St. Louis and the American Dream

For Al Jazeera English, I have a new article on my adopted city of St. Louis. An excerpt:

In St. Louis, you can buy a mansion for $275,000. It has twelve bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a three-bedroom carriage house, and is surrounded by vacant lots. It was built in the late 1800s, a few decades before the 1904 World’s Fair, when St. Louis was the pride of America. In 1904, everyone wanted to live in St. Louis.  A century later, the people who live here die faster.  A child born in Egypt, Iran, or Iraq will live longer than a child born in north St. Louis. Almost all the children born in north St. Louis are black.

In St. Louis, the museums are free. At the turn of the 20th century, the city built a pavilion. They drained the wetlands and made a lake and planted thousands of trees and created a park. They built fountains at the base of a hillside and surrounded it with promenades white and gleaming. Atop the hill is an art museum with an inscription cut in stone: “Dedicated to art and free to all.” On Sundays, children do art projects in a gallery of Max Beckmann paintings. Admission is free, materials are free, because in St. Louis art is for everyone.

In St. Louis, you can walk twenty minutes from the mansions to the projects. In one neighborhood, the kids from the mansions and the kids from public housing go to the same public school. On the walls of the school cafeteria are portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, to remind the children what leaders look like.

In St. Louis the murder rate is high and the mayor is named Slay but few think that is funny. In St. Louis things are cheap but life stays hard. In St. Louis, an African-American man with gold teeth and a hoodie and baggy jeans rushed toward me in a mall, because I was pushing a baby carriage, and he wanted to hold the door open for me.

Read the whole thing, The view from flyover country, on Al Jazeera English.

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2 Responses to St. Louis and the American Dream

  1. Darren O'Brien says:

    Sarah, I just read your story on Al Jazeera English. Thank you. I am a native St. Louisan and love my city, warts and all. I believe in the idea that things are what you make them. My children go to school in the much maligned Saint Louis Public schools and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our family’s schools aren’t typical, because they are magnet schools, but the diversity in class, race and ethnicity is amazing and rich and not what one might expect. This is exactly the kind of place that the remade America will have to come from.

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