Meet August Trailnet Champion Dwayne James
Dwayne James loves creating opportunities for people to challenge themselves and succeed at things they never thought they could accomplish. As a Ferguson City Council member, he worked closely with Trailnet’s Healthy Active and Vibrant Communities Initiative from 2008- 2013 to develop Live Well Ferguson, which organizes a variety of community events that bring people together for fun and exercise. Seven years ago, Live Well Ferguson organized the first Ferguson Twilight Run, an annual event that now draws up to two thousand participants.
“The first year we thought we might get 50 people to show up—we ended up with 900 people,” Dwayne said. “We get everyone from little kids, to seasoned runners, to those using a cane to walk the 5K. We’re telling people to show up however you are, as long as you do it. It’s not just good for the individuals or families, it’s good for the whole community because the community comes together and shines.”
Other annual events sponsored by Live Well Ferguson include the Twilight Ramble bicycle ride, and Sunday Parkways, an opportunity for residents to walk, bike and play on streets closed to car traffic.
Live Well Ferguson also promotes healthy food choices through Eat Well Ferguson, a program that provides nutritional information at participating local restaurants, and by offering garden plots at three community garden sites. Dwayne worked with several other residents to craft an ordinance creating the community gardens and conveyed his own excitement as a novice gardener.
“We wanted to do something positive with the empty lots that we had around town,” he said. “The great thing about community gardens is that people get out there to work and neighbors meet each other for the first time…they might live four doors apart but never knew each other. I grew my first cucumber – I was so excited! I just wanted to save it, but I had to eat it eventually.”
Another early goal of Live Well Ferguson was to craft Complete Streets legislation for Ferguson. Dwayne spearheaded this effort in 2008, making Ferguson one of the first communities in the region to pass Complete Streets.
“I am a civil engineer, so streets and infrastructure were things that I had in my back pocket,” Dwayne said. “We were already on a path to build a healthier, more active community, and I knew that designing streets that were safe for all users would be a great asset.”
Having served the maximum number of terms on the City Council, Dwayne is no longer a member, but is still an enthusiastic organizer of Live Well events and is also a Board Member of the Ferguson Youth Initiative.
FYI provides Ferguson teens with a welcoming space where they have access to activities, computers, and adult volunteers who provide tutoring. It also coordinates youth programs with other organizations, like the YMCA, Ferguson Parks and Recreation, and local schools and churches. Most importantly, FYI helped to create a Youth Advisory Board. This group of 10 teens provides a youth perspective on city issues, and gives young people a chance to participate in local government. Dwayne emphasizes the value of the Youth Board for the city as well as the teens who serve.
“It allows them to have a voice and empowers them to do things for themselves,” he said. “It also helps city officials understand what is important to our young people and ways that we can all work together to solve problems.”
Having lived in Ferguson for most of his life, Dwayne is familiar with its struggles, but positive about its future.
“We have people moving into the community, businesses that are growing, citizens stepping up to serve on the council,” Dwayne said. “Ferguson youth are doing amazing things. The schools are graduating some spectacular kids. If you don’t know the good and bad aspects of your community, then you’re not involved. I love Ferguson, I love North County, I love St. Louis. I know that there is lots of work to be done and it’s the entire community that makes things happen. There’s the person who steps up to volunteer, the person who comes out to an event and cheers the runners on, or even the resident who says ‘I’m ok with them shutting down my street to hold this event.’ I have faith in my community and know that working together we will continue to make great things happen.”