Dear Cherokee Street (A Love Letter)
Dear Cherokee Street,
Let's face it. We haven't always been the best of friends. Your current rise in popularity started when Sarah and I were still living in New York. Having become a bit tired of young, white professionals taking over my Brooklyn neighborhood, I was skeptical about moving back to a diverse St. Louis neighborhood that was becoming less so because of all the businesses run by Caucasian hipsters.
And still, I've dined in your restaurants every week. My wife has written huge chunks of her dissertation and played shows in your coffee shops. My family has had birthday dinners in your Mexican restaurants. I've been to support old professors and their art show openings in your galleries. I've paid money at potluck dinners to support up-and-coming social entrepreneur endeavors in your houses. I walk my dog, Pearl, down your sidewalks most days.
So after what happened today, I decided to go for a run. You're on my typical route and the dog hadn't been out all day. It was early evening. Cool. The light was perfect. The breeze brought the smell of Budweiser brewing into my face. We crossed Jefferson.
Whether I was imagining it or not, there seemed to be more people in Benton Park on a weekday evening than I'd ever seen before. People playing tennis. Twenty or so kids with their families, of all races, playing on the playground. Friends playing horseshoes. Families having picnics. Dads playing soccer with their kids. Old men fishing. Couples whispering to each other on benches.
Five blocks from the murders of a few hours ago.
It was almost as if nothing had happened.
I am of two minds about this, Cherokee Street. On one hand, the resilience of our South City people shone through. Senseless violence wasn't stopping us from being with each other in joy. Kids still needed to play. Families still needed a place to outside and love on each other.
On the other hand, all seemed too quickly forgotten. As I arrived where you intersect Jefferson, where I usually turn north to go home, I decided to continue to jog down your sidewalks, coming up on your new, "shovel-ready" LED streetlamps. Above the Rent-A-Center, a tattered, faded St. Louis flag waved in the evening breeze. Further west, five towers from news trucks broadcast the news that made it to friends from U. City to Texas. News men were laughing with each other, deciding where to go get dinner.
And then I ran right by it.
I knew exactly where it had all gone down. At one of those potlucks, I had financially supported an arts education startup that had once been stationed in your business incubator. I had gone to see a music show at 2720 with a friend a few weeks ago. But the sights of earlier today were gone.
Hispanic families were eating outside at your restaurants. Middle Eastern men were grabbing their to-go food. Young white folks were drinking at the Fortune Teller.
And I realized that South City will continue on. We won't pause our lives. There is something about sorrow that we've forgotten to sit with, to let our compassion watch over us and paralyze us for awhile, forcing us to say nothing more than, "Yes. Yes. I am here with you."
It is in remembering to carry our sorrow with us that we become who we could truly be. We take the sorrow, anger, fear, rage, and frustration, and we bring it with us into the next day. If we're lucky, it informs how we feel about those around us.
So, I'm sorry, Cherokee Street. Those pictures of a Muslim woman with blood on her clothes, pleading with the officer to tell her a different story than the one she knows is on his tongue...it rips my heart from my chest and forces me to hold it in my hands for a good look
I'd say it usually looks pretty rotten. I have a long way to go to make more room for others like I'm supposed to.
But today, Cherokee Street, it's filled with you.
Keep starting small businesses. Keep engaging your immigrant neighbors in how we can build our community together. Keep having the best Cinco de Mayo party in town. Keep being a place where we can be our really weird selves.
I love you. I miss those neighbors who were taken from us today.