Black History figures of St. Louis

Black History figures of St. Louis

This blog post was written in collaboration with volunteer Kendra Wilken, a student athlete at St. Louis University.

Black History Month in the United States is an annual celebration of the achievements by African Americans and to recognize the central role of black people in U.S. history. Since February is the time to celebrate history and contributions, we thought we would share the history of some great African American people of the Saint Louis Area! We have had many African Americans who have shaped Saint Louis to the city it is today.


Father Moses Dickson (1824-1901)


Father Dickson was an abolitionist and minister. In 1846 when he was 22, he organized the secret society called the Knights of Liberty in St. Louis.  This society was raised to a nationwide army to end slavery. Dickson’s Knights helped to deliver 70,000 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad and he later became the president of the Refugee Relief Board. The Refugee Relief Board sheltered almost 20,00 former slaves. The courage Father Dickson had during a time when African Americans were treated terribly paved a way for many slaves to live free and in return he saved and improved many people’s lives.

Today, the Father Dickson cemetery for colored people is on Sappington road just south of Oakland, St. Louis County. It was dedicated by the Knights of Tabor and Daughter of the Tabernacle, of which the late Father Moses Dickson was the founder. This dedication happened on August 30, 1903. Thousands of people attended this dedication from the city and the county because they were touched and knew Father Dickson as the great, brave man he was.



Mary Jean (Price) Walls (1932-)


Born during the time of segregation, Mary Price Walls knew the value of education and didn’t let racism stand in her way. As salutatorian of her high school, she earned a scholarship to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, which was an all black college. From a modest background, the financial burden of living away from home was too much, so she applied to the local college, now known as Missouri State University (MSU). She applied in 1950, making her the college’s first black applicant and 4 years ahead of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka.

Walls sent in her application to the school’s administrators, but received no response. They didn’t even pay her the respect to give a rejection. All she wanted was to be a teacher, but being ignored wasn’t an option, so she changed her desired coursework to a topic not yet offered at Lincoln and tried again. The college’s board discussed her application at length. However, despite the convincing application and that one of the administrators thought it would be beneficial for the school due to Mary’s intelligence, they denied her, an obviously qualified and impressive candidate. Mary started working various jobs to care for her ill father, and by the time the 1954 decision occurred, she was already married with kids to look after. The former salutatorian retired in 2009 from the Discovery Center in Springfield.

In 2010, she finally received a response from MSU, who technically never gave her a formal answer for her application. The school gave the 78 year old an honorary degree, and while this does not right their wrong, Mary does believe that it would have made her parents happy. Mary also now has an annex of the Multicultural Resource Center at MSU named after her where students of all backgrounds can now have a larger space to come together to foster community.


Jordan “Pop” Chambers (1897-1962)


Chambers was known as the father of black politics in St. Louis. He led many African American voters out of the Republican party and into the Democratic party in the 30s. His political philosophy was the beginning of the Black Power movement. He believed that African Americans needed to push for more than desegregation. He urged other African Americans to come together economically and politically, so St. Louis’ white power was challenged. This forced local government to take leaps toward helping African Americans.

Dealing with sickness in 1962, President Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both gave their sympathies to Chambers by wired communication. Thanks to his political philosophy, he was a big influence to the African American Community in the 30s. He gave a voice to the African Americans when their voice didn’t mean much at that time.  Today there is a park named after him in the city of St. Louis. It was dedicated for his great work as a prominent black civic leader and civil rights work.




All in all, these people changed St. Louis to improve the lives of others, both by direct action and by starting discussions leading to social change. Through this celebration, we recognize the struggles African Americans have faced and still face today.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Black History Month is a way to show that truth and unconditional love for the African Americans who have changed the history of both St. Louis and America.



Social Justice: A lifelong learning process

Social Justice: A lifelong learning process


My name is Cami Kasmerchak. I began working at Mission: St. Louis as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) in 2016 and was recently hired as the Beyond Jobs Operations Manager.  I did not know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I knew there was something about the Beyond Jobs programs that intrigued me. Their holistic approach to job training for men was something I did not see other organizations doing. This relational focus pointed beyond mere job training and ultimately to the possibility of life change.

As I started working at Mission: St. Louis, my thoughts teetered between excitement and nervousness. The issues St. Louis faces were not new to me because I had spent four years at Saint Louis University. My time there instilled a deep commitment to be a “woman for others,” but I was not sure what I had to offer as a new member of the Beyond Jobs team. I had considered myself a social justice-minded person, but I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. I still have a lot to learn. In fact, each day I realize that supporting, encouraging, and practicing social justice will be a lifelong learning process.

Since starting at Mission: St. Louis I have reflected on what it means to be a white woman working within a program primarily serving black men. After working with the Beyond Jobs team for a year and a half I still do not have a complete answer, but I consider that a good thing. Not having a complete answer acknowledges I must continue confronting my own unconscious biases as I move through this work. St. Louis has a long, tumultuous history of geographical segregation, economic exploitation, and racial inequity. Ignoring these factors as I step through Mission: St. Louis’ doors each day would undermine our mission “to empower people to transform their lives, families and neighborhoods” by ignoring the cumulative experiences of those we serve. In reflecting on my role with the Beyond Jobs team, I realize I must be more than just a well-intentioned white woman.

One way I try to be more than just a well-intentioned white woman is by admitting when I have made a mistake. One Monday night after job-training class I was going through the building preparing  to leave for the night and there was a student and Job Coach volunteer left at a table talking. As I poked my head out the back door I noticed there was a car still in the parking lot. Without thinking, I asked the white male volunteer if that was his car and would he mind moving it. However, it turned out to be the student’s car. At first glance this whole interaction might appear innocuous. Guessing the car’s owner incorrectly was not the issue. The problem was that I had not even considered the man in the Job & Leadership Training program might have been the owner of the car. Instead of asking, “whose car is parked in the back?” I had assumed it either belonged to the volunteer or a staff person still in the building. Even though unintentional, I had committed a microaggression and needed to admit my mistake. This instance was not the first or last microaggression I will ever commit, but I share this story as an example of the way I make mistakes. Uncovering unconscious biases inevitably involves failure, but learning from those mistakes is all part of the process.

Another way I try to be more than just a well-intentioned white woman is through education. This takes a variety of forms, but includes visiting museum exhibits, participating in diversity trainings, researching topics, and engaging in dialogue. Sometimes approaching a topic as big and complex as race and diversity can seem overwhelming, but as with anything else, you have to begin somewhere. Agreeing with everything in the way it was presented through the exhibits, trainings, research, and dialogue was not as important as exposing myself to different perspectives and experiences. Below is a short list of some of the things I have done and would recommend:

  • Visit the Missouri History Museum’s exhibit titled “#1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis” focused on St. Louis City’s role in the fight for racial justice. The exhibit is available until April 15, 2018 and admission is free. 
  • Attend a training by organizations working toward racial justice in St. Louis, such as the Diversity Awareness Partnership, the Anti-Defamation League, or the Anti-Racist Collective
  • Participate in a Witness Whiteness Group sponsored by the YWCA, which is a “facilitated group book study and dialogue for people who identify as white to learn about the construction of white identity and culture, white supremacy and privilege.” 
  • Support minority owned businesses. Some of my favorites are Northwest Coffee, SweetArt, Gobble Stop Smokehouse, Sweetie Pies and Teatopia.
  • Read books like Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”
  • Have conversations with family, friends, and co-workers about the state of race in the United States. Practice active listening and challenge assumptions made about groups of people.

Ultimately, I have learned that working for social justice has as much to do with working on myself and building an awareness of how I unconsciously perpetuate bias as it has to do with wanting to help others. I encourage anyone who has a heart for change in our city not only to donate resources and volunteer time, but also to learn about the history of St. Louis and the current lived experiences.   

2017 Top Ten Social Media Favorites

2017 Top Ten Social Media Favorites

2017 was a year of celebration for Mission: St. Louis

Let's take some time to remember the year and reflect on your favorite social media moments of the year! 

#10: JLT Mantra

Congratulations again to our Summer 2017 class of JLT Graduates. The JLT mantra is recited in every class throughout the eight weeks of Phase One. The mantra reminds them of their guiding principles as they journey through transforming their lives.

Graduates reciting the JLT mantra. We are so proud of our 15 graduates!

A post shared by Mission: St. Louis (@missionstlouis) on


#9: Beyond School Scholar at the Art Museum

Our Beyond School scholars at St. Louis Language Immersion School spent their incentive day at the St. Louis Art Museum! We love watching our students appreciate and celebrate art in various forms. This scholar took inspiration from this statue and recreated it herself. 


Mod Pizza in Maryland Heights donated 100% of their opening day proceeds to us!
We truly appreciate their support and who doesn't love pizza?

Check out more here.


#7: Jason Wins 2017 Young Leader Award

Jason Watson, Director of Beyond Jobs, was selected to receive the 2017 Young Leader Award from the St. Louis American Foundation! We are proud of Jason and his commitment to the community of St. Louis. Here's to more success in 2018, Jason! 

This was our biggest year of Affordable Christmas yet! We raised over $30,000 this year and were able to serve over 1000 kids in our community. It wouldn't be possible without the support from over 207 volunteers, local businesses and churches. We are already looking forward to an even bigger and better event year! 

Check out more photos from the event!

#5: Miss May's Porch

AMP groups fixed our neighbor's porch. These groups spend time learning more about poverty in St. Louis, while also learning the importance of building relationships between their group and their community (whether near or far). Thank you to all of our AMP teams who aren't afraid to get to work! Interested in coming an AMP trip this year? Visit here!

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#4: Quality of Life Award

We were honored to receive the Quality of Life award at the Mayor's Business Celebration Luncheon! We were on the list among other great organizations and businesses in our city making a change towards a better St. Louis.

#3: CBS St. Louis Features our New Building

CBS St. Louis interviewed Jason and Josh about our dreams for our new building. “We don’t want to just be a building that sits on the corner,” says Jason Watson, Beyond Jobs Director . “We want to be people that are integrated with the people that are already here in this community.”


#2: St. Louis Public Radio 

St. Louis Public Radio featured us and our new building on their show, St. Louis on the Air. Josh and Jason took Kelly on a tour through the 87,000 square foot building. Our new home, built in 1918, was originally a YMCA. Now, we are transforming it into a holistic workforce development pipeline. This story made their top 10 stories, too! Stay tuned for updates in 2018 about new building updates!

This year was our 10th Annual Night for the Town Gala. With over 500 guests joining us at Ballpark Village, it was an awesome night. Thanks to your generosity, we raised more than $312,000! Thank you for seeing the importance of investing in our city. Join us as we go all in for the next 10!

Thank you for every like, repost and share this year! We could not transform our community without your support.
Let's keep it going for 2018!

Our prayers for our city

Our prayers for our city

peace understanding dear hate.jpg

"Peace. Understanding.


Dear hate,'s gonna conquer all."

It’s no secret that our city has a deep rooted history of injustice and pain that continues to be written today. We see the pain and acknowledge we must play a role in the healing of our city. We asked members of The Journey church what their prayers are for our city. Over 200 cards were returned. We wanted to share some of our favorite ones.

This year, a majority of the prayers focused on the unrest our city has been experiencing. Even a month after the verdict announcement, it is still on everyone’s mind. Just as we need to find our role, the church also is figuring out their role. We know that God calls us to love our neighbors and we are all made in the image of Christ. We must learn to genuinely value one another and see the humanity of every person. We believe in the power of relationships to restore our city. Often these relationships are with people who do not look like ourselves. It’s important to reflect on our own relationships and make an effort to love our neighbors as God loves us.

“That people would be able to look at a person and their race would not be their distinction. That we in STL could be an example of overcoming old, flawed beliefs. We would all come together as brothers and sisters who love and help one another despite our differences.”

“That God would hear the cries of the brokenhearted people, that he would heal the the deep divisions in this city, that he would open the eyes, ears and hearts of those in power in the government to the injustice in the city and that they would be motivated to do something.”

“That we treat everyone with love. Love is a word that means so much. The Bible says ‘Love is patient. Love is kind.’ Those words power us to defeat hate. God did not create a special kind. He made a superb species that should love and take care of each other.”

“That people will listen to each other with humility and love and that people will remember that we are all made in the image of God.”

We all believe that St. Louis has the potential to serve as a model to other cities for racial reconciliation and justice. We see the strength and beauty of our city, now it's time to put in the work and effort to make it a place for everyone. All of us can commit to take action to improve our city. Use your gifts and passion to get involved, no matter how big or small.

  • Have a gift for writing? Write senators and members of congress to demand an end to discriminatory practices in law enforcement, the judiciary, education, and the media.

  • Love socializing? Start conversations with your family, friends and coworkers about ways to work towards justice.

  • Want to connect with others? Sign up to be a mentor in our Job and Leadership training program. Learn more about the program and opportunities here.

“St. Louis will encounter Christ and it will shake us and be the catalyst for change and restoration. May we have the courage to push through the lines of division so we can listen and understand. Please grant us the strength and wisdom for restoration.”

“That the systematic racism be completely removed, that people of color feel safe and valued...that we embrace diversity...that a child of color be given the same opportunity as white children.”

“The chains of generational sin are broken and the hearts of all are changed. That we (St. Louis) would become a model for the world for God’s power through racial reconciliation.”

It’s important to remember that prayers are necessary, but without action, nothing will truly change. How will YOU commit to making St. Louis a better place?