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Meacham Park association leader says it's time to look forward, emphasize unity in Kirkwood

2:04 pm on Sat, 04.21.12

Updated at 10:00 am on Mon, 04.23.12

Harriet Patton, president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, listens during a meeting at the J. Milton Turner Offices in Meacham Park.
File photos by Anthony Soufflé | for the Beacon
Harriet Patton, president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, listens during a meeting at the J. Milton Turner Offices in Meacham Park.

Harriet Patton, the leader of Meacham Park community in Kirkwood, says that a neighborhood celebration Saturday is a time to “move ahead” and “look to the future,” turning the page on the past.

A sign welcomes people to Meacham Park.
A sign welcomes people to Meacham Park.

For Patton and for the community, it could be a significant shift in emphasis.  Patton, president of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, often has been at odds with the leadership at City Hall.  She opposed Kirkwood’s controversial redevelopment of the mostly black neighborhood in the 1990s and criticized as insufficient the reconciliation efforts that followed the 2008 City Hall shootings by Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton.

But Patton sees the 20th annual spring celebration of her Meacham Park Neighborhood Association as a time to look to the future. “We want to celebrate 20 years as a community organization dedicated to building a healthy neighborhood that contributes to making Kirkwood an attractive place to live in the future as it has in the past,” she said in a press release.

Patton added during an interview that the group’s goals are “unity in community, community survival and sustainability as well as economic growth and opportunity.”

The spring celebration was set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the Kirkwood Baptist Church, 211 Woodlawn Ave.  Kirkwood Baptist is the mostly white church whose minister, the Rev. Scott Stearman, has been a force for understanding within the community. Mayor Art McDonnell, recently re-elected, is giving a salute to the Meacham Park Neighborhood Association.

Patton said she didn’t know exactly how to answer the question about whether this was turning the page on past disagreements with City Hall following shooting of Charles L. “Cookie” Thornton. Thornton, a disaffected resident of Meacham Park, killed five city officials during his Feb. 7, 2008 assault on City Hall. He also wounded Mayor Mike Swoboda who died several months later. Thornton was killed by police.

Patton quit the federal mediation process that followed the shooting because she didn’t think it was coming to grips with the race problem. This week, however, Patton was focused on getting businesses involved in the community. She said she would like to bring firms such as Walmart to the table. Walmart is one of the big box stores in the shopping center built during the redevelopment of the neighborhood, a redevelopment that reduced the amount of residential land in the community.

Two friends who know Patton said they thought her statements represent a significant shift. The Rev. Ben Martin, who has been a big supporter of the Meacham Park group, put it this way: “Of course, there still are a lot of hard feelings and misunderstandings that aren’t resolved.  But we feel at this point we need to move ahead.  We feel that healing to some extent has taken place.  There still is a residue of hard feelings and mistrust, but we don’t want to focus on that.”

Franklin S. McCallie, former principal at Kirkwood High School and another booster of Patton’s, agreed that Patton’s comments represent a significant shift. “I am delighted to hear her say that,” said McCallie.

Mayor McDonnell said he was “delighted and pleased at this new turn of events.  In the mediation team agreement the focus was about the future and so I am very pleased that she and the Meacham Park Neighborhood Improvement Association now” he wrote in an email.

The Rev. Robert C. Scott, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, is the keynote speaker at the celebration. “Community champions” are being recognized. Among them are Janet Brown, who started Meacham Moms, a group that organizes annual events, and City Councilman Bob Sears, who has been active in knitting together the community.

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