There are those of us who opine about the state of our country’s inner cities.
There are those who blast politicians who try to address issues that impact these urban communities.
There are those who feel that if someone wants help, they should just help themselves.
There are those of us who have strong opinions about the blight that canvases our cities’ most dangerous neighborhoods, with the most poverty and the least opportunity. We share these strong opinions from the comfort of our suburban houses where we don’t really experience those things. We just have opinions about them.
“I wouldn’t drive through that neighborhood at night,” we say. “Kinda sketchy.”
And we certainly wouldn’t live in one.
Except for my buddy Lucas, that is.
If you go to Saint Louis, and ask people where the most dangerous neighborhood is, they’ll probably point east across the river. East Saint Louis is infamous for crime and poverty and all the rest of the stuff that such communities are infamous for. The second place they’re likely to point is north city. Formerly the home of middle class families in the middle of the century, the war and interstates and the rise of suburbs sent people scrambling for the hills. It’s complicated, of course, but they left behind them rundown buildings and little opportunity and sub par schools.
Who would move in after everyone else moved out?
My buddy Lucas, that’s who.
For nearly a decade now the Rouggly family has lived in north city, attracted like-minded folks to move in with them and starting an incredibly rich, meaningful, transformative nonprofit called LOVEtheLOU. They turn vacant lots into gardens and help people find employment and do community beautification and started a church and run an apartment building and do mentoring.
But mostly they just live there, loving their neighbors and getting their cars stolen and, importantly, not leaving. It takes a while to earn respect in communities like north Saint Louis. They’ve seen it all before. Dude from the county moves in, pledging to make a difference. Then someone steals the dude’s car and he can’t move out fast enough. The church doesn’t grow so people move on. A kid in the mentorship program gets arrested and the group gets discouraged.
On my buddy Lucas’ block, people know his name. He’s not the Great White Hope. He’s their neighbor. They look out for each other.
They’re making a difference.
There is a lot to critique out there. There are a lot of problems — and they are complex, frustrating, why-does-it-have-to-be-this-way kinds of problems. But what if we took all the energy that it takes to critique such things and we threw that same vigor behind efforts to support folks who are on the front lines, faithfully serving, and making good things happen.
This year, my buddy Lucas and his team have seen tremendous successes in their work:
- Over 10,000 hours of volunteer service
- 0 teenagers in the mentoring program died or were jailed
- 3 out of 3 seniors in their program graduated high school
- 25 out of 26 teenagers completed their summer program
- 5 employment pathways were created
And the list goes on.
My buddy Lucas doesn’t do it all. The team has grown over the years. But it started when he decided to run the opposite way that everyone else was running. He saw a problem and didn’t critique it, he created opportunities for redemption. He acted like Jesus. He and his family stuck around.
If you need to get frustrated, click on the same old links and read the same old “Most Dangerous Cities” lists. But if you want to make an impact, get behind my buddy Lucas and the wonderful people of LOVEtheLOU.
Thanks for giving.