SOUTH ST. LOUIS • On a taped-up leather couch inside the 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center, a group of kids talked Saturday while adults listened.
Asked how they would improve their communities, the kids suggested starting groups to donate shoes, feed the homeless and get kids active in sports. Their ideas were as varied as the eclectic decorations surrounding them.
But how would they pay for these groups, adults wondered.
“Donald Trump,” a boy responded.
“Are you kidding me?” another boy asked. “He won’t help anyone.”
They agreed to ask Bill Gates instead.
Over a dozen kids met up Saturday to discuss issues in their communities as part of the group 28 to Life. Following a youth march through the streets of south St. Louis, organizer Bruce Franks led the summit with the help of various community leaders. The all-volunteer group was founded in March.
Franks, 31, donned sneakers, black-and-gold shorts and a “Rated Sicker Than Ur Average” T-shirt at Saturday’s event.
He spoke quietly while the kids circled around him.
Franks came up with the idea to form the organization at a summit to address violence. The group aims to solve issues of violence and promote dialogue in the community between kids and adult leaders, he said.
“We want their voices heard,” said Franks, talking over the kids to the adults seated behind. “Sometimes they’re not listened to.”
About once a month, the group meets, eats and speaks. Kids of various ages, some as old as 18, gather inside the performing arts center on Cherokee Street.
In between dialogue sessions, kids shoot pool, play old pianos, clack on rusted typewriters and marvel at the detailed re-creation of the “Star Wars” ice planet Hoth, which is affixed to a corner in the arts center.
Cara Spencer, a group advocate and alderman in the 20th Ward, said kids like the relaxed atmosphere of the meetings.
She said the sessions are informal ways for kids and community leaders to brainstorm solutions to local problems. To her knowledge, no other group like this exists in her ward.
She attended the first meeting and hopes to get the group more funding.
“I’m floored by the response to it,” she said.
At Saturday’s meeting, an FBI outreach agent, a couple of police officers and other leaders and activists showed up and offered guidance.
Even the media in attendance contributed to the discussion. During the get-to-know-the-group session, a photographer was asked to tell attendees what he enjoyed doing.
“I like rooting for the Boston Red Sox,” the photographer said.
The class booed. “Get that guy out of here,” a kid demanded.
Most of the attendees met at Gravois Park around 9 a.m. before walking a little less than a mile to 2720 Cherokee, accompanied by a police escort and a youth marching band. A neighbor marveled at they passed.
“It’s amazing to see the young people,” Perry Tucker said. “The city should do more of this.”
Police later cordoned off a block of Cherokee Street where the marchers stopped.
The morning sun reflected off their instruments as the kids banged and clanged, ratta-tat-tat, on the drums.