Delivering mail on Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis was always concerning for Melvin White.
White, who retired from USPS in 2015 and spent part of his 19-year career as a letter carrier, was disappointed by the condition of the street named after the civil rights icon.
“The street didn’t resemble what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for,” he said.
What White saw was urban decay — abandoned and neglected infrastructure, vacant lots and a need for more businesses, especially fresh food markets.
After seeing that King-named streets in other cities were in similar conditions, White decided to make a difference.
In 2009, he founded Beloved Streets of America, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization — located on MLK Drive — to help revitalize the street and ignite efforts to clean up King streets in other cities.
White and a small team of supporters began holding weekly events like food and clothing drives to promote their efforts.
Other organizations took notice.
Beloved Streets of America received a Rosa Parks Award from St. Louis’s Washington University for its community work, and Harvard University sent architecture students to tour MLK Drive with White and create new building designs.
The organization has also received coverage from St. Louis Public Radio and other news organizations.
White hopes that increased awareness will help raise more money to fund crucial projects such as Legacy Park, a vacant lot that he hopes to turn into a public space.
“We don’t have the resources,” he said. “A lot of the money that came into it was from my salary at the Postal Service — money from my own pockets.”
There is good news, though. White’s organization has secured a grant to fund a community garden to help residents who have a hard time accessing fresh food.
Graham Hill, a Boulder, CO, resident who works in community redevelopment, helps White secure funding and has used his personal resources to help the cause.
“Melvin has a very inspiring goal to reach out around the country to bring pride and economic development, and to create a place where people want to be,” Hill said.
While realizing his dream has been challenging, White won’t give up.
“We talk about King on his birthday and then we go about our regular lives,” he said. “One of the things we can do is rebuild and beautify the streets that bear his name.”