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Cultivating a village to support young Black men and boys in St. Louis

LA Johnson

The “Kia Boyz” trend linked to hundreds of car thefts and break-ins in St. Louis is an ongoing headache for motorists and law enforcement. The St. Louis County Police Department says many of the thefts are being committed by juveniles — many of them young Black men and boys.

It should come as no surprise that the same demographic is also among the region’s most vulnerable. Falling rates of annual income, health and education outcomes, and rising numbers in incarceration are part of a bigger picture, said Sean Joe, founder and principal director of HomeGrown StL.

Sean Joe is the founder and Principal Director of HomeGrown StL
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Sean Joe is the founder and principal director of HomeGrown StL

HomeGrown StL found that the median annual income for Black males in St. Louis and St. Louis County has dropped from $35,000 in 1980 to $11,000 in 2019.

“Everyone's going to seek out the best ways to take care of themselves and families,” Joe said during Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We might not agree with all of it. And I don't agree with all of it. But when you see that sort of precipitous drop in economic opportunity, then you shouldn't be surprised that people are going to try to find a way.”

When it comes to the young Black boys who have been enticed by the clout and fast cash that have popularized the Kia Boyz, the solution is not as simple as getting them off the street.

Kaelan Mayfield, a former juvenile detention center activity aide, said that many of the juveniles he saw at the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center were the main breadwinners for their families.

Mayfield said, “Though a legal opportunity provides them a way of making money without the risk of jail time, it’s not nearly the amount of money they’re used to making … and honestly the amount of money they probably need to make to take care of their household.”

Mayfield said that job training and employment opportunities are important resources, but that the youth in juvenile detention have other needs that have to be met for them to avoid recidivism in the system.

“Honestly, they get back to the same thing because they don't have the resources that we provide for them inside [the juvenile detention center],” said Mayfield.

“One of my co-workers said, 'We pretty much clean them up just to throw them back in dirty water,’ and I feel like it’s a great analogy.”

To hear more about why young people may be drawn to the Kia Boyz, St. Louis’ capacity to support young Black men and boys, and HomeGrown StL’s way of building a network to build capacity for change, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher or click the play button below.

Cultivating a village to support young Black men and boys in St. Louis

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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."