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The 63106 Project Explores How A St. Louis ZIP Code Is Weathering The Pandemic

121820_providedbysubjects_MishaMarshall_RichardWeiss_LeylaFernKing.jpg Misha Marshall, Richard Weiss and Leyla Fern King are all part of the 63106 Project.
From left, Misha Marshall, Richard Weiss and Leyla Fern King.

The 63106 ZIP code houses some of St. Louis’ most vulnerable residents. Located just north of downtown, it includes the largely African American St. Louis neighborhoods of Old North, Carr Square, Columbus Square and Jeff VanDerLou. A Washington University study famously found an 18-year difference in the life expectancy of its residents compared to the largely white, affluent denizens of Clayton’s 63105 ZIP code.

Richard Weiss wasn’t content to keep the story in the realm of statistics. Throughout the pandemic, he’s led a team of freelance journalists as they delve deeply into the lives of 63106 residents. Sponsored by Weiss’ nonprofit racial equity storytelling collaborative Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson with support from the Pulitzer Center, the 63106 Project has published stories in publications from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Riverfront Times (and even, yes, St. Louis Public Radio).

The latest installment of the project features Misha Marshall, a medical technician who lives in the Columbus Square neighborhood with her elderly parents, sister and two children. Written by Leyla Fern King, it appears in both the Jewish Light and the St. Louis American.

As Marshall explained on St. Louis on the Air, the neighborhood has its challenges. But it’s home. “I haven't had many negative, if any negative, things to say at all about my part of 63106,” she said.

Marshall isn’t the only person profiled in the series who’s had that sense of pride. Other story subjects have chosen to stay in the neighborhood when it might be easier to leave.

Said Weiss: “I guess it goes against the stereotype a little bit. But because I've spent some years in the neighborhood with folks, you see there's a great bonding of neighbor to neighbor. There are a lot of problems. There are gangs and things like that. But the good folks that are there, they need to have each other's backs. And they do have each other's backs.”

Still, that feeling doesn’t ameliorate the way the deck is stacked against residents of north St. Louis, Weiss said.

“What we wanted to portray here is that if you live in Clayton, or you live in a more privileged area, you're not up against these kinds of issues that are, you know, really no fault of your own — access to health care, access to good schools. Just getting to a grocery store for fresh food can be a challenge,” he said. “We want people to realize that the people in these neighborhoods want the same things for their kids that everybody wants for their children and to have some empathy.”

For King, a senior at John Burroughs School in Ladue, working on the series as a journalist has been eye-opening. She said she’s struck by the different policing in her hometown of Chesterfield and north St. Louis.

“It’s something I think of a lot,” she said. “But I'm definitely thinking of it a lot more often, now that I'm working with Dick and Misha and writing stories for the project.”

Marshall’s life is incredibly busy, yet she not only agreed to be profiled by King, but has also signed on for some follow-up conversations with small groups by Zoom. She said she had a simple goal with her participation: “Just wanting to bring awareness [about] my neighborhood, my community, to let people know there are good people, hardworking people in this area. It's not just what we see in the media and on the news every day. There are some great people who want to make change in this neighborhood and bring it back to the way it used to be.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.