Alderman French links activism to Catholic education

Alderman Antonio French

St. Louis alderman Antonio French has been perhaps the most visible person in the siege along West Florissant in Ferguson, seemingly being in every place at once.

As an activist/journalist, he has tweeted daily and nightly since Aug. 10, when protests, then rioting and looting began the day after the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. At last check, he has 114,000 followers, more than a 10-fold increase from less than 10,000 at the start. As a result, he has gained the coveted checkmark of a verified Twitter user.

He's posted videos on YouTube and Vine, talked on radio and appeared on the alphabet soup of local and national TV outlets.

All the while, he's been a civic leader, out front as an organizer trying to maintain peace and decorum in an often chaotic, sometimes violent, scene; police have used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse and otherwise quell unruly protesters.

To top it all off, he gained enormous "street cred" in being arrested one night while tweeting from his car. Police released him the next morning, after a nine-hour detention, without charges.

All in a day's work for French, who was baptized Catholic, received the sacraments and graduated from a Catholic grade school and Christian Brothers College High School, with a one-year stop at St. Louis University High School in between.

Catholic education has played a big role in the life of this active 36-year-old, a first-term alderman of St. Louis' 21st ward -- about 8 miles southeast of Ferguson. He agreed that his Catholic education goes hand-in-hand with his political activism. "Frankly, that's the kind of Christianity I knew when I was a little kid; you have to get your hands dirty," French said in the parking lot of the burned-out QuikTrip on West Florissant. "I think we kind of lost that a little bit as a country with the prosperity preaching; that's not what I grew up with."

French credited his grandmother with the strong academics of his upbringing. His mother died when he was 13 years old.

"A big part of who I am came out from my grandmother and her leadership," he said. "She was dead-set that I go to a private school. She always felt that SLUH and CBC were the best, and that's where she wanted me to go. I actually went to Catholic school my whole life until college."

French joked that he went "public" in college, earning his bachelor's degree from Auburn University in Birmingham, Ala. He's now studying for his MBA at Washington University in St. Louis.

French isn't active in a parish, but calls himself "a spiritual person, not religious, and I try to do good things." 


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