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Can a revamped strip mall in Dellwood make a difference for kids?

A former Democratic campaign manager is partnering with a Greendale resident to start a new non-profit in Ferguson called Communities in Unity.

Damion Trasada and Theresa Bradley say they want to buy an empty strip mall in the Ferguson area and recruit local businesses to locate there. They would then use the revenue from the shopping center to support youth development programs. The stores in the strip mall would also provide jobs for young people living in the area.

Bradley came up with the idea last year after the death of Michael Brown drew the eyes of the world to north St. Louis County, where she’s lived most of her life.

“We were basically trying to figure out what is the answer or the core issue and core problem (behind the unrest),” Bradley said. “And we believe that that core problem is lack of connection. So this is a way to connect individuals to their community and also build (an) economic base in the community so they have funding within their own community to be self-supportive and self-sustaining.”

Bradley and Trasada say are looking into buying Springwood Plaza in Dellwood, which they want to rename Unity Plaza. But they don’t have much funding yet and estimate that it will take a few years before they are ready to operate an entire shopping center.

“We’ve created a business plan … that kind of lays out the vision and the feasibility for Unity Plaza,” said Trasada, a former campaign manager for both Jay Nixon and Charlie Dooley.

Damion Trasada, right, gathers signs before the walk with his ten-year-old nephew Ahman Trasada.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Damion Trasada, right, gathers signs before the walk with his ten-year-old nephew Ahman Trasada.

As an intermediate step Communities in Unity plans to lease one building and open a resale shop. According to Trasada, the organization has also asked the business school at Washington University to take a look at their business plan.

“Our concept is strong,” Trasada added. “I think that no one can really argue that ownership is the first step to economic empowerment and it’s a necessary first step to any kind of social justice you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t really have funding, if you don’t have access to capital, access to resources, it’s really difficult to put yourself on an equal playing field politically, socially (or) educationally.”

In the meantime, Bradley has begun mentoring youth through a poetry club that meets at the Ferguson Library on Saturdays.

“When the unrest took place we wanted to give kids a positive outlet to express themselves, and what better way to do that than through writing and poetry?” said Bradley.

Eventually she wants to teach the teenagers involved in her program about the democratic process and introduce them to the mayor and local police.

When asked why they are starting their own program instead of connecting with existing initiatives such as the Urban League’s Save our Sons or Antonio French’s North Campus, Bradley said her program is more focused on creating jobs.

“What’s important is that the community actually has an economic base,” Bradley reiterated.

“If we have institutions that are generating revenue in our community and we’re not using that revenue to get rich personally but that revenue is going into social endeavors … the community has a place, a beacon of hope that they can look to,” Trasada explained.

On Saturday Communities in Unity held the first of three planned walks to raise awareness, and hopefully funding, for their plans. After hearing readings from some of the teenagers in the poetry program, the group walked to a nearby bank to make a symbolic first deposit.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.