The most remarkable gift of my professional life is that I have never had to choose…between calling and career, values and paychecks, or faith and work. Even when I came into full-time leadership at Deaconess in November 2011, I was not forced to leave full-time pastoral ministry. Service in one place informed and enhanced service in the other.
In this crucial moment in history, I have reached another point of transition. My time as president and chief executive of Deaconess Foundation will end this November. In December, I will become president and chief executive officer of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), accepting the mantle of leadership from the incomparable Marian Wright Edelman. This is a great honor as she has been a guiding light and one of the mothers of our movement for justice and child well-being in this nation.
Again, I am grateful that I do not have to choose. This call is deeply aligned with my values, faith and commitment to our children thriving. It is also intimately linked to what we’ve been up to at Deaconess for the last nine years, building a community just for kids. In fact, for the last five years, CDF has been one of our closest partners as we’ve planted a network of CDF Freedom Schools in churches through collaboration with local school districts.
While I get to continue to choose children, justice, policy advocacy and power-building, the transition to CDF’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C. will mean losing proximity to our passionate staff, dedicated board members and committed network of partners and child advocates in St. Louis. Until I leave and for the rest of my life, I will continue to express my appreciation for the ways you have formed me for the future.
Frankly, though, I will miss my bosses, the children and youth of St. Louis, most. In his 2014 book, A Child Shall Lead Them: Martin Luther King, Jr. Young People, and the Movement, Rufus Burrow, Jr. traced the roles children and youth played in the contemporary Civil Rights Movement (including the things young people envisioned that their elders could not). In it, he quotes Dr. King’s ethical argument for young people’s engagement in the struggle. “Children suffer as much or more as a result of the existence of segregation as adults do, therefore, children have the right and a responsibility to participate in racial demonstrations.”
Ironically, Moore’s book hit the shelves in the year young people in Ferguson and the St. Louis region ignited the most sustained mobilization for racial justice since King’s era. They became all our teachers. Pushing us to learn about racial equity. Calling us to reimagine public safety. Demanding higher wages for their parents. Challenging us to put youth in the center of public policy conversations. These are my Beloved. Listen to them.
Deaconess listened and it changed us. It changed me. Their voices will echo in my heart wherever I find myself.
For the record, I plan on running hard through the finish line with the Deaconess team. Over the next few months, we’ve got a Census gap to close, a democracy to save and more investments in children and youth to make. So, join us. More to come.
For our children,
Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson
President & CEO