Kinloch, Missouri, a city that today carries the weight of poverty, stigma, and years of systematic injustice, was once a thriving community, producing great talent and a rich history. The city has a lot to celebrate as the state’s first African-American community and one of the largest all-Black cities in the country during its prime. Kinloch produced such notables as U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, activist and comedian Dick Gregory, and actress Jennifer Lewis. Then, in the 1980’s, Kinloch was bought out by the airport, and the majority of the city’s population was forced to move, among them Alana Flowers’ grandparents and their children.
Alana (pictured above) is from St. Louis, but she said her father makes a point to say, “I’m not from St. Louis, I’m from Kinloch.” Alana, currently serving as the administrative coordinator for St. Louis College Readiness Initiatives at WashU, earned her Master of Social Work at the Brown School where she studied domestic social and economic development. She was specifically interested in understanding political processes and power and how they impact communities of color; communities like Kinloch. Alana shared that the dissolution of communities of color and the way that the law of eminent domain operates in these communities to displace their residents are recurring events of the past and present. Her family and her own heritage were central motivators for her to further explore Kinloch’s story. She said, “I wanted to understand the importance of the city for my family, why it stuck even after they left. I wanted to understand the significance of the space and the soil that nourished my bloodline.”
Alana was inspired to launch a project that would “serve as a marker to not only help rebuild Kinloch’s community with the hands and leadership of born and bred ‘Kinlochians,’ but to share ideas to help resolve the perpetual issues that have plagued the city for decades.” “The Kinloch Doc” was the first of the project’s two components to take shape. Alana shared that she has always loved films and documentaries and prefers to learn visually. When she was trying to learn more about Kinloch, she found that no film existed about the city. A friend suggested that she should make her own documentary, and the idea took root. As Alana researched the film, she discovered an important date: August 20, 1948. On this day, Kinloch was incorporated as Missouri’s first all-Black city, and August 20, 2018 was the 70th anniversary of Kinloch’s incorporation. In the past, Kinloch held a community-wide annual celebration to commemorate this day, but there hadn’t been a festival in years.
Alana decided to revive the tradition and coordinate the Kinloch 70th Anniversary Incorporation Festival as a celebration of Kinloch’s past and a gesture of hope toward the future. Alana learned about the Civic Engagement Fund through a Gephardt Institute newsletter in the fall of 2017 and received support from the St. Louis Project Grant funding category. Alana said that this grant was the first source of funding for her project and helped to get it off the ground.
Alana’s goal for the documentary was to tell the true story of Kinloch and to shine a more positive light on the city. She hoped to use the festival to bridge the generational gap between previous residents who left Kinloch in the 1980’s and 1990’s, to celebrate Kinloch’s past, and to inspire hope and action for a better future. On August 20, over 500 people attended the festival. Alana remarked on the outpouring of regional support from a variety of sources. St. Louis County provided the stage and drafted a resolution commemorating Kinloch’s incorporation. Alana felt that the festival “brought back a vibe that was once in the city of Kinloch long before I was born.” The outcomes surpassed her expectations in surprising ways. For Alana, one of the biggest unanticipated results was her own father’s reconnection with his community. He was invited to perform with a local group at the festival, and he was able to reconnect with childhood educators and friends. When asked about the future of the festival, Alana said, “I would love for a festival to happen every year and perhaps for a nonprofit to grow out of it.” She hopes for an organization under which the festival could be housed along with other initiatives, possibly including a history museum, walking tours, and a framework for volunteerism. At the festival, many of the attendees who love Kinloch asked for other ways to get involved in its future, and Alana anticipates the continued expansion and deepening both of her own project and of other initiatives in the city.
The documentary film is an on-going project, currently in the production phase. Alana recently completed a four-minute short film that she entered into the St. Louis Filmmaker Showcase, and she was subsequently invited to participate in the St. Louis International Film Festival. Because of the documentary, people from communities like Kinloch have reached out to Alana to share their stories. Kinloch is unique among cities like it because it did manage to survive. Another all-Black city in St. Louis County called Robertson was completely dissolved by airport construction. “I hope the documentary prompts people to identify their own Kinlochs and salvage their communities,” Alana said.
When sharing her process throughout the planning and implementation of the project, Alana emphasized the importance of humility when entering communities. Her project was centered around working directly with former residents and listening to their ideas and memories. Alana spoke honestly about perceptions of WashU in the St. Louis area, which are mixed. She offered this advice: “Prioritize and maintain relationships. Ask questions first and act later. Hold assumptions in the basket. Be proactive about where we put time and resources, and carefully identify who the right person is to enter a community. Don’t be afraid of being wrong; it’s a process.”
To learn more about the Kinloch Forever project, email Alana at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Civic Engagement Fund supports projects, both new and preexisting, that cultivate community engagement in all its forms. Learn more and submit a grant proposal here.