Deaconess Foundation envisions a community that values the health and well-being of all children and gives priority attention to the most vulnerable. This community only thrives if the allocation of power and distribution of resources, benefits, opportunities, and burdens are not predictable by, nor predicated on race. This vision and recent events have called us to reflect on our journey, new commitments and invite our community to aligned action.
Our Racial Equity Journey
Since the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown, Jr. and the youth-led uprising which followed, Deaconess has been growing in its appreciation and awareness of the ways anti-Black racism, white supremacy, institutional privilege and their resultant social inequities inhibit the well-being of children in St. Louis and America. Recently, the colliding realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and police violence have crystallized the nation’s view on these issues. Encouragingly, this has led to renewed energy, activism and organizing for racial justice.
On our journey, Deaconess’ institutional focus has been on pursuing racial equity. Our understanding of racial equity is informed by our partners in mission, colleagues in philanthropy and community of service. Over the last six years, our learning journey has included:
- Service in several settings of the Ferguson Commission process;
- Staff and volunteer training in ABFE’s Responsive Philanthropy in Black Communities;
- Inviting accountability by publishing a management commitment to racial equity, detailing re-allocation of resources in grantmaking and investments;
- A Racial Equity Task Force (still in action) which has led to changes in our vision, governance and operations; and
- Launching a third-party organizational assessment of power and equity, using the National Committee of Responsive Philanthropy’s Power Moves toolkit.
Yet, the year 2020 has called for more. Although our initial focus was on assuring an accurate count in U.S. Census and mobilization for critical elections, the disparate impact of the novel coronavirus and racialized police killings of Black people across the country has arrested our attention. Over the last four months, our team has learned from and joined with philanthropic institutions across the nation to provide emergency response funding for the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 and support for change in the legacy of racial inequity. Staff have worked locally to:
- Establish a $2.25 million COVID-19 Equitable Relief and Recovery Fund supporting Black-led organizations;
- Launch the $2 million collaborative St. Louis Regional Racial Healing Fund to support healing justice; and
- Initiate our Just Recovery Capacity Building Cohort, a two-year effort for Black-led social change organizations.
As Deaconess Foundation has been clear about pursuing racial equity, our public commitments to movements for racial justice (active mobilization of people to remove inequity through community transformation) have largely been demonstrated by funding and capacity building with local organizations or the direct engagement and faith-inspired advocacy of our Management Team. This investment and community leadership has been fully supported by Deaconess Foundation’s Board of Trustees and Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being’s Board of Directors.
Yet, Jazmond Dixon and Judy Wilson-Griffin, the Black women who were St. Louis’ first documented COVID-19 deaths call us to more. Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor lost to police violence call us to more. Tony McDade and Nina Pop killed by racist transphobia call us to more. All Black Lives Matter.
Commitment To Racial Justice
In this moment, as governing bodies we feel called to make an institutional commitment to the wider movement for racial justice. So, we are reaching beyond our local funding focus and our support for Management activity to breathe life into our vocation as an institutional advocate for racial justice. Our initial efforts include the following, and we invite you to join us.
1. First, we are making a $25,000 grant to support the national organizing and coordinating capacity of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) coalition in response to their call for $50 million from the philanthropic sector.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) formed in December of 2014, was created as a space for Black organizations across the country to debate and discuss the current political conditions, develop shared assessment of what political interventions were necessary in order to achieve key policy, cultural and political wins, convene organizational leadership in order to debate and co-create a shared movement-wide strategy under the fundamental idea that they can achieve more together than they can separately.
In St. Louis, Deaconess is deeply invested with organizations operating within and providing leadership to this ecosystem. These include: Action St. Louis, the Close the Workhouse Campaign and the Organization for Black Struggle. Our partners have helped inform the national policy table and electoral justice strategies. The convening capacity of this broad, national coalition has made much of the mobilization across the country possible and helpfully transformed the policy discussion regarding policing in America.
2. As a grantmaking institution, we have also committed to a four-year, prepaid institutional membership in ABFE: A Philanthropic Initiative for Black Communities (formerly known as Association of Black Foundation Executives).
Several of our staff have been individual members and we have benefited from ABFE trainings and conferences. In fact, two current or former staff members have been ABFE Connecting Leaders Fellows and our executive was honored with the Ambassador James Joseph Lectureship. While these engagements have been valuable to us, we sense a responsibility to our team and the field to invest more deeply in the sustaining capacity of this critical philanthropic support organization.
In this moment of crisis, ABFE marshalled the voices of more than sixty (60) African American foundation leaders (including our own) to call the sector to action on anti-Black racism through a thoughtful set of strategies under the banner that ‘We Must Be In This for the Long Haul.’
3. As a faith-rooted ministry, we are making a $20,000 grant to strengthen the organizational effectiveness of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference (SDPC) in support of faith-based advocacy for All Black lives.
SDPC represents a cross section of progressive African American faith leaders and their congregations in the United States. The Conference is a recognized Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) of the United Nations seeking to strengthen the individual and collective capacity of thought leaders and activists in the church, academy and community through education, advocacy and activism.
Last month, SDPC launched a petition calling white and Evangelical pastors to renounce white supremacy. They are also actively organizing within the Black Church, including a call to Black pastors to speak out for Black women and trans people.
These investments have been chosen because it is our firm belief that advancing racial justice in our nation will require a convergence of the strengths of Black-led community organizing, philanthropic investment in Black communities and faith-inspired advocacy.
A Call To Our Community
Two gifts of service with Deaconess are building community and accountability. That said, we invite the Deaconess Community to join us in these commitments.
- Please visit M4BL.org to learn about the power-building work and policy commitments of the Movement for Black Lives and make a financial contribution.
- We invite fellow board members of philanthropies in St. Louis and state of Missouri to begin a relationship with ABFE by (a) reading and responding to the philanthropic call to action; (b) signing up for institutional membership; and (c) underwriting individual memberships for the professional development of your staff (especially Black staff).
- We invite our faith partners, especially those in the Missouri Mid-South and Illinois South Conferences of the United Church of Christ, to join us in affirming and acting on SDPC’s calls to the church for racial justice.
Finally, please help us by holding us accountable. As mentioned above, partners in our community are currently giving us feedback on how we are living up to (or falling short of) our desire to build, wield and share power equitably, using NCRP’s Power Moves framework. As this work concludes, we will post all results on our website (deaconess.org) and host a public forum in September to discuss the findings and the course-corrections we will surely need to make to strengthen our resolve for the racial equity and racial justice necessary to be sure that children and youth in our community are thriving.
Please join us for this session and the journey ahead. Sign up to receive details and regular updates through our action alerts. The journey to equity, justice and child well-being will take all of us.
For our children,
Rudolph Nickens, Jr.
Cheryl D.S. Walker, Esq.
Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being