BJC and 10 other local institutions have joined together to reduce racial and economic inequities in the St. Louis region through the St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN). The network brings together institutions, businesses, community leaders and other stakeholders to address those inequities through efforts to increase employment, income, health and wealth building.
The idea for the network grew out of conversations among local leaders that began in December 2019 and intensified in 2020 amid growing awareness of inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued national reckoning with racial injustice. The pandemic has had an outsized impact on Black and Brown communities, in part due to underlying health disparities related to income and other social determinants of health. The impact of these inequities and injustices in the St. Louis region has been called out by the Greater St. Louis 2030 Jobs Plan, Forward through Ferguson, For the Sake of All, and Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, among other reports.
“BJC is proud to be part of an effort to address decades of disinvestment in partnership with leading anchor institutions in our region,” said Jason Purnell, BJC vice president of community health improvement. “Providing economic opportunity is one of the most powerful ways of advancing health equity, ensuring that all people have the ability to be as healthy as possible.”
In addition to BJC, founding network members include Edward Jones, Harris-Stowe State University, Mercy Health, St. Louis Community College, Saint Louis University, the Saint Louis Zoo, SSM Health, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis and Webster University. The University of Missouri–St. Louis and Edward Jones are providing leadership and staffing for the network.
In alignment with BJC’s mission to improve the health and well-being of the community, all of these institutions share a commitment to working together to drive equitable wealth building and economic development that can benefit the entire region. Network members believe this can best be achieved by leveraging intentional hiring, career development and spending in high-poverty areas in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County that have faced substantial, systemic disinvestment.
The network’s initial goal is for member institutions to increase employment and spending in those high-poverty areas with the aim of increasing the share of Black and Brown employees in their workforces, as well as expanding spending with businesses owned by people of color in those areas.
Network members have held a series of focus groups with residents, organizations and community leaders in the designated areas to shape the network’s approach and will continue to engage the community in reviewing trends and strategies. Network members plan to share best practices with other local organizations and are creating a standardized data tracking system on hiring, spending and other community metrics to monitor these efforts.
Stefani Weeden-Smith has been tapped to serve as the network’s inaugural director. Weeden-Smith, who started her new role Sept. 20, brings more than 20 years of experience in community engagement, most recently as the assistant director of community engagement at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University.
“One reason I found this opportunity really interesting is because I believe we can go farther together,” Weeden-Smith said. “We can do more if we are able to pool our resources together, to be more collaborative. We have a lot of separate things happening, but we've never come together to say, ‘Oh, you're doing it this way,’ or figure out what the best practices are and really have measurable accountability.”
The Missouri Foundation for Health, which seeks to address the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes, recently awarded support for the network’s start-up phase.
Learn more about the St. Louis Anchor Action Network.