The city of East St. Louis, Illinois, is notoriously chronicled throughout the press. I speak to you as co-founder and Chief Executive Dreamer of Aya Grows, a local nonprofit, authentic storyteller for I Am East St. Louis, the Magazine, artist, yogi, anthropologist, and human being. My partner, Andre', is our Chief Creative Engineer, an activist, mathmetician, passionate leader, and more. We speak from a place of authenticity, adaptibility, and awareness.
Historically, East St. Louis has been burdened exponentially by environmental and social injustices - such as industrial exploitation and systemic discrimination, culminating in the 1917 Race Riots. We are more than the crimes committed against us. We have a legacy for producing great scholars, leaders, artists, writers, musicians, and athletes. We are not notorious: We are legendary.
We believe in collective human ingenuity – the power of our talents realized in conscious solidarity. We strive to invest in this collective by investing in personal empowerment, community solidarity, and environmental enrichment. After graduating, my partner and I started Aya Grows, a nonprofit investing in these three key variables and focusing on environmental enrichment. The Garden of Harmony began as a two-story red house, where our friend lived. It was torn down and became a vacant lot, filled with hazardous trash and tall grasses. We bought the lot and over the past year we have used a community based design model to create a flower and produce garden, a fire pit, a picnic table, and a place to be.
Down the street is another vacant lot – a makeshift shrine serves as memorial to the lives stolen in this space. The community wants to transform it into a memorial basketball court. We want to see that that dream realized. Beyond the vacant lots are vacant buildings. At one point, it was estimated that forty percent of our city was vacant or abandoned. This is because of rapid industrialization followed by industrial pullout, partnered with tense social conflicts fueled tremendously by labor, ethnic, and political divides. Rapid deindustrialization destroyed our tax base and our population dramatically declined. Now, we rebuild – rooted in a new paradigm of awareness, authenticity, and adaptability.
We are a manifestation of the global awakening of conscious culture. It is our responsibility to cultivate and support this change. We are planning two more vital civic projects: Aya City House and Aya Sanctuary Lounge. The City House will house our offices, space for small classes, and a wellness boutique. This will allow us to have a headquarters, strengthening our impact. The Sanctuary Lounge will offer live entertainment, fresh and local cuisine, a library, delicious drinks, display local art, and much more. We need a place where community leaders can come together to network, brainstorm, and build. We have big dreams and, in East St. Louis, there is no limit – not even the sky.
We are reaching out to you because we believe that you are a dreamer too. We believe that you are a person with a mission. We believe that you are ready to make an investment that will change everything – through personal empowerment, community solidarity, and environmental enrichment. Believe in us, in our mission. The time to act is now. Your contributions, quite literally, will change everything. Your support will help us provide our city with places to invest in each other. Your help allows us to transform dreams into realities. This is larger than life.
A thank you, dear friends, is not enough – and, at this point, it is all we have. That, and the lot pictured above is now a beautiful and blossoming urban green space.
Goal: $25,000 – invest in collective human ingenuity.
-Aya City House: Office & Meeting, Education & Exploration, Residential Living
-Aya Sanctuary Lounge: Fresh & Local Cuisine, Live Entertainment, Art & Books, Community & Connection
-Aya Grows: Vacant Lot Transformation
Peace and Love,
Linze and André Aya
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