What Does 'St. Louis Strong' Mean?

No one has ever asked us what St. Louis Strong means or why we chose the name that we did. Typically, 'Location Strong' is saved for natural disasters and deadly gun violence. So what leads us to invoke this serious name?

In the St. Louis region, once beautiful brick houses stand abandoned and dilapidated. Remaining residents struggle to find nutrition in food deserts. Under-resourced and ill-equipped first responders stumble to serve residents. Poor training results in weak and occasionally deadly responses. The data shows that those who strive onward must confront vast life expectancy gaps, staggering rates of infant mortality, stark rates of cancer, and higher rates of poverty.

Theoretically, when a tragedy like the above strikes the better angels of our humanity rise to the call and the community rallies together. In those trying moments race, politics, religion, class, gender, and sexuality all briefly fade into the background. They don't matter. What matters is protecting, serving, and unfettering as many of those who have been hurt, traumatized, and impacted. The cultural framework changes from us versus them, to us against it—namely death, chance, and hate.

Community members tend to stand with each other and lend a hand in situations like this—after all, they're in it together. Strangers walk together and lift each other up when one stumbles under the gravity of the situation. For a moment, it is silently understood that by lifting each other they are also raising themselves.

Some disasters rip through towns quickly. Other tragedies radiate for decades. In St. Louis, it has lasted for centuries. Perhaps that long stretch of time is why many fail to realize that we need to run to each other. The Greater St. Louis Community Foundation owns saintlouisstrong.org. We suspect they're saving it up for a 500-year flood; however, the dam has already broken.

The death toll is real and continues to grow. A bargain in 1820 led to a structural collapse in 1861, eventually killing 620,000. At least 39 lives were lost in 1917. Now life expectancy falls off by 36 years between Wildwood and Kinloch. Three years ago a young man laid cut-down in the street under the August heat. In 2011 another young man was crushed under the same pressures. Many others still go under and unreported.

Ignorance. Narcissism. Egoism. Bigotry. Greed. Hatred. Prejudice. Supremacy. Cynicism. Racism. Whatever you call it—just like natural disasters or gun violence—brings about death and strips us of our humanity. Yet, when everything is lost and all illusions about who we think we are and our place in the universe lay shattered at our feet, we recognize our common condition.

The disaster that has torn apart neighborhoods, cut lives short, and separated us from each other is a result of arrogance and indifference. The solution must arise from humility and compassion.

In a way, St. Louis Strong arose in response to gun violence. Yet, St. Louis Strong is named in response to the tragedy and impact of prolonged systemic racism, perpetuated by our borders and engrained in our policies. St. Louis Strong is the name of a cause formed in response to the tragedy of an unarmed teen having his life cut short. St. Louis Strong is the name of a cause that fights for a community where all feel protected fairly by the rule of law. St. Louis Strong is the name what we might become should we choose to identify ourselves in the eyes of our neighbors and not in the name of our high schools.

But in the end, St. Louis Strong is what you act to make it.

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