive impact could be increased if those Rex Sinquefield “reward” dollars were invested into these current efforts to PREVENT the issue rather than react to it in an unjust, foolish way. The positive impact could be increased if the millions of dollars from the Taylor family and their Enterprise empire were invested into our youth and our divested communities rather than the construction of another wonderful sports stadium. Are we seeking first the Kingdom, or are we building our own earthly empires? And who will even be here to inherent these empires and fill these stadiums? Our babies are dying.

Now, to the moderates and the apathetics, to the false narrative pushers, to the “it’s-not-my-kids” folks, to those who will tell us not to dwell on the negative, tell us not to complain so much, tell us not to “politicize” this issue, that we can “walk and chew gum at the same time” or that we are drawing parallels that don’t exist…
There are many possible and appropriate responses I could write to address each of those tired and foolish reactions, but I’ll save our time and simply point us to this call to action from Kayla Reed of Action St. Louis:

“Stopping violence in any form is a long game but if we don’t take the time to educate ourselves on how conditions got like this we won’t fix anything. There is a whole lot of huff and puff, from everyday folks, Black elected officials and more but words without action (offline action) are just words. Violence is an outcome of divestment and continued lack of resources. North city doesn’t have to look how it does but a long line of elected officials have allowed it be that way. When you combine lack of resources, divestment, concentrated poverty and divestment you get violence. This is not justification but if we don’t understand the context, we cannot find an appropriate solution.

Here are some action steps:

1. Demand from your elected leadership that CURE VIOLENCE be fully funded ($2 million). Call Lyda and ask if Rex can help with that since he is feeling generous.

2. Volunteer your time to an organization working directly on gun violence and the underlying issues that cause it. This is a marathon.

3. Donate to the orgs you see doing work because community trust is only built with consistency.

4. Tell your elected officials to do the work of learning about solutions that don’t rely on the criminalization of entire communities. Putting a cop on every corner won’t stop violence and calling in the national guard is actually just not a smart response.

5. See the dignity and fullness of our people even in the hardest moments. We are not animals. We are not inherently violent. We deserve opportunities to live and thrive.”

Maybe someday soon, building a playground will be the best idea. And the cousins and siblings and neighbors and classmates of these slain babies will be able to play on it safely and only worry about bruised shins, lost kickball games, and the zombie apocalypse. Their mothers will not worry about them being killed, exploited, or anything in between, but only that their home by curfew so they can get dinner while it’s hot. And these babies will get to grow up playing on nice playgrounds, eating nutritious meals, and attending well-resourced schools in their own neighborhoods. They’ll graduate and look ahead to their exciting futures, and mothers like Jessica Bailey will be asking where she can buy really nice graduation dresses because her baby Charnija is graduating this weekend!

We lament for these babies. We stand with their communities. We call the moderates and apathetics to WAKE UP and get this work. We reject evil and we continue to challenge our leaders. We fight the good fight, until that day that the Lord’s kingdom come and will be done in St. Louis as it is Heaven.

Listen to:

Jesus Children of America - Robert Glasper Experiment feat. Lalah Hathaway & Malcolm Jamal-Warner

Passages to meditate on:

Psalm 94:1-8 

Matthew 18:1-14 

Venneikia Williams