GUSF is excited to introduce you to our most recent grantee, the Zakatu Madrasa- bringing about social change for young people in St. Louis through art and expression.

The Zakatu Madrasa is a collectively-framed community-oriented art process housed in a spiritual subscription bookstore and private library. It employs a unique intergenerational method involving artists, educators, activists and young people of color co-creating scholarly-informed art to address regional social issues. This project is a localized and living response to the demands of art intervention in the lives of incarcerated and court-involved youth.

There have been more than 13,000 people shot, murdered, or robbed at gun point in just the last 5 years in the City of St. Louis (SLMPD). A disproportionate amount of victims and perpetrators of violence are young men of color; in 2011, Saint Louis city’s gunshot murder rate for 10- to 19-year-olds was more than three times the average for larger cities (CDC). Since then, the homicide rate has increased by over 30% (SLMPD). Despite these troubling statistics, national experts concur: youth violence is preventable through education, mentorship and arts-based approaches. Unfortunately in St Louis, many troubled city youth are offered these services only after court-involvement and by less-effective traditional organizations which do not involve the arts. And with no tangible economic component, many eager participants recede back into the illegal behaviors which brought on their initial incarceration and court-involvement.

Many community artists-activists assert a growing consensus that local bookstores, libraries, schools and museums make innumerable unhelpful assumptions about literacy and education that end up undermining their relationships with communities who most need their services. The Zakatu Madrasa is a centralized continuation of community-arts methodology brought to ambitious scale for long-term implementation. As a planned cooperatively-owned spiritual subscription bookstore and private library, the goal of the Zakatu Madrasa is far beyond selling books or soliciting subscriptions.We plan to address issues of violence, social degradation, and cultural trauma using art. Drawing on the scholarly works of Jessica Gordon Nemhard, W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Haki Madhubuti, Korina Jocson and Ella Baker, The Zakatu Madrasa is an honest experiment in implementing pedagogy for the people.

Read about the most recent work that CiviWiki has been doing!
We have been working on CiviWiki Version 1.0 for over 8 months now and have begun testing the system in preparation for our pre-release beta-testers. At this exciting cusp, I look back on the challenges and progress we have made to get this far. We redesigned the system and overcame technical problems. We faced scheduling issues as our developers balanced full-time jobs, and personal life with the demands of launching a startup. And everything we have done has been completed on a shoestring budget, stretched far beyond the 4 month period it was designed to cover. But with perseverance, we got here. And we are more dedicated than ever. The recent election highlighted the importance of our project. Our country is more polarized than ever and citizens need a better way to talk to each other. And, that conversation needs to be productive, using our differences to understand problems and find solutions. CiviWiki isn’t a solution in itself, but we believe it is a tool that can help bridge the divide between our polarized communities, and between Citizens and Congress.

Here’s an update and new video from Mitchell on CiviWiki and their recent crowdfunding campaign:

At the end of last semester, with the support of the Greater University Service Foundation, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop CiviWiki this summer. The above video is the crowdfunding video we created and it explains why we launched our campaign. In short, most Americans believe we have a problem with staying informed and being engaged with our democratic system. We have developed a plan to use the power of the internet to solve this problem. CiviWiki allows communities to discuss the problems they are facing, discover solutions to those problems, and then use this knowledge to petition representations and hold them accountable. For more information on CiviWiki, visit our website at

Through the generosity of our community, we raised over $22,000, just short of our $25,000 goal. With this influx of funding, we have been working tirelessly to build our web-system. Our four member development team is currently on track to make a limited release of CiviWiki early this fall. If you are interested in testing CiviWiki, you can email Mitchell at [email protected].

GUSF would like to introduce our newest grantee, CiviWiki, in their first blog post. If you like what you see, you can support them by visiting their crowd funding page here .
CiviWiki is a non-profit organization founded by Washington University students bothered by the current state of democratic engagement. Most citizens are uniformed, lacking essential knowledge about key policy issues, and unaware of their representatives’ stance on these issues. Growing up with the internet, we have seen it revolutionized our civilization. And it is already effecting politics, as the majority of social media users post about at least one political issue each year. Unfortunately, the nature of social media isn’t well suited for an informed, and meaningful, discussion of politics. We tend to form likeminded social networks which create echo-chambers, reinforcing a dominate narrative without considering other views, or critically examining the truth of statements. The linear reply based comment systems prevents collaborative discussions and rapidly deteriorate into a series of disconnected conversations, muddling the issue. And, these conversations are disconnected from the political process, meaning that even if someone comes to support a policy, their voice isn’t taken into account by representatives.

We believe we can make a better system. We started by developing a modular posting system modeled after a debate notetaking structure. We call each post a “Civi.” A Civi is a single point in the greater discussion which can be linked in series, leading to policy proposals. By breaking the discussion into a series of single points, each contention can be responded to and discussed. This makes it possible to organize a much larger, collaborative discussion of the issue. But more importantly, it allows users to rate their agreement with individual points in the discussion, allowing them to build their own policy perspective, rather than wholly agreeing or disagreeing with a single author’s narrative. We use this rating to both find the best content, and to intelligently lead the user through the discussion, exposing them to important opposing views, and leading them to the policy proposals they are most likely to support. The attached infographic shows how this discussion is then tied directly to the political process. When a user supports a policy proposal, we both use that data to petition their representatives; and we save the user’s opinion to their account, where it is used to help the user compare political candidates and make an informed vote come Election Day.

We want to thank the Greater University Service Foundation for helping to spark our crowdfunding campaign. We are currently over 20% of our goal and just received a pledged donation which will take us within 15% of our target. To donate to the project and to learn more about CiviWiki from one of our videos (which happen to have some great background music) please visit our crowdfunding campaign at


Here’s an introduction from one of our most recent grantees, Christopher Phillips, about the beginnings of his documentary, “Canfield Drive.” Click the following for a link to the powerful video he has released as a first glimpse into his ongoing work, which has garnered nearly 200,000 views: Ferguson: 100 Days | 100 Seconds
January 27th, 2015

I’ve been creating film and various types of media for a couple of years now. It is something that I have enjoyed because the way you can utilize one’s senses, particularly sight and sound, to captivate and move people emotionally. On August 9th, 2014 I was the director of photography (cinematographer) on a local project when I had several calls about a shooting death happening in my apartment complex, Canfield Green. Unfortunately, I wasn’t shocked about the occurrence of death in the city of St. Louis no matter how close to my home it is.

Michael Brown Jr. was killed in the same spot in the street that I walk my dog across to get to the mailbox during the week.

On the evening of August 10th, the world focused on Ferguson and St. Louis, and contrary to the belief of some, it wouldn’t be for a moment. After witnessing the pain, public outrage, and even destruction, I knew instantly I was going to document this period because it was historic. This is actually bigger than Michael Brown. I know this because as an African- American resident of Ferguson, I get it. I understand why many are upset. I also understand that right now, some don’t get it. But that is the power of being a filmmaker. You have the ability to give information and convey emotion through a narrative or story.

The city that I love is suffering because of systemic and institutionalized issues that exist in Missouri that put people like myself at risk. I’m an African-American male, young, and blessed. I have two college degrees, interned at one of the largest film studios in the world, work at an accredited university, a local television station, and independently have had Fortune 500 companies as my clients. However with all of these accomplishments, I am still treated with the same hostility and harassment by the police because of the area I live in and sometimes, because of the color of my skin. I don’t hate the police, I admire police officers and what they are supposed to represent. Yet, as a filmmaker I need to find a way to show someone across the world that even a guy like me can be nervous while driving if he sees a cop in his rear-view mirror having not committed a crime. I had a very lovely conversation with a woman in the McDonald’s located on West Florissant where the initial protesting took place. After finding out more about me, she admittedly would have never known an individual like me existed in Canfield Green based on what was being said in the media. So it is clear to me that issues with race, law enforcement, political and government structure, socioeconomics, and the media, all play a part of what is happening in Ferguson. I want someone across the world to understand these issues and why people were, and still are outraged. I would like to see something more than public discussion.

I’m always looking for creative ways to bring art to the world. When it was close to the 100th day with no grand jury decision in the case, I wanted to release the first piece of my work to encapsulate the events that have occurred in that period as a prelude piece to my full-length project. So I challenged myself to take months of footage, hundreds of hours of filming and condense it into 100 seconds. Hence, I came up with “Ferguson: 100 Days | 100 Seconds.” I knew the title was catchy, and by understanding marketing towards the modern consumer, short wasn’t a bad idea, so it may just work, and grow.

Film has a multitude of elements and is a very collaborative process. That is one of the reasons I love it. But this has been an autonomous process because of my lack of budget. So the most challenging part was I gave myself two days to select moments to tell a story in 100 seconds when I have enough to make a three-part series like “The Godfather” films. By combining effective editing, dialogue, visuals, sound, and color grading I had a short piece that still had a story arc. When I released it late November, I created my own marketing blitz by sending some e-mails, creating a website site, making a few phone calls, sending a couple texts, and sharing it on Facebook. I was surprised and honored that the video was viewed over 1,000 times on the first day because I definitely don’t know that many people. The following day another 7,000 people watched it. The video was played over 100,000 times in just over a week without the help of YouTube. As of January, it had 190,000 views seen in over 140 countries across the globe and I never paid for advertising. M.C. Hammer and Val Kilmer tweeted it. Hot 97 and Hip-Hop Weekly put it on their websites. KMBC-TV in Kansas City and Southern California Public Radio interviewed me, then “Good Morning America” sent me an e-mail message… Whoa. Yet while I was grateful for all of that support, I was touched most by the people without a celebrity status that shared it everyday. It may seem absurd to be excited about the success of the video’s views because of the circumstances of what the video is about. But I am excited because the world is connecting on a personal and emotional level with the content. It is an honest piece with an authentic experience of a resident. That made it unique and attributed to it being so potent. Some that were numb to the media coverage contacted me and said this video was able to move them to tears. That is a powerful thing.

So my next step is to get the world to see this project. I would like to exhibit the film when completed to film festivals and hold forums around it to create discussion as an educational tool. My current challenge is to gain additional funding to complete the project. There are many passionate people I would like to include so I can focus on directing and guiding this important film rather than do it all by myself. I hope to include assistant editors to help sift through hundreds of hours of footage, producers to help acquire the additional information and resources to bring the project together, utilize researchers to include the statistical data to indeed show that there are challenges that this region faces. Art is subjective. When the cameras leave Ferguson, what will remain through the course of time is this film. I believe that this project will drive people to the ballot box, or to talk to their neighbors so that one day, we all can live amongst each other as equals, so that history is not revisited.

By: Christopher Phillips

The following is a summary of the event written by one of the event organizers. It sounds like it was quite the adventure!

Bubble Butt Bike Blowout brought over twenty Washington University students into the greater St. Louis community. The group met at the edge of campus beginning the adventure cruising through Forest Park.

It was smooth sailing until we exited the park and made a left on Maclind Avenue. There we saw our fate off in the distance: the hill up to the Hill, the highest point in the city.

All twenty of us stood idle at the traffic light at Manchester waiting for what we knew would be a struggle. Our thoughts worsened as a passing biker told us to beware, but when the light turned green, we raced to gain momentum.

Next thing we knew we all were howling in celebration of our arrival in the Hill. It was not so bad after all.

Joe DeGregorio, a Hill native, greeted our arrival warmly having his tour group give us an authentic American Italian welcome in unison. He explained a short history of the neighborhood being interrupted by family and friends casually walking by.

This was the Hill.

We parted ways and biked to Berra Park where two large pans of pasta prepared by a local restaurant sat waiting. We spent the next hour getting to know each other while enjoying the warm lunch.

As we prepared to hit the road for the next destination, rain droplets began hitting the ground. Was this the end of our adventure?

Our merry mood had shifted while we pedaled through the cold rain. I worried we would be standing outside soaking wet for our next destination, but when we met Richard Reilly at the Commerce Bank Center for Science Education he quickly motioned for us to come inside letting us bring our bikes with us.

It was just enough time to let the rain pass as Richard talked about projects he had worked on in the city. A favorite was a project in Old North St. Louis where a vacant lot was revitalized using sunflowers to remediate the contaminated soil.

Our next destination was Tower Grove Park. We spent time in a pavilion using a drawing exercise to help spark a discussion on the barriers that keep students from leaving campus.

An idea for an intervention was to post more signs around the city and around campus that detail bus routes and bus schedules.

Afterwards, we wandered through the park, encountering weddings, playing children, gardens, and trees.

We departed the park looking forward to our last destination, the Grove. Chris Colizza and Guy Slay, important forces in the revitalization of the Grove, met us and talked about the difficulties and excitements of working in a transforming community.

They left us to wander through Grovefest, a big street party with plenty of food, and music.

Congrats on a successful event guys! Looking forward to tracking your progress on future events and follow-up from the BBBB.

The Greater University Service Foundation is proud to announce our support for a terrific new opportunity for students at Washington University to explore the greater St. Louis community beyond the grounds of the University.

The Bubble Butt Bike Blowout will burst the so-called WashU bubble. Participants will learn St. Louis biking infrastructure, eat lunch in the historic Hill neighborhood, explore Tower Grove Park, and experience Grovefest in the Grove, while meeting community members along the way.

The event will take place at 11am on October 5th. For more information, visit

We hope that participants in this great event not only gain agency within St. Louis, but also share their experiences back on campus, sparking conversations directed at the complex social and physical barriers that prevent students from becoming active citizens of this city.

Last Friday one of our community partners, Urban Harvest STL, held a fundraiser for their future FOOD ROOF project. The Raise the ‘FOOD’ ROOF benefit was a fun evening of bowling, with some conversation around urban agriculture and the vital role that the FOOD ROOF will play in providing fresh food and education in their community.

This event raised over $1400, a great success. Proceeds will be added to their fundraising campaign and go toward constructing the FOOD ROOF project.  Urban Harvest STL plans to start building the rooftop farm this summer, in time to get some fall crops in the ground.

The FOOD ROOF project will be situated on a rooftop in the heart of city living in downtown St Louis.

There are thousands of residents and workers within blocks who will literally be able to walk to the FOOD ROOF to pick up a share of fresh food from the rooftop, engage in events, volunteer, and learn about growing food in the city.

Keep posted on the progress of the FOOD ROOF project here:




FOOD ROOF PicUrban Harvest STL, one of our community partners in St Louis, is planning a fundraiser for their future FOOD ROOF project. Please join the Raise the ‘FOOD’ ROOF Benefit this Friday in St. Louis.


Raise the ‘FOOD’ ROOF Benefit

Friday April 19, 2013
Flamingo Bowl: 1117 Washington Ave, St Louis, MO 63101


RESERVE YOUR TICKETS on Eventbrite before they sell out. Price includes all the bowling your heart desires, plus food, beer, wine and beverages – an overall good night out on the town. Prizes will be awarded to the top team of 4, so bring your bowling team and get ready. Not a fan of bowling? Board games and a billiards table will also be available. Come to play, support a community project, and learn more about the FOOD ROOF!

All proceeds will be added to their online fundraising campaign and go toward constructing the FOOD ROOF farm.  This project is currently 91% funded on Rally St Louis with 21 days to go.

Urban Harvest STL LogoWe would like to congratulate Urban Harvest STL, a new friend and partner in St Louis that is doing some great community work around urban agriculture.

Urban Harvest STL promotes a healthful downtown St Louis community, enriching lives through education and innovation in urban agriculture, green space and multicultural connectivity. They envision a vibrant city where underutilized inner city spaces are transformed into productive food-based platforms which actively contribute to a more empowered social community. Their goal is to educate and empower individuals on the possibilities of farming in non-traditional urban landscapes

In 2011 they developed the first downtown community garden. Building off this momentum, they are ‘growing’ their next project – the FOOD ROOF, which will be the first of its kind rooftop farm in St. Louis! Created by scores of passionate volunteers, this community focused project will connect city dwellers from all walks of life to an organic-based food system located in the urban heart of St. Louis.

From growing food to raising chickens and bee-keFOOD ROOF Piceping, the FOOD ROOF will be a living demonstration of innovative approaches to urban agriculture including hydroponics and vertical farming. This rooftop farm is envisioned to be a community platform, actively engaging and educating city dwellers with an outdoor classroom and gathering space for community events and outreach.

Residents will be able to walk a short distance to the FOOD ROOF and pick up their very own Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) share of neighbor-grown goodness. Fresh produce will also be delivered via bicycle to nearby charities eliminating the need for produce to clock thousands of environmentally damaging food miles before it gets to the table. It does not get more environmentally sustainable than this.

Urban Harvest STL’s FOOD ROOF project aims to not only grow food, but to continue to grow strategic partnerships and a community which contributes to their health, and the sustained health and welfare of their social fabric.