When Kyierah Jeffries died, I was reminded of Lawrence Strawbridge.
I used to think of Strawbridge every day. I wore a purple bracelet around my wrist with his name on it. Then it broke. I think it’s time to get a new one.
Jeffries was 16. She was a sophomore at Eureka High School, in west St. Louis County, just south of where I live. Jeffries lived in the Carondelet neighborhood in south St. Louis. Like many other students in the city, she got on a bus or cab early in the morning to travel west to attend the school of her choice as part of the city’s voluntary transfer program, which since 1981 has allowed about 70,000 Black students from the city to be educated in county school districts.
On May 14, Jeffries was shot and killed in the neighborhood where she lived. Something similar happened to Strawbridge six years ago. He was also 16 and a sophomore, at Lafayette High School. Strawbridge and his mother, Tyra Shannon, were stabbed to death. They lived in the Greater Ville neighborhood, on the city’s north side.
When Strawbridge died, a good friend of his mother’s, Patricia Dees, and the mother of one of his friends, Melissa Golder, formed a nonprofit foundation in his memory, to help other transfer students get through their high school years as they traverse two communities.
They filled backpacks and bought meals, and now they fill trunks and provide aid to help students attend college.
“She would always say, ‘Hey, if you’ve got beans, I’ve got cornbread,’” Dees said of her friend Tyra, as they helped each other as single moms raise their kids.
That was the spirit that drove the foundation named in Strawbridge’s honor.
In its own small way, in one little corner of St. Louis, the Lawrence Strawbridge Foundation has helped bridge the divide that often exists in this region, between Black and white, between city and suburb. Too often, we live in our different worlds, separated by gates and walls, and distance and race. That’s why I wore the bracelet. To remember.
Golder texted me the other day. A couple of years ago, her family moved to England, where her husband, Jay, is a lawyer. Golder was in Poland, volunteering at a kitchen making food for the thousands of Ukrainians who had crossed the border to escape the Russian invasion of their country.
Beans and cornbread.
In time, some of the Ukrainian refugees will make their way to St. Louis and add to the rich immigrant culture of our city, just as refugees from Afghanistan have made it here in the past year, with the help of the International Institute of St. Louis and other organizations.