From St. Louis to Hollywood: Cedric the Entertainer Remembers The Salvation Army

May 12, 2021

As one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Cedric the Entertainer carries memories of The Salvation Army’s good deeds from when he was growing up in the Berkeley neighborhood of his native St. Louis.

“It was where you gave clothes to. It was where you helped, especially on coat drives,” Cedric said, in an interview with The Salvation Army’s Midland Division. “You knew that your money was contributing to taking care of other people’s foods, needs, families. This organization, Salvation Army, is one that is a staple of American life, when you think about it.”

The famous faces of the Salvation Army – the holiday season’s bell-ringing stars who stand outside in cold, snowy weather for donations – stuck with Cedric, as they helped cement the association between the holidays, giving, and The Salvation Army.

“When the Santa Clauses are out and the bells, these are things that let you know it’s the Christmas season, the holiday season, and the season of love and giving,” Cedric said. “I think that’s a very important subconscious kind of thing for American culture, for us to know that something as simple as that gesture, seeing the red bell cup and the Santa Clauses.”

Cedric explained, “These kinds of things encourage you to be a better person at that very moment. If ever you have the opportunity to give and be a part of it in any kind of way, it’s a celebratory thing. You feel good about yourself, and I think that is what is so special about the organization, for sure.”

The Salvation Army’s presence in St. Louis – as is the case in many cities around the world, with more than 7,500 locations – goes back nearly a century and a half, supporting communities by meeting vital emergency needs. In addition to providing food assistance with tens of millions of meals annually, the Salvation Army offers a wide variety of services mostly limited to the public interest, including temporary shelter, disaster relief, and access to health care.

Since 2018, Cedric the Entertainer – real name Cedric Kyles – has headlined one of TV’s popular sitcoms, “The Neighborhood,” mining the comic potential of gentrification and the clustering of people of different ethnicities together in urban America. CBS’ “The Neighborhood” could take place in many cities across the U.S., and that includes his hometown of St. Louis.

“If I could have placed the show in St. Louis, I would have,” Cedric said of the show, which costars sitcom veterans Tichina Arnold, Beth Behrs and Max Greenfield. “I do feel like St. Louis is a city I grew up in where – unfortunately for many years, it was very racially divided. In these recent years, you’re just starting to see the community coming together.”

The Salvation Army Midland Division is headquartered in St. Louis, which serves most of Missouri and southern Illinois. St. Louis has a unique sense of community in which people often charitably pitch in to help other people, including the Salvation Army Midland Division’s establishment of warming centers in the dead of winter last year.

“St. Louis has always been that kind of town, that I can recall. We jump to it when people are down,” Kyles said. “It’s the kind of city that I believe people do recognize their neighbors. They recognize when people are down and out, and they just try to get involved. It’s a big city in the scope of things, but it feels like a small town. … Going back to being a kid, [we] would have to have rent parties to help families stay in their homes.”

As part of his Cedric the Entertainer Foundation, a charitable effort that has been going since 1994, Cedric gives scholarships annually to outstanding young people. Cedric’s sister, Sharita, and mother, Rosetta, joined him to start the foundation, which later led to the establishment of a Rosetta Boyce Kyles Women’s Pavilion at St. Louis’ SSM Hospital. Rosetta passed away from cancer in 2015. Cedric’s outreach to uninsured or under-insured medical patients is at the heart of his charitable work.

“You don’t have to suffer because you think it costs too much,” Cedric said. “Whatever you’ve already decided, people are out here working hard on your behalf to make sure you can simply go get checked out and have a healthier life. I believe that’s what’s really great about your [The Salvation Army’s] program, Pathway [to Health], because people just don’t know, and we’ve got to continue to spread that message. It’s getting that message to people and letting them believe, ‘It’s ok, we’ve got you.’”

The Salvation Army’s Pathway to Health provides medical services to underprivileged people and families without access to adequate health care.

Cedric said, “There was a line in the movie ‘Barbershop’ I did that something as simple as a haircut can make a man feel like a million dollars. I believe that you give somebody dignity by showing them dignity. All of a sudden, people are feeling empowered. That’s that great thing that you can do for somebody is to give good energy and it will come right back at you.”

The “Neighborhood” star’s native Berkeley is adjacent to Ferguson, Mo., where protests set the community ablaze for an international audience in 2014, after a police officer shot and killed a Black teenager, Michael Brown, enraging the community and removing the bandage from a long-held animosity towards the police.

The Salvation Army established a Ferguson post on the burned-down QuikTrip, which had been the protest’s ground zero, for a safe place for community support and to address racial inequity and distress, called the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center. A partnership between Salvation Army and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, at 9420 W. Florissant Blvd., offers a variety of services, including a kids’ schooling program called Sparks Academy and financial literacy classes for adults.

In the years since 2014, Ferguson as a city has evolved with programs like the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center with investment in local community.

“Ferguson has fought very hard to get it right. That’s something that is good to represent for what is St. Louis,” Cedric said. “It is the one I feel they worked the hardest to become as a shining example of what reform can look like and how you can uplift the community by caring about the community and have the community then can care about itself. That’s the positives that can come out of something as tragic as that event. We want to continue to push that narrative. It was hard fought. It’s always going to be an uphill battle. I can definitely say when you look around the country, enough cities have had these kinds of issues.”

Watch The Salvation Army's full interview with Cedric the Entertainer below


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