Faith and For the Sake of All: Merging faith and research to mobilize action on health inequity

 

 

By: NANCY CAMBRIA
Communications Manager, For the Sake of All

What can you do to help solve the St. Louis region’s inequity regarding the health and well-being of African Americans? How can you get the message out about systemic injustices that have blocked many of our region’s African American residents from essential opportunities that significantly influence their health? How can you be a partner to create positive change for the sake of all?

For one group, the answers to all of these questions are a matter of faith.

Faith and For the Sake of All is an organization independent of For the Sake of All that was formed in 2015 to address our region’s health and opportunity inequities by mobilizing a rich diversity of faith groups into action. The interfaith organization is grounded in the universal belief that all faiths are bound in service to alleviate injustice that harms fellow human beings.

Laurie Anzilotti

In St. Louis, health is a matter of critical injustice for African Americans who, on average, deal with significantly greater rates of pre-term labor and adult chronic disease and a shorter life expectancy than whites, said Laurie Anzilotti, director of the initiative.

“Our members come to our meetings with a palpable sense that faith is why they are here. The inequity and injustice that they are living in – whether they are black or white – their faith calls them to do something about it,” Anzilotti said.

On Tuesday, May 22, Faith and For the Sake of All will host the first of several Advocacy Forums to be held every other month. Free and open to the public, each forum will highlight one of a growing number of partner advocacy groups addressing health inequity in St. Louis. The upcoming forum will feature Alison Gee, vice president of community engagement for Parents As Teachers. Gee will discuss the proven health and socio-emotional benefits of home visiting programs for young children and their parents.  The event will be held at the headquarters of Ready Readers, 10403 Baur Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132.

The Advocacy Forum is also intended to encourage participants to join Faith and For the Sake of All’s increasingly influential Liaison program.

Liaisons regularly discuss faith and its essential and universal obligation to address the injustices of health inequity in our region. The conversations are energizing and unifying, Anzilotti said. But the group also aims to combine those dynamic discussions with research about health inequity in St. Louis. They then bring both faith discussions and critical information about inequity to larger faith communities to inspire them to action.

“The program is pretty unique in its merging of information and action and in naming and talking about racism in an interfaith, interracial context,” Anzilotti said. “It’s different because it’s the intersection of faith and academia, which doesn’t happen much in our culture.”

Liaison volunteers participate in four training workshops. The groups learn the information and data contained in the May 2014 report, For the Sake of All: A report on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis and why it matters for everyone. Armed with research and data from the report about the stark realities of health inequity, the volunteers then partner in groups of two or three to present this information in a workshop entitled “Mobilizing the Faithful” to various faith communities throughout the St. Louis region.

Ideally, Liaisons guide the faith communities into volunteer roles and projects to support evidenced-based programs or services that align with the recommendations in the original For the Sake of All report.

Jeff Schulenberg, a new Liaison, said “being a part of Faith and For the Sake of All and making these presentations really has driven home to me the universality of our faiths  and our responsibility to care for others.”

A member of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Valley Park, Schulenberg said he did his best to do all the things one is supposed to do as a member of the community for over two decades: soccer coach, Boy Scout leader, active in church ministries, etc.

“I tried hard to be a good parent, a good parishioner, a good citizen. But after the kids moved out and I had a chance to look around, I realized there was more going on around me,” he said. “Ferguson was an eye opener that made me start to question some long-held beliefs. It was very humbling to realize the extent to which I’ve enjoyed white privilege and benefited from policies and circumstances that have limited others. I felt I had to do more from a faith perspective.”

This year, Faith and For the Sake of All is particularly encouraging faith communities to work with groups and non-profits offering services and programs that promote early childhood development and quality early childhood systems for under-served children.

Fifteen people have already taken the Liaison training. Ten are now full Liaisons and have spoken to more than 250 people from 10 different faith communities.

Anzilotti said the group is recruiting more volunteers and will conduct its next Liaison training session in June. The group will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. at University United Methodist Church, 6901 Washington Avenue, University City, MO 63130. Anyone interested in taking the training or who has questions about the May 22 Advocacy Forum should contact Project Coordinator Laurie Creach.

Anzilotti said Mobilizing the Faithful workshops will soon expand in scope to include data and information in the new community report Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, released last month. Anzilotti said Faith and For the Sake of All is deeply committed to inclusion and is seeking Liaisons from all faith communities and ethnic and racial groups. Current Liaisons come from both Jewish and Christian faith communities – five religious denominations altogether. One third of the current Liaisons are African American.

Schulenberg, now retired from a corporate career, said Faith and For the Sake of All has set him on a new path both in life and faith.

“I have come to realize that if I really want to live my faith, I have to admit that Jesus Christ didn’t just spend his time at the Temple with church leaders. He spent most of his time with the vulnerable and the marginalized. And if I want to walk with him, I need to prepare myself to walk with the same people. I need to explore the needs of others and have a heart for them.”

Faith and For the Sake of All is made possible through funding from Trinity Wall Street and is housed out of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves.

Don’t miss out! For the Sake of All has been in the news. Read our latest media coverage here.

 


Embracing consciously inclusive communities makes economic sense: A look at recent publications

 

By: NANCY CAMBRIA
Communications Manager, For the Sake of All

This week, For the Sake of All Director Dr. Jason Purnell argued in an editorial in the St. Louis American that we continue to live in a deeply segregated America that has not met the great expectations envisioned in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech delivered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Purnell alludes to “over a century of housing policies consciously and intentionally designed to exclude African Americans from access to opportunity, not just in terms of housing, but also education, employment, and ultimately, life and health.”

Among those pervasive policies were restrictive racial covenants that, in St. Louis, derailed financially capable African Americans from buying homes and building equity in both the City of St. Louis and in the suburbs of St. Louis County.

“But what if we turned the notion of restrictive covenants on its head and had ‘inclusive covenants’ instead?” Dr. Purnell asks readers. “What if neighbors came together not to keep people out but to welcome them in?”

What if we acted to create “consciously inclusive communities” to combat a history of exclusivity in our region? What if we viewed inclusion as an asset to be nurtured, celebrated, and even marketed to buyers and renters in our local communities? What benefits could such inclusion reap for the sake of all residents in our region?

In a new study, the Urban Institute essentially finds that fostering such inclusion has considerable economic benefit. The report suggests that cities in the United States more readily bounced back from the Great Recession if they demonstrated stronger inclusion of people of color and lower-income residents in their recovery strategies. Indeed, economically healthy cities tend to be more inclusive of socio-economic, racial, and ethnic groups than distressed ones, the report said.

The Urban Institute’s report was released on April 25, the very same day that For the Sake of All and six regional partners released Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, a 115-page report on the region’s history of segregation, its divided present, and its potential future. The report concludes with recommendations to begin dismantling our debilitating divides.

Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide presents a unique “index of exclusivity” that ranks 41 out of more than 90 local towns and areas on housing inaccessibility to African Americans and/or low-income families. Many of those 41 towns and areas of exclusivity in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County are marked by significant household wealth, stronger schools, easy health care access, and greater employment access.

And yet, the report explains through personal stories of residents dealing with these divides that those resources are highly inaccessible to people who may need them the most.

In its report, the Urban Institute further presented its own index of inclusion on a national scale by ranking urban areas on inclusion of both people of color and low-income residents during the economic recovery. In it, St. Louis ranked 238 out of 274 cities nationwide. The rank put St. Louis among the 15 percent of cities throughout the country found to be “least inclusive.”

The index of exclusivity presented by Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide and the index of inclusion presented by the Urban Institute are not necessarily reciprocal due to differences in methodologies, purposes, and data. Yet, examined together, they do they suggest that St. Louis as a whole is greatly hobbled by its inequity and exclusivity. Because it has yet to dismantle its divides, St. Louis is missing out on critical economic growth relative to other cities that are more inclusive of all their residents.

The Urban Institute report argues that the availability of affordable, high-quality, and well-located housing is a crucial factor in fostering inclusive communities. This argument is echoed repeatedly in Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide. The latter report concluded with 11 local policy recommendations – including fostering consciously inclusive communities.

In his op-ed in the American, Dr. Purnell says, “There is a chance to finally redraw the boundaries of opportunity to include everyone. Doing so will not be easy, and it will not be without costs and conflict.”

The Urban Institute report suggests our entire region is already paying dearly by failing to include everyone.

Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide was release April 25 by For the Sake of All in partnership with ArchCity Defenders, Ascend STL, Empower Missouri, the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council of Metropolitan St. Louis (EHOC), Invest STL, and Team TIF. Please use our media toolkit to help spread the word about the findings of the report and its recommendations.