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Daria’s American future

Daria "D" Keys

This is part of a series of interviews by Debilyn Molineaux, project director for AmericanFuture.US. The project's mission is to help everyday Americans to imagine a better future for themselves, and together we’ll write the next chapter of the United State of America.

Daria “D” Keys was introduced to Debilyn during The Coffee Shop Tour in November-December 2023 by a mutual friend. D is a rising leader in Ferguson, Mo., with big plans for her future and that of the North County portion of the Greater St. Louis area. We met at The Hive, a cafe where they graciously allowed us to use a back room for our interview.

The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Debilyn Molineaux: This is research to imagine a future we actually want for ourselves. So this is about your preferred future, not about likely or probable futures. And to see your preferred future, we are going to time travel today – within your current life. We recommend somewhere between two and 20 years. What sounds right for you?


Daria “D” Keys: Five to 10 years.

DM: Can we be more specific?

DK: OK. There are things that take time, but we can say eight years.

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DM: First thing, we have to get into a time machine and go to 2031. Let’s take a few deep breaths as the time machine takes us to this imagined future. I would like you to observe yourself eight years older and respond to these questions. Where are you in 2031?

DK: We're in North County Pine Lawn. And when I look around, it looks like all of the vacant and abandoned buildings are torn down. I've been told that you have to tear the buildings down in a healthy way, and that's expensive. But they're funds somewhere in this perfect world where that's already taken care of. All of the abandoned houses are part of a program to help people who maybe are lower income, but we need help acquiring those houses. We have a program set up where they get those houses as they're paying off their mortgages, building up their credit. And we're also teaching everyone who's a part of this program to grow a certain vegetable because we're building community here. Once a week, every person brings what they grew to our weekly farmers market. So we're bringing farming back into this sphere, we're bringing the community back. We all look out for each other. And I'm just trying to share what I grew up with and what my family experienced.

DM: So many of the things that you’ve worked on in 2023 are coming to fruition. And it feels healthy.

DK: In 2023, people will stay on their street or block, and they don’t know anyone. There are so many hidden gems that I find when I’m walking to the farm. And I want to bring it together.

DM: What will you be most proud of?

DK: I'm an alderwoman. I've stepped into my leadership roles, and I'm confident about it. I have a farm. I have a cow, several dogs and I'm teaching people how to use their strengths. So that way we can go out and reach more people and replicate the process. Here, North County is small, but I know there are other places in Missouri like southern Missouri that want the same thing. There's one person here, one person there, and if we build out a good foundation, a framework or blueprint, we can share that so it can spread. It doesn't have to stay here. I want it to go everywhere, right? Because everyone wants it. I attend so many Zoom meetings and people are talking about the same thing. “We need this. We want this.” Okay, well, you just have this one team. It's like three of you guys. And it goes for a bit. And then it filters out because it's a team effort.

DM: How will you spend your day?

DK: Waking up early in the morning and tending to the farm. I have a dairy cow, but she's just being a giant grass puppy. She doesn't work. She's just there to lift people's spirits. In my perfect world, I'm living on the edge of town and people come to me for help because I’m a jack of all trades. I'm going to school to be a paralegal, learning how to use herbalism and all those medicines. Teaching people how what you eat impacts you, it’s part of taking care of yourself mentally and physically.

So I wake up in the morning. I tend to my farm. We come together as a community. We're out there working in the fields. I'm pretty sure education comes in at some point. We're just a beautiful community of people working together, there are kids somewhere, laughing, the background playing in a new generation of farmers.

DM: Are they your kids?

DK: No, they're not my kids. They're neighborhood kids. I know a lot of neighborhood kids. So it's the neighborhood kids who hang out at the park in 2023 because they have nothing to do and the playground is broken down. There's a big gate around it and it's locked. So in 2031, the kids will enjoy playing outside. They enjoy working with animals, like holding rabbits and chickens. In 2023, farming seems to be dying out. So in eight years, this area will bring the next generation of farmers. The food system needs help.

DM: So you're on the edge of town. How big is your property?

DK: It’s like three or four acres. I've been told that for each big land animal they need an acre to themselves. So Velveteen Richardson [the cow] has all this room to live her best life.

DM: Anything else to add about how you spend your day?

DK: I like helping people, my neighbors. In 2023, my neighbors had to move abruptly because they had a verbal agreement to trade work on the house for rent. And when someone came to buy the house, the landlord didn’t honor the verbal agreement and evicted them for non-payment of rent. People here don’t understand contracts and how to write agreements. I want to help people prevent these things, every day.

DM: How will you feel, most of the time?

DK: Sorry, I’m gonna cry if I think about my neighbors situation.

DM: Take your time. That's part of why we're in the back room, because stuff comes up. We’ll start when you are ready.

DK: OK, you asked how I’ll feel?

DM: Yes, in 2031, how does this person you're becoming feel most of the time?

DK: [through tears] Hopeful. Positive. Glad that I'm making an impact. Knowing that the work that I'm doing is helping. In A Red Circle during the pandemic, we helped with food, cleaning supplies and such. There were no hoops for people to jump through. In the future, I’m super-positive that my work has longevity and is helping people sustain themselves by getting property and land.

DM: What will be your three priority values?

DK: Having influence in my community. Like right now, in 2023, there are at least 30 vacant houses in my ward, and by 2031 we’ve helped people to buy those properties and created a nice neighborhood. I want to be helpful and make a contribution, especially with my neighbors. Empowering people to help themselves.

DM: I'm hearing underneath that, the principle of equity. And another principle of love.

DK: Yeah, everyone needs help sometimes.

DM: What does the community that supports your future need to include?

DK: I need people to come out of their houses. I want to host block parties and have everyone attend. When I’m an alderwoman, I want to meet everyone and hear what the people’s concerns are, so I can help them to help themselves. I know who to talk to, to get things done. There are a lot of resources available, but no one knows about them. And I want to keep my neighbors updated on improvements. Otherwise, they won’t know why I’m any different than everyone else. People don’t trust each other.

DM: So, I’m hearing that you need a culture of neighborliness. And trust?

DK: [The neighbors] don't have trust for [the organization] since I came in, even though I have this background [in the neighborhood and how to navigate the system]. They don't know it, and you're automatically assumed to be trash. So I have to learn to build it to show them.

DM: So you also need the community to be respectful and open-minded?

DK: Yes, people come to the board meetings and they just want drama. They don’t know how to listen. They attack the elected officials or bring up personal matters that don’t belong in the public meetings. Or they don’t attend all the meetings or read the minutes to know the process for getting things approved.

DM: Is there anything you can do today or in the near future to influence or co-create the community that will support you in 2031?

DK: I’m not really sure. I think I need to learn how to get things going on my own, outside of official channels. Too many elected officials give me the run-around when I bring up the issue of the abandoned buildings.

DM: I’m wondering what’s in it for them to not address the abandoned buildings?

DK: What I could do today is go back to my leadership training and draft a letter about what I could do now.

DM: The other thing I’m hearing is how might you find the influencers to your representatives, and how might you befriend them, to build influence from another direction?

DK: Yeah, I’m gonna have to become an alderwoman. I could definitely get things done. And I do have some good mentors, who, if I don't have the answer, they either have it or they can put me in touch with the direct person who knows. When I get in there, I plan to hit the ground running.

DM: OK, the interview is complete and I have an invitation for you. The invitation is to spend five minutes every da, thinking about your future self, feeling those feelings and include a sense of awe and wonder. This is based on neuroscience research that shows we subconsciously create what we focus on. So the choice is ours – we can actually co-create the future we prefer instead of choosing from the dystopian options presented to us.

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