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Go! International Is Preparing East St. Louis Youth For Big Things

Over the past decade and a half, Seth Hamilton’s love for foreign languages and martial arts has taken him to destinations around the world: Nicaragua, Guatemala, France and north Africa. Now he’s sharing his love of travel with kids in East St. Louis. His nonprofit Go! International offers free language classes to East St. Louis youth, as well as martial arts training and entrepreneurship programs.

The goal is to help the kids see the world beyond their own communities — and the opportunities within it.

One of those students is Dior Hampton. A sophomore at Governor French Academy, Hampton plans to study Spanish in Colombia for six months next year and then return to East St. Louis to teach younger kids herself.

Go! International
Go! International
As participants in Go! International's entrepreneurship program, students sell their own organically grown produce to East St. Louis community members.

“With these classes and with me being one of the first kids to go study abroad, I feel like kids are going to want to go study abroad after I come back,” she told St. Louis on the Air. “They’re going to be excited to actually learn the language.”

The 15-year-old, who has taken advantage of Hamilton’s language, martial arts and entrepreneurship classes for about six years, sees what she’s learning as important preparation for what she hopes to do after high school, too — including attending Howard University.

“All I gotta say is: Just work your best at whatever you want to do,” Hampton said. “You’re eventually going to get what you want.”

The work has been an education for Hamilton, too. Raised in Swansea, Illinois, he remembers his first day of teaching at the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, back in 2009, as “a crazy day.”

“A kid broke my glasses, and this girl who would turn out to be an all-star student took my keys and pretended she was going to steal my car,” Hamilton told St. Louis on the Air, laughing at the memory. Not long afterward, while traveling with a group of the students in South Africa, he would watch with pride as that same young woman served as an impromptu translator for other travelers from around the world.

Seeing her put her new skills to use, Hamilton was struck by the ways in which do-gooders too often approach impoverished communities: seeing the people as a problem “instead of seeing the people as the resources.”

“They’re the solutions to the problems,” Hamilton said.

Go! International
Go! International
A group of Go! International students joined East St. Louis native and artist Edna Patterson-Petty for the grand opening of their art exhibit at the Sheldon's East Side Renaissance in February 2020.

Since that realization, he’s sought to put it into practice near and far. During his time in Nicaragua, he started a martial arts school, which since his departure has become self-sustaining under the leadership of a former student.

“Where I only had maybe 20 or 25 students at any given time, he’s got 50,” Hamilton said.

Last year, after years of classes, Hamilton fully incorporated Go! International as a nonprofit. His focus these days is on reaching more and more East St. Louis youth. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, he’s keeping those students busy.

“The kids are running their own businesses — selling accessories, jewelry, snacks — and are socking money away into these savings accounts,” Hamilton explained.

The efforts recently caught the attention of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which worked with Go! International to set up protected bank accounts for the students with Scott Credit Union.

Hamilton noted that donations make the work of Go! International possible and help keep its classes free of charge for East St. Louis youth. To learn more about the organization, visit go-int.org.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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