Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson

National Network Names Deaconess Foundation’s Starsky Wilson for Highest Honor

April 24, 2020

ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities, recently named the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis, as recipient of its highest individual honor. He was designated the 2020 Ambassador James A. Joseph Lecturer on Philanthropy. The announcement came Friday, April 17, at the conclusion of a three-day annual conference hosted virtually by the New York-based philanthropic organization. Dr. Wilson will deliver the lecture in Washington, D.C. during ABFE’s Leadership Summit in November.

“The James A. Joseph Lecturer is the highest level of recognition given by ABFE and we are thrilled to recognize Dr. Wilson’s leadership with this award,” said Susan Taylor Batten, president and CEO of ABFE. “The combination of his leadership and service in the spheres of faith, philanthropy and social justice embody the spirit and principles of past Lecturers and we are excited to hear his message to all of us in the fall.”

Formerly known as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the network that advocates for transformative investments in Black communities was founded in 1971. The James A. Joseph Lecture on Philanthropy was established in 1991 in honor of Ambassador James A. Joseph, ABFE’s co-founder and president emeritus of the Council on Foundations, where he served as CEO from 1982 until 1995. Annually, the Lecture is bestowed upon a visionary philanthropic leader whose leadership and contributions embody the essence of Ambassador Joseph, strengthen grantmaking institutions and build vital Black communities through progressive philanthropy.

In choosing Wilson, ABFE honors his guidance of Deaconess Foundation, activism in the community and voluntarism with social change organizations across the country. He is board chair for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy headquartered in Washington, DC, vice chair for the Forum for Theological Exploration based in Atlanta, GA and a trustee or director for the  Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Sojourners and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

In recent years, Dr. Wilson chaired the Racial Equity Task Force for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, where he continues to serve on the board and co-chaired the Ferguson Commission, which released the ‘Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity’ Report after the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr. He is a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Democracy Fund and the editorial board of the St. Louis American newspaper.

“The best you could ever ask for, professionally, is to be recognized by your peers,” Wilson remarked. “In the midst of a crisis in our community ABFE saw, supported and guided me. Being seen by them has transformed my work at Deaconess and beyond.”

Under Dr. Wilson’s leadership since 2011, Deaconess has transformed to support a movement for child well-being in St. Louis through philanthropy, advocacy and organizing for racial equity and public policy change. In 2014, the Foundation shifted all funding to focus on community engaged strategies for systems change and capacity building. Since 2016, the Foundation has sponsored a network of Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools to engage churches in child advocacy, develop college students for social justice leadership and mobilize parents to impact public policy, while increasing the literacy of elementary school students. On April 4, 2017, the 50th anniversary of Martin King’s famed ‘A Time to Break Silence’ speech, the Foundation declared a comprehensive commitment to building a community ‘just for kids,’ thereby aligning all institutional resources and processes to advancing racial equity. In 2018, they opened Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being, a 21,000 square foot community action tank which engages more than 15,000 citizens annually to build power for children and families.

Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Xavier University of Louisiana, Master of Divinity from Eden Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Ministry degree from Duke University. In 2015, he was the recipient of the prestigious Saint Louis Award. Starsky is married to Dr. LaToya Smith Wilson, a dentist for St. Louis Children’s Hospital. They are raising four children in St. Louis.

In other James Joseph Award categories, ABFE honored the North Star Fund in New York with is Institutional Award for Philanthropic Leadership, author and philanthropist Valaida Fullwood of Charlotte, NC with its Trailblazer Award and Danielle Shoots, vice president and chief financial officer of the Colorado Trust with its Emerging Leader Award. Each will be presented in the organization’s Fall Leadership Summit in the nation’s capital.


About Deaconess Foundation

Deaconess Foundation is a grant making organization building power for child well-being through philanthropy, advocacy and organizing for racial equity and public policy change. A ministry of the United Church of Christ, Deaconess has invested more than $85 million to improve the health of the St. Louis community since 1998. The Foundation’s advocacy and grantmaking footprint includes St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Franklin Counties in Missouri and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties in Illinois. For more information, visit

About ABFE

ABFE is a membership-based philanthropic organization that advocates for responsive and transformative investments in Black communities. ABFE provides its members with professional development and technical assistance resources that further the philanthropic sector’s connection and responsiveness to issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. Established as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, organization has been credited with many of philanthropy’s early gains in diversity and has evolved into an influential network. In 2013, the organization shed its descriptor and adopted the simpler ABFE (ab-fee) to better reflect its broadening membership. For more information, visit

About Ambassador James A. Joseph

Ambassador Joseph is ABFE’s co-founder, president emeritus of the Council on Foundations, where he served as CEO from 1982 until 1995, and Professor Emeritus at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Ambassador Joseph served four U.S. Presidents, including appointments by President Jimmy Carter as Under Secretary of the Interior and President William Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. He is the founding chair of the Commission on National Community Service that established Americorps.