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Beacon blog: Ready for transformation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 13, 2010 - I'm a transplant. It was 1991 and the city was experiencing one of its highest murder rates in years.

I showed up as new college graduate ready to perform a year of volunteer work for a local community service agency. The housing they provided was on the site of a community center in the College Hill neighborhood near O'Fallon Park on the city's north side.

So, there I was ... a lone white guy in a predominately low-income, African-American neighborhood. My neighbors to the west of me looked out for me and treated me like family. Across the street was a textbook crack house straight from the movies. A car was set on fire one night at the corner. Another time a guy was shot using the pay phone. Almost every night there was gunfire -- sometimes off in the distance, other times right outside.

It ended up being a transformational experience -- for a lot of reasons.

For one, I accepted a job with the agency and ended up living there for 10 years; that's a fair amount of time to think about race, economics and the slow pace of improvement. Second, my work with children and families from that and other neighborhoods meant that people knew who I was. More than once that got me out of a jam. Third, I had a great dog that I walked every day in the park and those walks put me in touch with people, people who didn't mind asking me questions about what I was doing there.

And finally, I think I was ready for a transformational experience.

What I like about transformational experiences is that you come out feeling very different about the world around you. You see things differently, you understand things differently, you act differently.

What if we transformed how we receive, interpret and respond to the news? What if our definition of "news" was transformed? What if everyday people started informing what news was reported and had in hand in telling the story? Now that would be transformational.

I've only been with the Beacon for a few months, but I have already learned a lot about what the Beacon is, what it aspires to be and how all of this will transform journalism in St. Louis. What I have learned so far is exciting and makes me believe I'll be witnessing a transformation on a much broader scale.