Welcome to the Community Spotlight, a new series for the Park Central blog. Each week, Park Central will feature a member of the community who lives, works, or is a regular visitor of the central corridor of St. Louis. This person may be front-and-center or be working behind the scenes, may be a local entrepreneur or a dedicated customer, a long-time homeowner or a new apartment dweller. We will bring you the folks who generally make life special in our neighborhoods.
What better person to kick off this series than Lewis Claybon, or as most people know him, the Forest Park Southeast greeter. Mr. Clayborn is a charismatic personality who lives and works in Forest Park Southeast. Every morning and afternoon Mr. Clayborn stands at the corner of Tower Grove and Vista waving to each passerby and making sure the school-aged youth cross the street safely.
Over twenty years ago, Mr. Clayborn moved to the neighborhood and worked as a laborer for a local construction company. A self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, he currently works as the cook for Lamb’s Bride Day Care Center. His experiences living and working in the neighborhood over the last two decades reflects the progress made in Forest Park Southeast.
Question: How has the neighborhood changed since you moved in twenty years ago?
“More development has come.” Lewis mentions the involvement of organizations like Barnes Jewish, Children’s Hospital and Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation all coming together and investing in the neighborhood. “They came together and said we are going to save this part of Missouri. You watch all the development come in and you’re just like, this is where I want to be. I’ve watched the neighborhood go from a war zone to a nice place to live.” He is confident that Forest Park Southeast is a peaceful place where people want to live. People he knows that were born in this area and grew up here “know that it’s come a long way.”
Question: How would you describe the identity of Forest Park Southeast?
Pleasant people define the landscape of the neighborhood for Lewis. He sees Forest Park Southeast as a place that gives people a sense of security in a time of chaos. “It ain’t safe at school. It ain’t safe at church. It ain’t safe at the store. It’s safe around here. That’s my truth about this neighborhood. It’s safe around here.”
Question: How did you get your start standing at Tower Grove and Vista greeting people?
“I was looking out my window early one morning and I saw a little kid at her bus stop and it was still dark. Next day, I got up again saw the same little girl at the bus stop so I came outside and stood on my porch and made sure I was watching her. So I just started coming outside then and I started noticing other kids. All these kids were out here by themselves and it is still dark waiting on the bus.” Lewis began to be a fixture at the bus stop, so that the children would know that someone was watching them to make sure they were safe. He got to know the parents and the kids that frequented the stop.
From his vantage point, he can see Hunt, Norfolk and Vista. The broad range of visibility lets him know who is headed his way. That was about twelve years ago. As Lewis puts it: “I was out there every day – I might as well start waving.”
Question: When you first meet someone, what would you do to convince them to come visit or move to Forest Park Southeast?
Lewis believes the best way to showcase his neighborhood is by showing it off. He is passionate about the amenities the neighborhood offers. “ I would take them to the Botanical Garden; let them see the convenience of the highway. I’d show them where the hospital is. I’d let them know how close Wash U is, SLU’s right there. It is just convenient. Then I’d have them come around at nighttime. Come around at nighttime and see how peaceful it is.”
We are thankful to Brother Lewis for sharing his vision of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood and look forward to seeing his smiling face for years to come. Next week, we’ll bring you the perspective of another person in the neighborhood in the upcoming Community Spotlight.