mad in pursuit journal


Celebration at Barrett Brothers Park

Can the energy of ordinary people create a "sacred" space -- where chaos turns to order and growth? Is there such a thing, really?

We had our opportunity last Friday, April 4, with the groundbreaking ceremony of the Hip-Hop Garden [1] at Barrett Brothers Park [2] in St. Louis, Missouri.

Barrett Brothers Park is in "the old neighborhood" -- the north St. Louis corner where my parents grew up and where I spent more than a decade of happy childhood. My grandparents and then my uncle ran the family grocery business in these environs. It was a dense, ethnically diverse, working-class neighborhood, with little shops on every corner.

But disruption came with waves of poor Blacks moving up from the South. Culture clashes and fear created the classic, regrettable "white flight." Businesses closed. The tax base disappeared. By the 1970s, north St Louis was known to the world only for its crime and for its buildings being torn down to sell the bricks.

Barrett Brothers Park and how it got named was forgotten [3]. The City of St Louis could have easily renamed the park for one of St Louis' legendary African-American residents. But somehow the Barrett name stuck.

Then Kyria Virshelle found us. And she made it a point to learn the history. [4]

On Friday, the past met up with the future. Eleven of us Barretts showed up to join the celebration. The gathering at the park became a moment of timelessness. Donn Johnson from the Missouri Historical Society told us how he played in the park as a boy. Kyria brought her parents to greet us. Alderman Jeffrey Boyd introduced us to his mother, who lived down the street from Barrett's Market and did her shopping there, back in the day. A local pastor [I didn't get his name] got his mother on the phone to speak with us. In their remarks, Mr. Boyd and Ms. Virshelle transcended race, color, and religion to recognize that we are all one in this world of struggles. We are never alone because we are always walking in the footsteps of those who went before us.

Driving through the old neighborhood is sad. Nothing conjures the spirit of poverty and abandonment like boarded up buildings and dilapidated premises you once called home.

And yet... the rain-soaked Barrett Brothers Park glowed with optimism. Energetic adults can build picket fences and garden beds. Children can learn that belonging is about more than gangs. It was a perfect moment.


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[1] Part of the Hip-Hop Health Initiative program of the Mark Twain Resource Center, funded as an after-school activities by ARCHS. Partnered with Urban Farming (Detroit) and Hopebuild's Garden of Hope and Garden of Eden.

[2] Goodfellow and St. Louis Avenues.

[3] See "Media Release" on

[4] More on that story >>>

PHOTOS. Top: Kathleen Barrett Price & Kyria Virshelle. Bottom (left to right): Sarah Stretch, Sam Stretch, Ellen Stretch, Donn Johnson, Kathleen Price, Kyria Virshelle, Mr. Virshelle, Susan Price, Barbara Holland.