"I know we can’t recreate what was, but I know we can
create something just as good, if not better”
Thomasina Clarke is a lifelong resident of The Ville neighborhood in Northern St. Louis. From birth at Homer G. Phillips Hospital to today, Ms. Clarke still calls the two-story brick house she was brought to as a baby, “home.” Although she has travelled around the world plenty of times, lived in other cities and a few apartments in St. Louis, she says two things always convince her to stay in The Ville. “Number One”, she jokingly says, “my house is paid for” and more seriously she claims, “Number Two: I remember what it was - and I know we can’t recreate what was, but I know we can create something just as good, if not better.”
This hope is what has driven Ms. Clarke to a lifetime of community activism. Alongside Julia Allen and Aaron Williams, Ms. Clarke co-founded 4theVille, a community-based tourism and arts organization created to “reawaken the desire of the people to know what was, and what can possibly be” of The Ville area. She started We Live Here- The Ville to “preserve, restore, and revitalize the community” and additionally takes part in other community collaborative projects.This retired middle school drama instructor has even been asked to direct St. Louis’s Shakespeare in the Streets this year within The Ville neighborhood. She tells us that this year’s production will be inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with famous Ville community members of the past taking the form of ghosts, begging the current Ville residents to avenge them. She hopes that this will bring attention to the need to restore The Ville’s “beauty, culture, community, and comradery.”
Ms. Clarke knows that work needs to be done in order to revitalize her community. “My neighborhood has really spiraled down as far as the beauty and the culture”, she tells us. She observes this everywhere - whether it be in housing insecurity, lack of economic development, or simply a lack of community members. When asked what has caused this shift from flourishment to instability, Ms. Clarke cites neglect, most pointedly from the “powers that be”, the St. Louis authority. She fears that city officials look at the Black-majority community and view it as a population that “won’t benefit” them, in turn generating a sense of disregard and tendency to ‘other’ The Ville. Another form of neglect comes from former residents leaving the area. In the 1960s, Black residents started to move elsewhere… Clarke says, “A lot of Black people thought that the White man’s ice was colder than ours. I believe if Black people had stayed here, a lot would be different.”
Ms. Clarke has a plan of her own for The Ville. If left up to her, she says, the restoration of the numerous vacant buildings would be a priority. Secondly, she believes bringing people back into the community would help erase the negative connotation that North St. Louis has received. She knows there is hope - in fact, Ms. Clarke says she has started to see people start to rebuild, rally for local schools to stay open, and generally take interest again in The Ville area. To her community today, Ms. Clarke urges people to not give up. She knows the community has potential- it just takes determination and collaboration to get there.
Written by Clare Armstrong, Notre Dame Intern 2021