Charmaine Savage spent years away from her hometown of East St. Louis as an officer in the U.S. Navy. After living away with her husband Lorenzo, also from East St. Louis, in places like Virginia, San Diego, Tennessee and even Iraq, she returned to the area after retiring following several battles with cancer.
Savage said that she and her husband, who she met at Lincoln High School, had always wanted to return. Over the years, she had continually heard bad publicity about her hometown. She knew she wanted to combat that.
“There were times when, it is inevitable wherever you want to go that people want to know where you’re from,” said Savage on Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air.” “It never failed. I had one guy who I worked for who said ‘Oh, you made it out of East St. Louis?’ I’m thinking, ‘What are you talking about?’ I did not experience the things that, what I call urban myths, that people use when they talk about when they talk about East St. Louis. I did not experience any of that.”
Savage wholeheartedly disagreed with the narrative she heard circulating about East St. Louis. So, she started a publishing company and a magazine to combat the negative stereotypes of the town. It is called “I Am EStL,” which stands for “I am East St. Louis.”
“I want to introduce the humanness of the people of East St. Louis through the pages,” said Savage. “I want people to read the stories and see that they’re just like we are — these people are no different, even though they may know people from East St. Louis. I want people to know the greatness of the people of East St. Louis.”
Savage joined the show to talk about the publication, the stories she’s collecting, and how she came to start the magazine. The first issue of the magazine was released on Jan. 3.
The first issue features an interview with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who hails from East St. Louis, the mayor of the city Emeka Jackson-Hicks, and the former 15th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Donald McHenry.
“That’s the caliber of people who will be featured in each issue,” said Savage. “But we also have some local folks in there. I want people to see that East St. Louisans come in all flavors.”
One of those stories is about Fines Cole Jr. and Domonique Burrage, two friends who grew up in a housing project in East St. Louis but who have bonded through the Youth Build Weatherization Program that was offered through Emerson Development Corporation, before funding was pulled from it.
“They are setting a great example for what people can expect from young men in East St. Louis,” said Savage.
The magazine is being offered for free at locations all over East St. Louis, and will also be available electronically so people outside of East St. Louis can see it as well. Right now, Savage is self-funding the magazine but she hopes that she’ll find more advertisers from the major corporations in the East St. Louis metropolitan area. She has received generous donations from fellow military colleagues and neighbors to support the publication through a gofundme campaign.
She says the print distribution in solely East St. Louis is not without thought.
“There are some East St. Louisans who have bought into that mindset as well that we’re not great,” said Savage. “This is to elicit pride in East St. Louisans and bring people back around. I talk to East St. Louisans all the time who do not have the opinion you’d think. I just do it one person at a time and try to change hearts and minds.”
Although there are plenty of things to talk about with politics, education and financial woes in the East St. Louis area, Savage said she’ll not be covering those things, instead only focusing on the good. “There is space for several different movements here,” said Savage.
The launch party on Jan. 3 at the Katherine Dunham Museum has been a highlight for her so far.
“I can still feel the energy that was in the room, the entire building,” said Savage. “It felt like everybody there was part of one family. It felt like everyone there was on one accord. I feel like something great is about to happen in East St. Louis.”
There is a void of positive stories to be filled by Savage’s magazine. During the show, Phillip called the show to share the story of his childhood in East St. Louis during the 1970s. He says that he still drives through the area on the way to work.
“We had a lot of good experiences,” said Phillip. “Just like any city you have to be cautious, looking around here and there, but one of the major things is that Samuel is a man that stands there and he waves at you and I’ve had plenty of chances to stop and talk to you. But if you’re in a bad mood, here he is waving at you, making you in a better mood. He’s a happy man and I like that he is the East St. Louis greeter.”
Stories like that are ones that Savage hopes to include in the magazine going forward as she produces five more issues this year. If you would like to support Savage’s magazine, you can contribute to her GoFundMe campaign, which helps pay contributors. To get in contact with her about the magazine, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"East St. Louisans inspire me. Period,” said Savage. “We have such a rich cultural history in East St. Louis. We have a history of greatness.”
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.