Man works to improve streets named for Martin Luther King

Melvin White decided in 2004 that the St. Louis street named for Martin Luther King Jr. fell far short of being worthy of its namesake – and he set out to change that.

White founded Beloved Streets of America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the streets across the country named for the civil rights leader.

Too often, he says, the Martin Luther King Street in a given city is best known for drugs, crime and dilapidated buildings.

“I just didn’t like the way he was being represented,” White says.

Melvin White speaks during WUSTL’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration. White, who established a nonprofit group to improve streets named for the civil rights leader, received this year’s Rosa L. Parks Award. (Credit: Whitney Curtis)

He says that first he is focusing on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis, but eventually hopes to take the effort nationwide, maybe eventually leading to local chapters of Beloved Streets of America.

For his vision and dedication, White received this year’s Rosa L. Parks Award for Meritorious Service to the Community at the annual Washington University in St. Louis Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration on Jan. 21 at Graham Chapel.

The honor is typically a lifetime achievement award of sorts, but this year the commemoration committee decided to recognize White’s goal and effort, even though the organization is relatively new.

“The committee found the work of Beloved Streets of America, led by Mr. Melvin White, extremely compelling,” says Harvey R. Fields Jr., PhD, chair of the commemoration committee and assistant director of academic programs at Cornerstone, the Center for Advanced Learning.

He noted that WUSTL students and faculty have worked with the organization, that its local recognition and support is growing, and that it stands to make a national impact.

White believes that if leaders in the local political and business community support his initiative, it can make a difference and bring economic vitality to the neighborhoods along Martin Luther King Drive. He envisions a broad approach, attracting restaurants and businesses, neighborhood services and improved residential buildings, making the area safe for those who live and work there and known as a place people want to visit.

Last August, he organized a legacy walk along the street, and in recent months the organization has had a regular presence outside its office on Saturdays, giving away food, clothes and even toys during the holidays.

“I’m just an ordinary guy trying to make a difference in the community,” White says.

His first major project is creating a park on Martin Luther King Drive, across from his organization’s office. While he has the property and plans in hand, the organization needs to raise money to begin construction.

His target for a groundbreaking is June 1 and he expects to need about $500,000. Beloved Streets will sell bricks, which people can buy in memory of loved ones or to put their own name in the park, with donation levels and sizes from individual to corporate sponsorships.

To learn more about Beloved Streets or to get involved, visit its website.

Also, check out a KSDK report about White and his organization.