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Annie Malone Center has helped at-risk youth in St. Louis for more than a century

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center CEO Leslie Gill.

To most St. Louisans, the name Annie Malone conjures up images of a large parade in May. But the organization that hosts that parade, the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center has been providing services to at-risk children and families for more than a century — 128 years to be exact. Once an orphan home for African American children, the organization now provides a wide range of services including crisis intervention, transitional living, parenting education and therapeutic school programs among others.

On Monday, Annie Malone CEO Leslie Gill joined Don Marsh on St. Louis on the Air to discuss her organization’s services.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Annie Malone, the first African-American millionaire.

Who was Annie Malone?

“Annie Malone was really a pioneer for women in business,” said Gill. “She was Avon and Mary Kay before Avon and Mary Kay. She started her business to direct sell women’s hair care products. She was the first African-American millionaire in the country. She was extremely philanthropic. She wanted to make sure her riches and fortune went back in to the community.”

Just a reminder: Malone did all this before women had even acquired the right to vote in the United States. Although born in Chicago, Malone moved to St. Louis at a young age in 1902 and lived here most of her life until she returned to Chicago following a divorce in 1937. She died in 1957.

She originally gave what is now the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center $10,000—a great sum of money—and sat on the board of the organization from 1919 to 1943.

“I think she was seeing kids in harm’s way, kids in poverty … she wanted to be a beacon of hope for families,” Gill said. “This was at a time when there weren’t a lot of options for kids of color. She created this orphanage for kids of color.”

Today, the center carries on Malone’s legacy.

“We still see families living in poverty, particularly in the northern part of the corridor of the city, in north city,” Gill said. “Families are still trying to find their way and make ends meet. We serve about 2,000 kids per year who come into our care for a variety of things. Are things getting better? It is hard to say. There is still a need to have our services in the community—no one is putting us out of business in the community. I don’t know if that is an indicator of good or bad.”

This year, the parade honoring Malone will be held on Sunday, May 15. The parade is in its 106th year and is the second oldest and second largest African-American parade in the country, said Gill. Between 50 and 75,000 spectators are expected to come to the event, which has over 150 units in the parade.

Related Event

What: Annie Malone May Day Parade
When: Sunday, May 15, at 1:00 p.m.
Where: Begins at 20th along Market Street and heads east to Broadway.
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh, and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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