May 2021
Deaconess Community,

When my son went away to college in 2016, I “penned” a poem titled “No #Hashtag For My Son”. While proximity to a parent or loved one cannot guarantee any child’s safety, something about him living away pushed me into more worry, more introspection, more helplessness, so I tried to write through it and the poem was the result.

I think of that poem, more often than I prefer. I think of it for every mother who has lost a child, whether to illness, inadequate healthcare, violence, hunger, or racism. No mother wants a hashtag for her child.

To counter the very words I “penned”, I write today as a Black mother in defense and support of her Black children--all Black children. 

Admittedly there are numerous ways to defend and support Black children and many viewpoints from which to do so. I choose one: in utero (where arguably it all begins). As Black mothers, in order to defend and support our children, we must defend and support ourselves against the Black maternal health crisis that is a threat to our very existence and thereby the existence of our children[1].

The crisis impacts us all no matter where we live or don’t, how much education we have or don’t, whether we have access to healthcare or don’t and whether we have financial resources or don’t. To illustrate, I share a story of a mother who went to the doctor on what was to have been a routine visit. While there, her doctor felt that her blood pressure was elevated and sent her to a local hospital to be checked out. She went to ER, they ran tests, told her she was fine and that her doctor was unnecessarily worried and that she would be free to leave as soon he okayed it. Well, he did not. Rather, he insisted that she be admitted and observed overnight. 

Begrudgingly she was admitted, and during the night every test she passed 6 hours prior, she now failed and was diagnosed with preeclampsia (aka toxemia), which according to the Mayo Clinic, causes high blood pressure and can damage organs such as the liver and kidneys. If left untreated, it can lead to health complications, including death, for the mother and baby. Preeclampsia is 60 percent more common in Black women than White women according to the Healthcare Cost Utilization Project. The only cure is delivery. 

This mom’s labor was induced, and her child was born four days later and 5 weeks premature. This mother was a Black woman. She had an advanced degree, financial resources, health insurance, access to healthcare and thankfully a talented Black OB-GYN as her advocate. That Black woman was me.

As Black mothers we cannot educate ourselves out of this dimension of racism. We cannot access our way to healthcare out of it. And we cannot pay our way out (ask Serena Williams and other highly resourced Black women). The problem is not education. The problem is not access to healthcare. The problem is not access to capital. Succinctly stated, the problem is “[B]lack women are undervalued. They are not monitored as carefully as white women are. When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed” said Dr. Ana Langer, director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Black maternal health crisis persists because of implicit bias and structural racism. It is well documented that those realities affect how we are dealt with and cared for within the healthcare system. Black women are 243 percent more likely than White women to die of pregnancy or childbirth related causes, ProPublica reportedThe healthcare system, like so many others, must be transformed from one that does not value the lives of Black women equally to White women, to one that does.

Put simply, racism kills us. Racism kills our babies in the womb, it kills our babies in schools, in hospitals, in our backyards, and in our streets. It kills them in infancy, childhood and adulthood. And the Black maternal health crisis is just one of the countless ways it does. So, the single most important thing we can do as Black mothers to defend and support our Black children is to continue our work, and do all that we can, every day that we can, in every way that we can, to dismantle racism and oppression.

This month the American Medical Association (“AMA”) released its 83 page 3-year organizational strategic plan to embed racial justice and advance equity wherein they:

envision a nation in which all people live in thriving communities where resources work well; systems are equitable and create no harm nor exacerbate existing harms; where everyone has the power, conditions, resources and opportunities to achieve optimal health; and all physicians are equipped with the consciousness, tools and resources to confront inequities and dismantle white supremacy, racism, and other forms of exclusion and structured oppression, as well as embed racial justice and advance equity within and across all aspects of health systems.

While the work cited by the AMA is yet to be done, I pray meaningful steps towards achieving their vision are realized. 

The lives of Black mamas depend on it. The lives of our Black babies depend on it. The lives of humanity depend on it. 

Let’s make sure our Black children begin their lives with their mothers, absent the trauma of having lost them in birth. Let’s make sure our Black children arrive safe, healthy and protected, ready to receive and live out their vibrant futures! Let’s defend and support our children by defending and supporting ourselves! 

In service to our children,

Cheryl D.S. Walker
Interim President and CEO
Deaconess Foundation
[1] Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Operation Food Search (OFS) is a hunger relief organization that provides free food, nutrition education, and innovative programs proven to reduce food insecurity. With a strategic focus aimed at ending childhood hunger, OFS empowers families and increases access to healthy and affordable food. The agency provides food and services to 200,000 individuals on a monthly basis – one-third of whom are children – through a network of 330 community partners in 27 Missouri and Illinois counties and the city of St. Louis.
Deaconess Foundation supports Operation Food Search’s Momvocates Program through our Responsive Grant Portfolio. Through the Momvocates program, mothers receive advocacy and storytelling training to help them use their voices to increase understanding among lawmakers about food insecurity and advocate for policies that improve health and food access. Champions for health and nutrition safety net programs, Momvocates seek to build a healthier future for all families through advocacy and policy change.
The inaugural cohort of Momvocates includes graduates of OFS’s Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts program. The program connects families who are experiencing food insecurity with fresh, local food and resources for a healthy household. OFS partners with healthcare providers and insurers to help families reach their health goals, support the community and reduce health care costs.

Learn more about Operation Food Search’s Momvocates program by clicking here.
On Saturday, community leaders, including Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, joined residents for a public celebration at Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being to commemorate the completion of the North Central Plan, focused on the Covenant Blu-Grand Center and Vandeventer neighborhoods. Following a public endorsement from area Aldermen, the finalized Plan was publicly submitted to the City’s Planning and Urban Design Agency to be adopted as an official City planning document, to be used as guidance for future development in the neighborhood. The agency will review the Plan and hold public hearings before it considers adopting the Plan as an official city planning document to guide development and funding.

The event marked the finalization of a multi-month, community-led process to define the vision and strategic plan for the 5,500 residents of the Covenant Blu-Grand Center and Vandeventer neighborhoods
The North Central Plan’s asset-based, resident-centered approach can be a model for future development. In January of 2021, the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) announced an “Equitable Economic Development Framework,” shifting the City’s development approach towards neighborhood-led efforts. The North Central Plan will be the first neighborhood-led plan submitted to the City’s Planning and Urban Design Agency since the announcement. 

The North Central Plan Steering Committee is made up of 27 residents and neighborhood representatives (see the full list here). At the event, Steering Committee members provided details about the engagement and resident-led planning process. Hundreds of residents have engaged in community meetings, focus groups, and surveys to help shape the North Central Plan. Aldermen and neighborhood associations within the Plan’s geographic footprint, institutions in the Grand Center Arts District, businesses, schools, medical facilities, social service organizations, and churches have participated in and endorsed the Plan.

The Plan encourages residents to remain in place while identifying new ways to revitalize their community and to create opportunities for others to become neighbors. Community residents first engaged Deaconess Foundation in 2019 to discuss a partnership to update planning documents for their neighborhood. The residents’ vision aligned with a pillar of Deaconess’ power-building strategy to increase our community’s capacity to drive family economic mobility through community-led democratic development. That initial outreach led to a partnership among the North Central neighbors, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Building & Loan Fund, and Deaconess Foundation. Deaconess’ investment supported the planning process.

The final North Central Vision and Action Plan is available for review and may be downloaded here.

For additional information on the North Central Plan, read: Could development north of the Central Corridor signal the beginning of the end for the Delmar Divide? by Jack Grone | St. Louis Magazine | April 2021
Deaconess Foundation values capacity building as a core instrument of our power-building strategy for St. Louis’ children and families. While we regularly invest in activities that promote organizational development and growth for our partners, we have also been building our own internal capacity. In 2016, we underwent a Foundation Core Capacity Assessment (FCCAT) conducted by our partners at TCC Group. This Assessment looks comprehensively at “how foundations function as a whole, embedding grantmaking capacity within a larger organizational effectiveness framework.” Across the many measured capacities, highlighted as a challenge area for Deaconess was our technological capacity. Specifically, our assessment results indicated we had inadequate technology resources needed to run efficient operations.
So, we got to work.
In September 2017, we first published our FCCAT results, introducing public accountability for addressing our challenged capacity areas. While incremental improvements were made through the years, a breakthrough in our understanding came after an enterprise-wide information technology (IT) audit in 2020. After thoroughly examining our existing infrastructure, our technology auditing partner provided us with a technology roadmap, outlining recommended next steps to expand our technological capability and functionality to support the Foundation’s mission and strategic vision.
Since then, we have taken significant steps to build and maintain secure, resilient, and scalable infrastructure to better serve all of our constituencies. In February we issued a Request for Proposals to identify a vendor to partner with us in the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This new consultant partner will function as an extension of our staff team, providing guidance on overall IT strategy, while optimizing support services that impact our work daily.
Additionally, we are currently in the process of migrating to a new customer relationship management (CRM) database to fully integrate our grantmaking, constituent and project management, and accounting systems across the enterprise. This evolution will increase workflow efficiencies by automating the grant management process and streamlining collection and analysis of organizational and individual information. For our partners, this change will simplify the grant proposal submission process and make programmatic engagement with the Foundation more efficient.
As we strive to better serve the children of the St. Louis region through increasing our own capacity, we will continue to share our learnings with our community of partners, advocates, and peers and invite you to hold us accountable. Increased capacity and accountability strengthens the movement for child well-being.

Funding Opportunities – Visit our website for a list of funding opportunities for 2021.
This summer, Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being is serving free summer meals to children and youth through Operation Food Search’s sponsorship of the Summer Food Service Program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. The Summer Meals Program helps to ensure children and youth continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer months when school is not in session. Food insecurity has risen exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic and dramatically increased the need.
Beginning Monday, June 7 through Friday, July 30, Deaconess Center is hosting the Summer Meals Program in partnership with Deaconess Center's Co-Locating Partners, Deaconess Foundation, Unleashing Potential, and Vision for Children at Risk. Meals will be distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 7:30 AM and 9:30 AM at Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being. Program participants will receive a breakfast and lunch for the day of the visit and the next day – a total of four (4) meals per person per visit. The grab-and-go model allows families to pick up meals to be consumed offsite.

In addition to receiving meals, children and families will have the opportunity to add to their home libraries as culturally responsive age-appropriate books and literature will be available, at no cost, throughout the summer. Volunteers will join us periodically to Read Aloud their favorite stories to a samll audience in the open-air courtyard during meal pick-up times.

COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place. Face coverings will be required and provided.

For more information on the Summer Food Program at Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being, please contact info@deaconess.org.
Plan to revive 'North Central' neighborhoods gets Mayor Jones' support

Erin Heffernan | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Mayor Tishaura O. Jones voiced support Saturday for a nonprofit-led plan to revive two neighborhoods in the center of the city: Vandeventer and Covenant Blu-Grand Center.

The North Central Plan published Saturday aims to organize the area’s major institutions and residents in an attempt to bring a wave of progress, including development of vacant properties, added green space and residential and commercial investment.

The two neighborhoods are both majority Black communities that together have about 5,500 residents and cover just under 3 square miles.

The neighborhoods include sections of the Grand Center Arts District — a performing arts and museum hub. But investment in much of the planning area has lagged compared with the neighboring Midtown and Central West End areas.

The plan says that a history of discriminatory housing, education, lending and transportation policies contributed to that divide, and lays out a long list of proposed changes. Read more >>>
'The fight has to change': Why Ferguson activists ditched police reform

Rebecca Rivas for The Missouri Independent and Reveal | The St. Louis American

St. Louis didn’t see a single substantive victory for police reform, thanks in large part to a police apparatus that stymies accountability.

Ten days after Michael Brown, it was 25-year-old Kajieme Powell. Two months later, it was 18-year-old VonDerrit Myers Jr. All in the St. Louis region.

Had it not been for the Ferguson uprising, the deaths of these Black men would have likely gone unnoticed, except for a small, dedicated group of activists who have been tracking police shootings since the 1960s.

They’d long been troubled by the local police’s treatment of Black residents and its culture of impunity, the opaque investigations and the often mind-boggling conclusions — such as the finding that the killing of 25-year-old Cary Ball Jr., shot 25 times at close range in 2013, was justified.

After Brown’s death on Aug. 9, 2014, the activists saw an opening. Read more >>>
What the American Families Plan Means for Our Nation’s Children by Kathleen King | Children’s Defense Fund | April 2021

Plan That Seeks to Boost Employment in St. Louis’ Core Gets a Tweak by Jacob Kirn | St. Louis Business Journal | May 2021

Policymakers Used to Ignore Child Care. Then Came the Pandemic by Emily Peck | The New York Times | May 2021
May 22: Community Control Over Police Surveillance Rally hosted by ACLU Missouri. Rally to support Board Bill 31. 3 PM. RSVP by clicking here.

May 24: Legal Observer Training hosted by ACLU Missouri. 7 PM. Click here to register for this virtual training.

May 25: 2021 Legislative Session Recap with Missouri Jobs with Justice. 2 PM. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

May 27: Defunding SLMPD Webinar. Hosted by De-Fund. Re-Envision. Transform. Campaign. 6 PM. RSVP here.

June 1: Missouri Faith Voices hosts Missouri Legislative Recap, 6 PM. Click here to register.

June 7 through July 30: Free Summer Meals Program at Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being (1000 N. Vandeventer Ave., St. Louis MO 63113). Available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 7:30 - 9:30 AM. In partnership with Unleashing Potential and Vision for Children at Risk. No registration is required.

June 19: Juneteenth Cookout at Fairground Park (3715 Natural Bridge Ave, St. Louis, MO 63107) hosted by Faith for Justice, St. John's Church, Action St. Louis, Homes for All - St. Louis, Freedom Arts & Education Center, and more. 4-7 PM. No registration is required.

Through August 15: The COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period for Marketplace health insurance is open. If you have children in your household age 18 or younger, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's Connecting Kids to Coverage program may be able to offer enrollment assistance. Call for information: 314.256.8753.

Generate Health is hiring a Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Click here to learn more about the position and how to apply.

Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) is hiring several positions, including Executive Director, Program Support Assistant, OBS Youth Organizer and OBS Racial Justice Organizer. Click here to learn more about each position, and to apply.

Forward Through Ferguson is hiring a Director of Operations. Click here to learn more about the position and how to apply.

Do you have an event you'd like to see in this Newsletter? Submit it here!
Join the United Church of Christ for “Mind the Gap: Motherhood” series. The first in this 4-part series addresses the need for economic justice and the topic of Motherhood. Conversationalists include Congresswoman Alma S. Adams, Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Rachel Anderson, and Rebeka Choate.
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