“It’s a damn shame,” state Rep. Raychel Proudie says, of how the city of Kinloch fell into the abysmal state of disarray it’s in today. “It’s a shame before the living God for anything in this state to look like how Kinloch does.”
Over the years, trash and debris have piled in the streets of Kinloch, at times blocking emergency service vehicles from reaching someone in need, she said. Proudie has heard the countless cries — “Why doesn’t anybody do anything about it? Can’t anyone help?” — and she’s listened.
Proudie, who was elected to represent HD 73 in the Missouri Legislature in 2018, grew up in neighboring Ferguson. She’s had family who lived in Kinloch, and when she ran for office, she promised to “try my damndest to turn Kinloch around.”
“Instead of another election cycle coming and going and saying, ‘Somebody ought to be doing something,’ instead of asking for permission to take charge of some kind of effort to bring attention to this area, I just took it upon myself to do,” Proudie told The Missouri Times in an interview.
It’s a ripple effect, she said: When one community falls into disrepair, “it has a negative impact on the surrounding municipalities as far as property value and businesses wanting to come here [and] on our school districts.”
“‘Underserved communities’ is almost like a buzzword when it comes to politics, and it’s certainly like a platform for a lot of folks, but when we run for office, people aren’t just looking for politicians to repeat the problem or know what the problem is,” Proudie said. “It’s solutions people are looking for. The only way to solve the problem of underserved communities is to serve them.”
And so that’s what she’s set out to do. On July 11, Proudie is hosting a “Kinloch Clean Up” event for volunteers to gather and pick up around the community. A fundraising campaign, that’s raked in more than $5,400, has also been set up in an effort to provide water, food, and supplies for the day-long event.
It’s become a bipartisan effort, with lawmakers in both chambers and on either side of the aisle publicly and financially supporting the event.
“I was happy to support the work Rep. Proudie is doing with Kinloch,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said. “In this era of hyper-partisanship and everyone focusing more on the things that divide us, it’s important to find areas of common ground and work together when we can. We need more of that in politics and in our world as a whole.”
“I don’t care what party you’re in, but more importantly, neither do my constituents,” Proudie said. “They just want the filth gone, and they want someone to care about them; the party is irrelevant to them.”
Kinloch’s storied history
According to Proudie, Kinloch has been in “serious, to say the least, disrepair” for at least the past 20 years.
Kinloch is about 10 miles northwest of the city of St. Louis with a population of fewer than 300 people, according to the latest U.S. Census data. The median household income is about $23,000, and the unemployment rate hovers at about 55 percent. About 80 percent of its population is Black.
But despite the state of Kinloch today, its history is vibrant. Incorporated in August 1948, its Missouri’s oldest and first Black city. It’s the hometown of U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters and actress and singer Jenifer Lewis.
President Theodore Roosevelt visited Kinloch and became the first U.S. president to take flight, using the city’s airfield in 1910. According to a 2015 Vice article, rapper Huey of “Pop, Lock & Drop It” fame still lives in town.
Developed as a commuter hub, those tied to the community hinge Kinloch’s problems on the decision by St. Louis to buy an abundance of properties in the town to expand the Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport — a project that never fully came to fruition. It’s estimated Kinloch lost more than 75 percent of its population between 1990 and 2000 due to the buyout, leaving lasting impacts both socially and economically.
Justine Blue, Kinloch’s city manager, said the town “fell under political motives that were designed to tear [it] down, remove its footprint.”
“The city has been taken advantage of,” Blue said. “But we’re still here and trying to rebuild.”
It’s a multi-pronged approach that is needed, she said: monitor and control access to the city, increase development, and encourage residents to move back into the community.
“Efforts for clean up have been ongoing for at least 10 years. We feel like we’re pushing a boulder up a hill,” she said. “We have such a diminished population, the streets are vacant, and people just come in and dump [trash].”
Proudie has heard from representatives of both the St. Louis airport and in St. Louis County government who plan to participate in her clean up event. The county promised to provide volunteers from its “problem properties unit,” dumpsters, provisions, and personal protective equipment, according to an email shared by Proudie.
Proudie said that while she’s organized the charity event, it’s still up to the municipal and county governments, as well as the airport that “still owns property that’s full of trash,” to help the Kinloch community.
“Our residents are residents of St. Louis County, and they still pay taxes. They are entitled to better than what they’ve been receiving from county government,” Proudie said.
And Proudie is not only looking for cleaner streets in Kinloch — she’s in search of receipts. She said she plans to file “a lot of Sunshine requests” in the near future.
“I want to see the timeline. I’m very confused about all the attention that’s brought to the corruption. This place is still a functioning municipality. How does it look like Fallujah? … I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
“It’s disgusting that [St. Louis] County and the city, because they own a substantial amount of Kinloch, have allowed this place to be this, to where criminals know this is the place where they can do and get away with these things.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.