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Published on Jul 31, 2013
www.stlamerican.com By Rebecca S. Rivas
No standing room remained at the July 24 grand opening celebration of the Better Family Life Cultural, Educational and Business Center, located at 5415 Page Blvd. Children dressed in bright orange shirts lined the stairways to greet the 150 visitors as they came into the center's new auditorium. As the master of ceremonies, St. Louis City License Collector Michael McMillian received a standing ovation when local leaders announced that he will become the next president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. As a teen, McMillian, now 41, participated in the youth programs at Better Family Life, a non-profit North St. Louis City community development corporation. To start the ceremony, McMillian decided to acknowledge his mother in the audience. "I want to publicly apologize to her for all the times that I volunteered for Better Family Life and took over her entire refrigerator with bean pies," said McMillian, earning a roaring laughter from the audience. "And for asking her to help me roll change from when we would collect donations on the corner of Natural Bridge and Kingshighway. I'm sorry, Mom." The agency began its capital campaign for the center in 1999. While raising funds to complete the $13 million renovation, the agency operated its programs out of more than 10 satellite sites. The project completely restored 60,000 square feet of the former Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary building, which the agency purchased on June 29, 2005 from the St. Louis Public School District. Built in 1901 by renowned architect William Butts Ittner, the historic building inhabits a full city block in the 26th Ward. The project's architect was KAI, and the developer was McCormack Baron Salazar. About 27 years ago, Better Family Life founders Malik and DeBorah Ahmed dreamed of opening a cultural center to express the history, art, culture and dance of peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora. The center will also provide GED classes and skill-based job training, housing down payment assistance programs, business related seminars and motivational trainings. "Because we remained cognizant of the needs of the population we serve, and are diligent about serving our community in a responsible and determined way, we have been able to utilize a unique and diverse approach of blending a holistic array of products, direct services and perspectives to the people whose lives are being changed for the better," said Malik, BFL's CEO. "We consider it an honor and a blessing to do the work that we do."