Volunteers board up buildings with murals of prominent St. Louisans

ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – Better Family Life and volunteers boarded homes Saturday with the pictures of influential St. Louisans. They got help from an employee whose family is still reeling from a huge loss.

"It feels tragic that it happened."

Anthony Johnson is 18-years-old and still carries the sting of his little brother's murder.

"Now that I got saved and entered God I be like, he's in a better place."

Antonio was just 11-years-old when he was shot and killed in 2014. The boy was doing homework at the family computer when someone opened fire on the child’s home. The victim’s mother, Tonya Cummings, said her son died in her arms.

“I'm still here,” Anthony’s face brightened. My mama still got me. We're still smilin'."

He said the employment he found at Better Family Life in North St. Louis has been a life raft in a sea filled with overwhelming loss and fear. Anthony said community outreach vice president James Clark gave him work and support.

“He always telling me are you okay? Do you need anything? Yeah, it helped me a lot. They healed me."

Anthony spent Saturday morning healing a neighborhood and boarding vacant homes with the pictures of prominent African-American St. Louisans. Some have passed on. Some are still pressing on, just like the residents who live near the new art project along Page Avenue from Kingshighway to Skinker. Two boards hold the likenesses of FOX2 / News 11 journalists Shirley Washington and Bonita Cornute.

“We wanted to give them their roses, while they could still smell them,” Clark pointed out.

Anthony said the boards remind residents and visitors there is still a lot of life in this distressed area of North and West St. Louis

"That's why they are just putting the boards up, to let them know that it's still a home."

Anthony did not just appreciate these people artistically. He appreciated their impact on the city’s history, as well. He learned the story of the late officer Norville Brown, who was killed on duty in 2007.  The teen also heard of the late singer Grace Bumbry.

"We were talking about her, and they were like she has done a lot of things for a lot of people. And that police officer. They said that he saved a lot of lives."

After the boards are hung, Anthony’s thoughts turn toward his future.

"It's showing me how to be a better person when I get older, yeah, something my ancestors would do."