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Teens say they need more than expanded rec center hours to feel safe in St. Louis

St. Louisans Jeremiah Miller (left) and Justin Boyle
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louisans Jeremiah Miller, left, and Justin Boyle

When a shooting at an unsanctioned party at an empty office building in downtown St. Louis left 11 teens injured and one 17-year-old dead on June 18, outrage and calls for action to address youth violence followed.

In response, city leadership extended summer hours at two facilities — Wohl Recreation Center in north St. Louis and Dunn-Marquette Recreation Center in south St. Louis — to provide safe spaces for teens and young adults to socialize.

But what do youth think of these plans?

St. Louis on the Air sat down with two 19-year-olds — Justin Boyle and Jeremiah Miller — to hear their experiences and concerns around violence in the region, as well as their ideas for what leadership could do both to engage more young people and create safe spaces for them.

Boyle and Miller, both graduates of Metro Academic and Classical High School, have worried about becoming victims of violence.

“I am a Black male. I look like my peers. I hang around in similar areas where other Black men hang out, and these things follow us,” Boyle said. “Every Black man is walking around with that anxiety, that constant cloud over their head that violence could happen.”

Boyle said he frequented Wohl Recreation Center when he was younger but couldn’t see himself or other older teens hanging out there late on the weekends. Miller, as a young, queer, Black man, agreed.

“If you are queer and Black, [recreation centers are] a hostile environment to be in. And I know personally, as somebody who used to play basketball, and used to be around that,” Miller said. “If you had told me when I was 15, ‘Go to this rec center,’ I’d be like, ‘Are you crazy? They're gonna beat me up. I'm not doing that.'”

So, what do teens want to do? How should community and elected leadership engage with the region’s youth?

Boyle conceded that coming up with ideas on the fly is hard, but he said looking back at what was offered to generations before his was a good place to start.

“I've heard all the mythology of past St. Louis years where people growing up had teen clubs to go to,” Boyle said. Miller added that many of his peers enjoy simply dancing to music and being among members of their community.

“Does Mayor Jones go to the raves?” Miller asked. “Rave with me. Come on. I'll take you out. Let's go.”

For more on Justin Boyle’s and Jeremiah Miller’s ideas of where to invest energy and money to engage and protect youth in St. Louis, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

Teen St. Louisans share thoughts and ideas for engaging youth in violence prevention

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, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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