Sleepless in St. Louis: The Power of Authentic Advocacy

Faith Sandler Words of Faith

2020-21 Policy Fellows worked together nine months but never met in person. This collage was framed and presented as a gift to program leaders (and alumni) Karissa Anderson and Karina Arango. Left to right: Front row-Lindsey Grossheim, Alisson Morales, Kennedi Harmon, Anne Marie Crane Second row-Jessika Cole, Kyle Lackey, Kenyana Savage, Autumn Taylor Back row- Aja McCoy, Sara Rutherford, and Sabreyna Reese

Last night, eleven Policy Fellows marked the end of their nine-month fellowship with a showcase of their research and experiences. Throughout two hours of presentations and dialogue, the steady guidance of former Advocacy Director Karissa Anderson and Advocacy Associate Karina Arango was evident. Four board members, seven staff members, and Deaconess Foundation Director of Partnership and Capacity Building Kiesha Davis may have left the session so energized and productively provoked that they had a resulting sleepless night. I did, and it was for me a very good reminder.

Readers of this blog know something of this program over the years, the significant growth in scale and depth, the investments and the challenges of filling the now-vacant role of Advocacy Director (Resignation of Karissa Anderson). This year’s Fellows have published commentary to the blog and appeared in the media: Undocumented in Missouri; Pull No Punches; St. Louis American: COVID COLLEGE; and (advance recording to 20:56) KMOX Interview with Alisson Morales). This blog and other venues are likely to feature more from the Fellows who are wrapping up a major analysis of efficacy and equity in the Missouri’s scholarship programs and designing an equity dashboard backed with definitions for The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.

Honestly, I am sorry you could not witness last evening’s display of analytical strength, collective learning, and conviction to creating change. You wouldn’t have had to personally know these Fellows to be brought to tears by their words, even via Zoom. I took some notes, for you and for me, at the close when I asked them to give me some sentences they might use to answer the question, “What IS this Fellowship Program?”

It is ACTIVE.

We get stuff done.

Our job is to advocate for those who need it the most.

The program equips students to shape our future.

WE are the reality.

It is about future change, making a blueprint.

The program provides opportunities for people to advocate for themselves.

We are empowering students to have a seat at the table and a voice.

Our stories are evidence.

It is LEADERSHIP.

I needed that reminder. We need them to lead. They have what it takes to create something new. And that’s what’s required if we are ever going to sleep at night.

– Faith Sandler