“This is my home. This is where my passion lies. This is who I am.”
Julia Allen is a 71-year resident of The Ville. She grew up in a three generation household in the main blocks of her Northern St. Louis neighborhood where she attended school, began, and even finished her medical career. Ms. Allen started her work at Homer G. Phillips Hospital for 12 years until the building’s closing in 1979 and then continued to work in every other public hospital in the city of St. Louis: City Hospital #1, St. Louis Regional Medical Center, and St. Louis Connectcare. Ms. Allen lived down the street from Julia Davis, famous St. Louis educator, who Allen claimed inspired her to attend college at the age of 50. Ms. Allen finished both a Bachelors and Masters degree from Washington University in the Brown School of Social Work. Nowadays, she considers herself a community advocate and activist.
When reflecting on her community while growing up, Ms. Allen says it was “pretty much a self-sufficient neighborhood. We had grocery stores, dress shops, shoe stores; we had a dime store, restaurants - just any kind of business you would see in a small town. We had all of that in The Ville… We were a very diverse group both socioeconomically and politically.” As Ms. Allen continued to reside in The Ville, she noticed stark changes. Once a place where Black history and culture flourished, most buildings now only leave behind a vacant lot. Schools in the area are closing, businesses are lacking, and many families are leaving the neighborhood.
Ms. Allen, however, is not discouraged by the community’s recent decline. She powerfully works alongside other community members as a co-founder of 4theVille, a community-based tourism and arts organization, and as a part of The Ville Collaborative, a community organization initiative. Really though, Ms. Allen works her hardest to help anybody trying to help restore her home. She speaks about the reward of her work in these associations, saying, “it’s been really rewarding to me because it’s given me the opportunity to let people know how wonderful this neighborhood was and how great it can be if people take interest in it.” Ms Allen speaks highly of Claver House, saying that the organization is an “excellent example of how you can partner with other organizations and bring new ideas to our kids.” She agrees that Claver House and other similar initiatives can inspire kids to believe in themselves and “reach for bigger things.”
In addition to corporation action, Ms. Allen believes the strongest solution to strengthen The Ville is a long-term strategic plan that aims to address all aspects of social stability. In her interview, she spoke of a few original ideas. This included urging the city of St. Louis to classify The Ville as a historic district for tax benefits and funding tactics, calling for local schools to stay open and be “reimagined”for the growth of the next generation, and business development for the neighborhood to expand and popularize. She truly has hope for the future of the community.
Wrapping up our interview, we asked Ms. Allen to reflect on The Ville community as a whole. She spoke to us, saying that The Ville is currently “in transition. There is structure and viability, but we need someone to look at what we can do to make it a whole community again.” Ms. Allen envisions the future of The Ville to be inclusive, diverse, and prosperous once again. When asked about who she saw residing in the future neighborhood, she told us, “It doesn’t have to be a community for black people. It could be a community of purple people, orange people - I don’t care! Just people, family, and children.” The Ville can and will most certainly thrive - all it needs are more people like Ms. Allen who work endlessly to live in and care for the community.
Written by Clare Armstrong, Notre Dame Intern 2021