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Bring Back the Joy
By Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO, Beyond Housing
For the last year and half I have been writing and Beyond Housing has been sharing our bold and audacious push to once and for all invest in under-resourced communities to strengthen families and transform communities to make create a stronger, more equitable and prosperous St. Louis. I have shared a multitude of data points about the region and challenges we still face. I have shared all the investments and successes our organization has accomplished in the more than a decade of working in the 24:1 Community. I have implored anyone who will listen about the importance of supporting our efforts. In these many months of being focused on these large themes I forgot about one important aspect to our work that I was reminded of this weekend as we co-sponsored Blacktoberfest along with the inaugural 24:1 5k/1k walk and run.
This event in partnership with Black Brew Culture was a celebration of black-owned businesses from brewers to jewelry, clothes, food and much more. It was also the celebration of the 24:1 Community and all of its remarkable residents, leaders and businesses. The event was originally planned for 2020 but, like so much in our lives, was upended by Covid. The planning lasted for months like all events with many moving parts and many challenges. As the day drew near, there was some trepidation not knowing how this inaugural event would be received.
The weather gave us the first sign that this could be a really special day. It was simply perfect. A crisp, clear blue sky with bright sunshine all day long. It was slightly chilly when I arrived at 10 a.m. to help finish the set up that began the night before. The space looked fantastic with all the tents for the vendors (who were almost all entrepreneurs of color), the DJ stand and the VIP tent. The intentional green space looked fabulous (albeit a little too damp) and the intersection of Page and Ferguson showed the years of investment that has been made in providing what the community asked for. A movie theatre, a senior building, a bank, a food hall, a health facility and a strip mall enveloped the festival.
The remarkable team at Beyond Housing and our fantastic volunteers put the finishing touches on the space and the event began. People began arriving almost an hour before the stated 2 p.m. start time. From the onset people commented on how beautiful the day was and how excited they were for the event. More and more people came and walked along the sidewalks to see all the vendors and the upbeat, positive vibe of the day continued. I saw many longtime residents, leaders and friends. I met many people who I’ve either met briefly along my almost 30-year journey leading Beyond Housing and many others for the first time. Each and everyone had a certain buoyancy about them. I assume from a combination of perfect weather, great energy, great vendors, good music and food and a sense of the community holding this festival.
The day continued to the 5k/1k walk/run that was the race starter. Over 150 people signed up for the two races. For me and the other walkers, the notion of “race” was comical. I walked with Ms. Barbara Herrod, a 74-year-old and almost 60-year resident of our community. She participates in our Walking Club and just loves my staff person, Adeshia. We talked about her health, her home and her time spent in our footprint. She was thrilled with all the work we have completed in Pagedale. Confession: I was drinking a beer on the walk.
Ms. Herrod and I finished the 1k walk together as we brought up the rear of the walkers. We both smiled as we came to the finish line of the walk. I heard Ms. Herrod’s joy and pride of her community. We walked back to the event area and continued the evening.
As the sun began to set a new crowd joined as the early crowd slowly left our space. The sense of happiness and joy continued. The energy continued and the DJ’s continued to set a wonderful tone for the evening. Many people who came had other events they were either coming from or had to go to. They said they really wanted to be here. Almost everyone I talked to wanted to tell me how cool the event was and how thrilled they were to have it in this, in their community.
As we progressed into the end of the evening my staff all touched base with me and asked what did I think? I told them my positive sense of the success of the event with the most important piece being the sense of joy and happiness that I felt all throughout the day. They in turn told me the same.
As the night began coming to a close and the crowd started to thin, a young woman approached me. She asked if I had something to do with this event. I told her, “why yes I did!” She paused and began telling me how unbelievable it was that this event could happen in her community. She was so thrilled that, as a young black woman, she had the opportunity to attend this event in her community. She began to cry tears of joy and happiness. She asked if she could have a hug. Without responding, I embraced her warmly and said it was my pleasure, and that it is what this community deserves. She again thanked me and said how important this event was to her.
Everybody deserves to be happy. I understand that measuring joy is not a simple task but I also know joy can give you hope and hope can give you the energy to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances. Our work has to be interrelated and interdependent to achieve our desired outcome for those we serve — so that their hopes and dreams can come true. We will not stop all the multifaceted efforts that our community has asked for, but from this moment forward we will remember to try and bring in this kind of joy in everything we do. You have my word.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.