A City That is So Much More – East St. Louis, IL


Before going to East St. Louis, I had heard stories about how bad the city was and numerous warnings to stay far away from it. I was not too keen on believing it, because my hometown in Ohio is often seen in a similar light. I am from the “most dangerous city in Ohio,” Whitehall, a small city located within the city lines of Columbus. Growing up there, I was often told by the news and by other people that I was unsafe where I lived and that good people did not come from Whitehall. But I knew that wasn’t true, because I knew the people of my city. I had never once felt unsafe walking the streets to go to the store or the park. I was inclined to believe that East St. Louis was the same.

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Due to bad weather conditions, our trip was delayed in leaving. This made me nervous; what if this set a precedent for how the trip as a whole was going to go? My nerves were quickly quelled as we used the delay to learn more about East St. Louis. Our lovely coordinators, Maggie and Haylie, found an article for us to read about a grassroots initiative to bring a focus on the schools and help raise the standard for education in the city. The article was full of the East St. Louis community’s hope to get rid of the stigma surrounding the city.

When we did finally make it to the Hubbard House, the house in which we were staying, we were greeted by Diane, who runs the Hubbard House with Catholic Urban Programs. Diane showed to be very sweet and passionate. Throughout the week we all had a chance to talk to her more, from learning about what brought her to East St. Louis and why she was so dedicated. Hearing her talk about the community, it was clear that the country had the wrong opinion about East St. Louis.

Over the week, I served at an after-school program run by Catholic Urban Programs, at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and soup kitchen, at a shelter for women and children run by Catholic Urban Programs, and at the catholic grade school, Sister Thea Bowman. My experience at the school is one that will stick with me for a long time.

I was assigned to work with 7th graders in the morning and with the middle school math classes in the afternoon for the two days I was there. On the first day, it was clear the students were wary about having me in the room, but I quickly earned their respect by scoring multiple points in a game of kickball in gym class. The 7th grade class consisted of about 12 kids, who were so close, much like a family. I saw the love that they all had for each other and how they all pushed each other to do their best.

I became close to one student in particular, Maryian. Maryian, who I was told within seconds of arriving in the classroom, is a trouble child. I understood what they meant as I got to know her better. She is a trouble child because she is determined to be more than is expected. She has already determined that she is going to North Carolina A&T, to become an FBI agent or a teacher. She is a trouble child because she questions authority and is not afraid to fight for the change needed in the world. She is a trouble child because she wants to help people more than she wants to build herself up in society. But most of all, she is a trouble child because she is a child who sees the brokenness of her world and has so much anger and love inside of her but doesn’t know how to express it.

The kids at Sister Thea Bowman taught me that the push for a better world starts with the youngest in our community, but the rest of us can’t depend on them to fix it. They also taught me that love knows no bounds and can truly be unconditional. The rest of the world is wrong. East St. Louis is not a city to give up on, it is a city to give to. It is a city that is full of hope, passion, love, and faith, and it needs our help to fill in the cracks.

 

I want to end with a quote form a poem that was hanging in the Hubbard House titled “The Other Side”:

While I may not have changed the world

I’ll tell you what can

A day when we all cross that Bridge and lend a helping hand

Forgetting the past, what you’ve read, heard and seen

A day when we all learn that if it weren’t for our fears-

“The Other Side” might have never been.

Catherine Cottrill
Class of 2020

 

The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.