NOVEMBER 17, 2020
Go Ask Alice
By Alice Moore with Joey Saunders
Alice Moore is an Elevate ESTL Power Builder in East St. Louis, IL. Photos by Joey Saunders.
So many things have happened for me because I wasn’t afraid to journey. That might sound funny to folks who know that me and my neighbors are all “46ers.” Meaning we’re all the same old people tryin’ to fight the same old war and we’ve stayed put in the same houses here in East St. Louis for 46 years.
I like the fact that I’m not going to be defeated. No one is going to make me leave. I want to stay. I love the people I grew up with. I love my city. That’s why I’m staying and fighting for this place I love and these people I love, with Elevate ESTL. It’s about creating economic opportunity for everybody so they don’t feel like they have to leave like most of my babies have left. But don’t confuse my commitment to staying with a fear of journeying. I was never afraid to journey.
I’m a middle child with twelve siblings. My family came to East St. Louis in 1961. I was eight. By 16, I was pregnant with my first daughter. I came across a program that the Neighborhood Youth Corps was doing at the time, building job skills for pregnant teens. They got me into a GED program and I got a job at Scott Air Force Base, then a key-punching job, then an entry-level position with Union Pacific Railroad. About a year and a half in, I saw a better job on the bulletin board, went for that, and just kept working my way up till I was a supervisor traveling to Atlanta, overseeing one of the Railroad’s biggest contracts making sure our books were balanced. Then, in 2001, I learned the railroad was looking to relocate. I think I’ve made it clear that my home is where my heart is. So I saved my money up, retired from the Railroad, and started my own business: a home daycare.
I renovated my basement and invested all my railroad money and so much of my love into that daycare. Some folks think if you get pregnant as a teenager, your life is over. Here I was, feeling so blessed. I was married to a well-liked pastor, the same roof over my head for years, beautiful, I’d created my own business that brought joy to little ones and their families, and I had beautiful, smart kids of my own who were starting to have grandbabies. I felt like I was really living the dream. Sometimes, you wake up from dreams; mine turned into a nightmare.
I discovered my husband had been molesting a family member when she was younger. I was shattered. I called a meeting and asked all my four daughters, “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” They said, “Because, Mama, you were so happy.”
Now, I loved that man, but nothing is stronger than the love I have for my babies and grandbabies. So, I did what I felt was right. A caseworker came and we filled out all the forms since he lived in the same house as the daycare which, while it broke my heart, I closed down. I was devastated at the thought that he might have hurt kids I was entrusted to care for, let alone our own family.
So many of our friends were tied to the church where he was pastor— my safe place, my support system, which evaporated overnight. Some folks gossiped and said I had to know about it, that I turned a blind eye. Others took his side and felt like I betrayed him, like a very influential megachurch pastor who was my ex-husband’s mentor and testified as a character witness for him in court. I would never go back to him, but it’s strange to spend more than a quarter century with someone, feel like you love him and know him, then have the rug ripped out from under you like that. I can understand how it would be hard to cut ties. It’s hard not to feel guilty about all of it. I did go to counseling, which has helped. I think, one thing that’s good is, I’ve protected my ability to still trust people. But I’ve definitely learned that, even when you do your best, you can’t control people or what they do.
It would be silly of me to think I’m all alone in having heartbreak in my life. All us 46ers have seen it. The way this city has changed all around us. I worked all my life, yes, but people struggle to find work around here. It’s gotten bad, so you see some folks turn to crime or drugs. Other than my youngest granddaughter who stays with me while she’s in nursing school, all my babies and grandbabies have left the city. She’s 26, I always remember because it’s been 27 years since I beat breast cancer. Most of the others live someplace else and only come to East St. Louis to visit me and, while I’m happy here, I can tell they’re worried, they don’t think it’s safe.
I have family who grew up here who have been struggling since their mother died, one with alcohol, the other with heroin.
People know I’m a fighter, I’m a survivor. But you shouldn’t have to fight so damn hard to keep the place you love as your home.
I remember the smell of the meatpacking factories or going downtown to pop into a department store, taking it all for granted, and now it’s all gone. So what do you do about it now?
With this Power Building Academy I’m a part of, you get the sense, talking to people, trying to understand what to do, that the city feels lost. I know that feeling.
After years of feeling blessed, after giving one man my everything, my children, only to find out the unthinkable? Well, I lost myself for a while. I lost myself and I didn’t care.
I loved my job, I had goals, I worked hard. I was respected. And then I felt like I failed as a daycare owner and as a mother. So I’d lost my business— that I’d poured all my savings into— and, really, I lost myself. Then, at my lowest point, I got a call from this friend of mine. He said, “I know you’re going through a lot, but a while back you made me a promise that you would help me open a business when I was ready. Well, I’m ready.”
I was in bed with piles of bills and no income (remember: my daycare was shut down— about $4500 a month I used to count on— and my husband was going to jail, so obviously I didn’t have income from him anymore) and I just cried. I cried and I prayed. I said, “God, if I can have just $1200 a month that should be enough for me to at least have food and keep up with my mortgage.”
Well, I dried my eyes and went to help my friend get his business set up, just expecting to do this as a favor, since I’d promised him months before my life blew up (I always keep my word). And as we were finishing up the first day, he asked, “Hey, why don’t you work for me? I can’t pay you much, but I could afford about $1200 a month to start.” And my tears just started rolling.
So, I started pulling myself back together, out of my moment of self-pity and sorrow. I stuck with our church, United Faith, with a new pastor and started seeking out ways to give back. LCI, Lansdowne Community Initiative, is one of those ways. I’ve worked with them for about six years on projects to revitalize the community. Mostly, it’s helping senior citizens who need home repairs. It’s been great, but I’m very excited to be working as a Power Builder with WEPOWER now to revitalize not just some homes but the whole economy of East St. Louis.
With Elevate ESTL, we want to fight the lack of opportunities our community is experiencing. We’ve talked to community members and it’s clear jobs are hard to find around here. Most of the good jobs are across the river and the few jobs that are here often don’t pay living wages or are only available through nepotism. So we’ve been talking to Mayor Eastern to better understand how things got this way and to gain his support as we fight for community benefits agreements that can create better opportunities in this place I call home, this city that I love.
I don’t want to leave my 46ers. I don’t want to leave my friends, like Yvonne whose generosity fuels my spirit, or my neighbor, Kecia who I love. Kecia would be the first to tell you that even though she's scared of the neighborhood, she doesn’t ever wanna leave the neighborhood.
So, yes, I tell my babies (all East St. Louis high school graduates) and grandbabies (all grown and thriving now) if you drive around East St. Louis you’ll see a lot of it is run down and it might look a little scary, but I know the people here and I love these people. It’s like my church. After that dark point in my life, we reinvented our church with great people, like Yvonne, and we’re in the process of building a new building. A church isn’t defined by the building it’s in or even the pastor at its head, it’s the people. When the building starts to deteriorate, you don’t give up on the church, the people have to come together and fix it up or rebuild. That’s what we have to do with East St. Louis. I’ve learned that journeys aren’t always about traveling a physical distance. Sometimes journeys are traveling the distance from a deteriorated present to a rebuilt future. And, like I said, so many things have happened for me because I wasn’t afraid to journey.