Faith & FSOA

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

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.

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