Welcome to My Neighborhood: St. Louis, Missouri
Every community has its special places. Let 10-year-old Khalil Taylor be your guide to his St. Louis.
Khalil is just starting fifth grade. He lives with his father, Jamal Taylor, and his grandfather in their three-generation, all-male household in College Hill, a neighborhood of brick houses with friendly front porches.
Khalil’s grandfather is retired from the Ford plant where he worked as a quality inspector, and his hobbies—painting watercolors and playing guitar—dominate their home’s front parlor. Khalil makes a lot of art with his grandfather in this house (lately 3-D drawings in charcoal). He is also learning to play guitar and the kalimba (an African thumb piano).
Khalil’s father has built his life around his exuberant, opinionated, goal-oriented son, who is 15 years younger than his sister and 20 years younger than his brother. Jamal Taylor chose to send Khalil to school at EAGLE College Prep Elementary, even though the school is far from their home, because it’s close to where he works. His schedule gets him to school every afternoon to pick up Khalil and assist at every basketball practice. And last year, he liked to frequently check in with Khalil’s fourth grade teacher, Chelsea Conwell (St. Louis ’18).
Khalil and his father rise every school day at 4 a.m. “He drops me off at my auntie’s house, and I go to sleep,” Khalil says. “She wakes me up at 6:45 so I can brush my teeth, put on my shoes,” and get to school.
Miss Theresa’s House
Khalil wants to show us his branch library, where everybody knows his name. But first he needs to circle home to get his summer reading tracker, so it’s a good time to stop in to see “Miss Theresa” Walker.
She lives two doors down from the Taylors with her dog Ryu and a refrigerator plastered with photos of the College Hill children she has known. “She was my friend when I was growing up, and now she’s Khalil’s friend,” Jamal says. Khalil visits Miss Theresa most frequently on Fridays, when he cuts her grass.
Though there are some empty homes on his street, Khalil is happy here. “I like when people come out on their porch,” he says.
Khalil doesn’t have to say a word when he walks into the Divoll neighborhood branch library. Librarians assure Khalil he’s first on the list for when the next book in the Big Nate series is published. “I was going to buy it for my dad for his birthday,” he says, “but I think I’ll just read it here.”
Khalil loves his library, but that’s not why we’re here. He read many more than the eight summer books required for him to pick up his reward today: four free tickets to a Cardinals game.
EAGLE College Prep
There’s still a summer quiet hanging over school when Khalil pops in to visit Miss Conwell, who is setting up her classroom. It’s not the first time she’s heard from Khalil this summer. “The number of students who have called just to ask what I’m doing is really something,” she says.
Khalil leads an extremely thorough tour, not skipping a closet in his small school, which has about 30 kids in each grade from K-6. When he spots another teacher down in a learning lab, she finds him a grape freeze pop left over from field day.
Khalil’s favorite moment in Miss Conwell’s class was the end-of-year spelling bee. “That was a fun day,” he tells her. “I want to do a whole school spelling bee next year. Can we do that?”
Tower Grove Park, a jewel of St. Louis with its lush gardens and 32 Victorian-era pavilions, is across the street from Khalil’s school. It’s not his park. He’s polite, but he has zero interest in those flowers.
Penske Truck Rental
In the historic Soulard neighborhood, not far from Anheuser-Busch headquarters, a large open-air garage is filled with the cabs of 18-wheelers. Khalil’s father, a member of the Teamsters union, repairs and maintains trucks here. As we arrive, Khalil hops out of his father’s car and goes running into the garage, where he is greeted as if he was Steph Curry walking on to a pick-up game. “Khalil!” From every direction, a mechanic is gleefully calling his name or walking over to swing him off the ground in a bear hug.
Jamal’s single-minded devotion to Khalil is legendary among his coworkers, and there’s nowhere Khalil would rather be than here. He’s not allowed to roll under a truck with Dad as he would like to, but he can watch the action from a high stool behind the desk of his friend, the garage manager. He can do his homework and eat snacks in the break room.
“This is where my Dad works, and it is just really cool,” Khalil says. “He can do anything that anyone needs, and he works hard. Everyone in my family works hard.”
Maybe it’s inevitable that a St. Louis kid would end his tour by tugging on his “Redbirds Rookies” shirt and taking us to the Fox Park playground, where he plays in a league sponsored by the Cardinals. “I have a lot of great times with my friends playing baseball here,” he says. Many kids from his school were on his team this year, the Raptors, which Jamal coached.
Khalil is planning for a four-sport year in fifth grade (he’s signed up for volleyball and French Club too), and he will certainly finish out his full baseball season. His reward will be two more free Cards tickets. Who needs the Rams?