Martin Luther King Legacy Dinner: Community and Collaboration

Good morning!

We are very proud to announce that we held our first annual Martin Luther King Legacy Dinner on Friday, September 9th at the Omega Center in Beloved Streets of America’s home city of St. Louis. We took the time to eat, drink, be merry, and celebrate not only our accomplishments, but those of our fellow St. Louis activists. We honored six of them with Martin Luther King Legacy Awards for their outstanding community service. They are as follows.

Julia Tibbs-Abernathy, St. Louis YouthBuild

For the past 35 years, Julia Tibbs-Abernathy has advocated for low-income communities through several organizations while developing and implementing programs that address their social, educational, and financial needs. Always passionate about empowering youth to achieve their dreams and leadership potential, she founded the St. Louis YouthBuild and AmeriCorps Chapters, which were featured on NBC’s Today Show as part of Al Roker’s “Lending a Hand” program. The Missouri Department of Transportation collaborated with St. Louis YouthBuild to train and employ hundreds of minorities, women, and disadvantaged individuals in a 3-year-long highway construction project.

However, Julia served the community long before YouthBuild. As the Executive Director of the Madison County Urban League, Julia advocated for the inclusion of minorities and women in local federally funded construction projects.  As a Housing Authority of St. Louis County Department Director, she developed training programs in which hundreds of public-housing residents earned credentials and gained their first jobs.

Singlehandedly, she developed and secured funding for summer camp programs and after school tutorials to keep children safe, further their academic proficiency, and prevent school dropout. She created sports leagues with local police departments in which officers served as coaches and mentors to curb juvenile delinquency and build trust between law enforcement and impoverished communities.

Julia holds a degree in Business Administration from St. Louis University with post graduate work in Public Policy Administration at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She and her programs have won numerous awards, including the 2007 YouthBuild Director of the Year Award, the Top Ladies of Distinction Award, and the St. Louis Construction Consumers Award.

Whether you live in the St. Louis area or not,  visit YouthBuild’s website to see how you can make a difference in your community. If your community does not yet have a YouthBuild, follow in Julia’s footsteps and start one:

Sylvester Brown Jr., Sweet Potato Project

Through his writing, speaking, and organizing, Sylvester Brown Jr. has been fighting to bring community back to community for 29 years. In 1987, he assembled and published Take Five Magazine, the award-winning black culture and investigative journal. It exposed several police brutality cases, offered fank critiques of the American political system’s treatment of minorities, and provided an outlet for hundreds of black voices before it’s close in 2003. As a consultant and contributor for SMILEYBOOKS, Sylvester wrote and assisted in the publication for several projects illuminating problems facing the African diaspora, including Brainwashed: Challenging The Myth of Black Inferiority, Too Important to Fail, and “R.I.P. Lee ‘The Rose Man’ Nixon.”

Sylvester’s illustrious writing career won him the 2005 Terry Hughes Writing Award from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild and several awards from the St. Louis Association of Black Journalists while writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Through a collaboration with the North Area Community Development Corporation and his other project, When We Dream Together, Sylvester founded and runs The Sweet Potato Project. The S.P.P. gains access to vacant lots and utilizes them to train at-risk youth in urban agriculture, marketing, branding, and entrepreneurship. He has in this way bolstered the North St. Louis economy while assisting in the career development of hundreds of impoverished youth and alleviating the urban food desert epidemic for four years.

Sylvester has been a guest on the Fox network’s the O’Reilly Factorand on Tavis Smiley, Al Franken, and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s syndicated radio programs. He was also featured in a July 2005 segment of ABC’s “Nightline” focusing on his community forum featuring comedian and philanthropist Dr. Bill Cosby.

You can read his blog at:

Lynne Jackson (left), Dred Scott Heritage Foundation

All of our honorees hold a deep desire to serve and uplift communities, but Lynne M. Jackson has liberation in her blood. As the great-great granddaughter of Dred Scott, Lynne has spent her life educating and advocating for the acknowledgement and significance of the Dred Scott Decision and it’s effect on discrimination, segregation, and race relations all the way up into today’s fraught times.

“If you don’t know the past, you’re prone to repeat it,” she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.   “It’s OUR story – black, white, Hispanic, Native American, on and on – it’s our story. This was a linchpin in history. It was a pivotal time that changed the course of our nation.”

Among The Dred Scott Foundation’s purposes are to educate about the Dred Scott Case, expand educational opportunities, and establish scholarships for who those aspiring to study history, law, science, and math.

Lynne also acts as a board member on several other prominent organizations including the Association of Legal Administrators, the Administrative Management society, Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Network (president 3 of 10 years), and the St. Louis Artists Guild. Her community work has garnered her many honors, including the 2003 Community Service Award from the Community Women Against Hardship, the 2008 Social Justice Award from the Spiritual Learning Center, the 2011 Edwin Bubble Initiative Medal, and now our 2016 Community Service Award!

Malik & DeBorah Ahmed, Better Family Life, Inc.

Through founding and running Better Family Life, Inc., Deborah and Malik Ahmed have served and empowered St. Louis families since 1983. Their housing programs help hundreds of middle-to-low income families escape poverty by providing comprehensive homebuyers education and fostering opportunities for affordable housing. Their Workforce Development Program trains and places approximately 2,000 unemployed individuals a year. Last, but certainly not least, their community crime prevention outreach work has decreased crime in the North St. Louis area to it’s lowest rate in forty years.

A team is only as good as the sum of it’s parts, and the work Deborah and Malik have done as individuals serves as an unbreakable foundations for the work they do as a team.

Deborah, co-founder and Executive Director of BFL, has worked in performing arts and nonprofit arts management for over 26 years. In 1983, she founded Rhythms in Anoa Dance Theatre, a nationally renowned performing arts ensemble, and continues to serve as its Founding Artistic Director. This work led her to conceive and produce “BLACK DANCE–U.S.A.: A Celebration in Movement,” one of the longest, consecutively running African Diaspora dance festivals in the U.S. Additionally, she has performed and choreographed for St. Louis Black Repertory’s Dance Company, Afriky Lolo Afrikan Dance Company, St. Louis’ Cossan African Dance Company, Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre, the Izulu Dance Theatre and A Touch of Folklore, New York’s Forces of Nature Dance Company, and More.

After founding Better Family Life Inc. with her husband, she transformed the historic former Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School into the Better Family Life Cultural, Educational and Business Center.

Malik, CEO and co-founder of BFL, has led empowering community development initiatives throughout America and Africa for over 40 years. As early as the 1970s, Malik got involved in community development as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. He worked there three years, developing cost-effective sanitation programs for the capital city of Bamako.

In 2008’s housing crisis, he partnered with the city of St. Louis and several local community development executives to form the St. Louis Alliance for the Preservation of Homeownership.Through this alliance, Malik and the other CEO’s saved hundreds of people from eviction by providing foreclosure crisis intervention services and direct financial assistance.

For his community outreach work, he has received numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee’s  1990 Unity in Community Award, the 2003 Community Service Award from the Trumpet Foundation, a place on the St. Louis Business Journal’s list of “The 25 Most Influential Minority Business Leaders,” and, now, a Martin Luther King Legacy Award from us!

Check them out at

Pooki Lee, Transformation Team St. Louis

Pooki is the founder and director of the St. Louis Gateway to Agape Choir, the lead vocalist of Soul Massage, the owner of Hula House Concerts, and the assembling force behind Transformation Team St. Louis, a group of 20 leaders (B.S.A.’s Melvin White included) who pooled their collective energy and resources to gather over 1500 volunteers and beautify 2 miles of St. Louis’s Martin Luther King Drive.

But above all, she is, in her own words “a divine expression of unconditional love.” Through her art, leadership, and personhood, she has touched the hearts of millions. People who have worked with her in the past describe her as “an ambassador of peace and healing,” “a positive force of love,” and an inspiration.

If we were to write about her brilliance and love to completion, we would write an entire book and it still would not suffice because it wouldn’t be in her voice, so please check out her website and Transformation Team St. Louis’s homepage:

5 of the first Beloved Streets of America’s Martin Luther King Legacy Honorees

Pleasantly surprised, our honorees shared some words of thanks and encouragement, and enjoyed what Sylvester Brown Jr called “the real reward”: community, and the vital inspirations that occur inside the space of fellowship.

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Amidst all the merrymaking, honoring, and fellowship, the conclusion we reached together was our efforts are so much more effective when combined. In his acceptance speech, Sylvester Brown Jr. asked us to dream with him of revitalized MLK streets free of poverty (YouthBuild, Better Family Life) full of culture and history (Dred Scott Heritage Foundation), with economically empowered landowners growing their own produce and product (Sweet Potato). We did. We liked the dream so much we decided to help make it a reality.

Starting now, we will begin collaborating with local organizations like the ones mentioned above on several projects to better our community.

What kind of projects, you ask?

Why, projects like these:

Martin Luther King Legacy Park to be built at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Hamilton Avenue

The park was designed to educate kids about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, give community leaders a space to assemble, and bring pride back to the North St. Louis section of MLK Drive.

To get more information and/or donate, go to



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