Last week my colleague Umar Lee and I spent some time in College Hill, known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in St. Louis, and talked to people about their lives. For the Guardian:
“We Googled the worst place in America to live, and St Louis came up,” says Johnel Langerston, the president of Urban Born, a nonprofit youth organization. “So we expanded our program to College Hill almost three years ago.”
Located in St Louis’s impoverished north side, the neighborhood of College Hill is known as the most dangerous in the city. Shootings and homicides are a regular occurrence. In a year that has seen homicides in St Louis rise nearly 60%, College Hill was declared a crime “hot spot”, prompting an influx of 80 extra police officers in February – most of whom have since departed.
In College Hill, houses without roofs or windows stand next to long-boarded businesses and churches. Piles of bricks lie on the sidewalks, sold by desperate residents for a small profit. Teddy bears lie in rows outside abandoned homes, marking the sites of slayings.
Ninety-two per cent of College Hill’s roughly 1,800 residents are black. But the people of College Hill are tired of being treated as statistics. As the murder rate climbs, residents are struggling to find ways to protect the neighborhood’s youth and create opportunity in a region left to rot.
“We’re surrounded by murders,” says Langerston. “We hear gunshots going off all the time. That’s normal here. The children of the people being murdered are in our program, so we deal with it a little more intimately than the average nonprofit.”