The Institute centers Black lives, Black thought, and Black liberation.

Through a novel approach and bold vision, participants of the Institute develop a liberatory consciousness through healing the hurts of internalized racism. The Institute gives Black leaders in the Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois region the opportunity to name, reckon with and heal from racial trauma and the pervasive effects of internalized and structural racism.

The applied learnings and transformational experience of the interdisciplinary, intergenerational institute will prime participants to accelerate the creation of conditions that promote a just, whole society and future with impact felt most profoundly within the Deaconess footprint.

Twenty-three individuals were selected for the inaugural cohort of the Institute which launched in Fall 2023. The Insitute experience is deeply personal and as such Deaconess will maintain the anonymity of all participants. If individual participants desire to share their participation and/or experiences publicly, we support them in doing so. Following completion of the Institute, participants will have the option to provide reflections that they are comfortable with Deaconess sharing publicly for purposes of informing potential participants about the experience, educating potential Institute funders, and reporting to Deaconess team and board members.

Deaconess Foundation's Institute for Black Liberation has been launched with leadership from Program Director Rudy Nickens and Project Manager Cheryl D.S. Walker.



Participants must be age 25 and older upon the start of the program. Cohorts are comprised of a diverse group of individuals who identify as Black residing in St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Franklin Counties in Missouri and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties in Illinois. Special emphasis is placed on St. Louis City and St. Louis County, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois residents. No preferences is given to people who are further along on the liberatory consciousness continuum than others.


Each component of the curriculum has been carefully crafted for this rich and intensive course. Due to the limited time the cohort has together and the intensive nature of the work, it is extremely important that selected participants attend all sessions.


The application period for the 2024-2025 cohort is closed.


Each cohort consists of approximately 25 participants. There are three, one-week (weekdays) immersive sessions that are no more than eight hours per day. The 2024-2025 cohort's immersive sessions will occur:

  • Immersion 1: Monday, September 16, 2024 through Friday, September 20, 2024 from 9 am to 4 pm daily, with optional community building time from 4 pm to 5 pm.
  • Immersion 2: Monday, January 27, 2025 through Friday, January 31, 2025 from 9 am to 4 pm daily, with optional community building time from 4 pm to 5 pm.
  • Immersion 3: Monday, May 19, 2025 through Friday, May 23, 2025 from 9 am to 4 pm daily, with optional community building time from 4 pm to 5 pm.

In addition, there are a variety of activities designed to enhance learning and maintain community building which include webinars, small group meetings, and check-in sessions with the Institute's senior facilitators. Immersive sessions are in-person and the others are virtual.


Deaconess Center

1000 N. Vandeventer Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63113
We firmly believe that we have the ability to free ourselves from the behaviors that resulted from the oppression we’ve endured, and to build a community that reflects our truth.”
Rudy Nickens, Jr.
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Heal and Transform
Institute participants will be well equipped to create and sustain community change. They will promote a just and whole society and future with impact felt most profoundly in our community.