They’re Just Like Us: St. Louis Black Clergy Form NightLIFE to Combat Black Crime…

Stuff Black People Don’t Like
December 15, 2015

Rev. Kenneth McKoy
Rev. Kenneth McKoy

Please don’t kill one another.

Pretty, pretty please…


Just put down the gun.

Don’t kill one another. [Minister-led team walks north St. Louis streets at night, reaching out to residents, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12-13-15]:

The Rev. Kenneth McKoy felt like a hypocrite conducting funerals.

A mother shot in a playground full of children in north St. Louis. A teenage boy thrown into a ravine. It felt unnatural comforting grieving grandmothers.

“I was doing all these funerals,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I’m not doing anything but these funerals.’ ”

As he watched the homicide numbers in St. Louis rise, he decided to get his feet on the ground.

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night since May, he and members of his outreach team have walked the streets of north St. Louis. They wear bright yellow vests and call themselves “NightLIFE.”

From about 10 p.m. until after 1 a.m., they hand out bags of sandwiches, chips and cookies to those who need them. They talk with whoever wants to talk, pray with whoever wants to pray. They’re building relationships. Spreading hope.

Spreading the message that they love the city’s young people more than they fear them.

“We all have a greater chance of getting shot if we don’t get engaged and do this sort of thing,” said McKoy, 56, who spends about $100 a week of his own money on the food he gives away. “I mean, do I want to leave my children a place that miserable?”

McKoy, of St. Louis, is the pastor at Progressive AME Zion Church in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood on the city’s west edge near Wellston. He’s a former director of Missouri ACORN and protested in Ferguson. He’s an easygoing guy who wears his collar on the streets but not in the pulpit — he figures his church members know who he is.

He thinks walking in his own neighborhood would be self-serving, so he focuses on the Fountain Park, Academy and Lewis Place neighborhoods north of Delmar Boulevard at North Kingshighway. He also likes that the patrols are consistent, because that’s what builds relationships.

The outreach team’s route usually begins with a group of people who hang out on the Hodiamont Tracks, the old streetcar line. A few are homeless, some live near, some don’t. McKoy and his crew get hugs and greetings, give out sandwiches, and one man gives McKoy good-natured guff about not bringing him chocolate. McKoy runs back to the gas station and returns with a couple of Hershey bars.

The man, Charles Taylor, 47, of Walnut Park, has one leg and sits in a wheelchair. He has a home and politely declines the offer of a sandwich. “I’m not going to take that from someone who might need it,” he says.

The things kids are doing now are “crazy,” Taylor says, and he sees why NightLIFE is there. “I’m no saint or anything, but the things that he’s doing, it kind of brings together the neighborhood,” Taylor says. “It’s beautiful.”

As NightLIFE leaves the group, a woman calls out, “Be safe! Take care now! Bless you!”

McKoy smiles. “It was not like that in May,” he says. “They would not speak to us, until probably July.”

He doesn’t blame anyone for not trusting him. Some thought his group was police, or snitches. McKoy and the police have kept a distant but cordial relationship, he said.

Every time he walks, he checks in with Capt. Janice Brockstruck, who acknowledges that she worries a bit about him. She started a community engagement unit for the department and said McKoy could fulfill a role that police officers couldn’t.

“He does a wonderful job,” she says. “He has taken a step far beyond what many people do by going out at night.”

McKoy is fairly certain the group has prevented two homicides. In one situation, a young man was shot to death, and McKoy knew the victim’s friends. As those friends spoke to him, they talked about a retaliatory killing. McKoy continued to meet with them, telling them why they shouldn’t do that to themselves and to another family. So far, nobody has been killed, he said.

In another case, an anxious-looking man approached the NightLIFE team one night. McKoy asked if they could pray for him, and they circled and held hands on the sidewalk. After they finished, the man held up his T-shirt, exposing a gun, and began crying. He said he had been on his way to kill someone.

McKoy asked the man if he had a son, and the man responded yes. He asked what the son would do if his dad was going to kill or be killed. “What chance does your son have without you?” McKoy asked. The man began crying. He gave McKoy a hug and said he was walking home.

No word if the black man who walked away after the hug actually killed someone or not…

They’re just like us.