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Youth In Old North Organize To Fix Parks

Old North
Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Torn up nets, fading court lines, unkempt baseball fields, smashed slides, broken pavement, crumbling swing sets and a clogged sprinkler filled with trash and dead animals … these are just some of the problems facing a pair of parks in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis. Problems area children are campaigning to fix. 

The Youth Council of Old North held a meeting Tuesday evening to campaign for the city to fix Strodtman and Jackson parks. The council, which is made up of young men from the neighborhood, was established this fall.

At the meeting they shared personal testimony about the conditions of the park and why they’d like to see it fixed.

Asa White, 12, says kids in the neighborhood avoid the parks.

“They don't go to the park really," he said. “They will not do exercise and (they) stay in the house on the phones, games systems and stuff. And the reason why they don't want to go to the park because it's all messed up.”

Anthony Kilbert, 16, is the president of the Old North Youth Council. He said he’s witnessed kids getting hurt because of the poor condition of the parks.

“The equipment is smashed,” Kilber said. “Even the swings are run down. They break easily. I seen another kid swinging on there and he fell off. The chain broke.”

The youth group is gathering signatures for a petition they plan to send to City Parks Commissioner Dan Skillman. It requests that the city repair park equipment adding that the “children of Old North deserve places to play that are as nice as Forest Park.”

Christopher Potter, a community organizer with Metropolitan Congregations United helped establish the group. He says having poorly maintained parks sends a negative message to kids.

“It teaches them that they don't have control over their own neighborhoods, “ he said. “And that they don't have a say. But they can have a say.”

Potter says one of the main goals of the council is for youth to learn about the power of community organizing.

He says that, for a lot of kids in the neighborhood, the parks are a hub for activity despite their poor conditions.

“But, playing in these conditions it’s undignified. It’s not fair and it teaches them that they are not going to be able to get what they need from the city,” Potter said. “I’m trying to teach them the opposite. That they can organize and have power.”

The  youth council will try to use that power, when they make their case to Skillman at a meeting scheduled for February.