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SLU Joins Institutional, Business Leaders to Form St. Louis Anchor Action Network

10/22/2021Media Inquiries

Maggie Rotermund
Senior Media Relations Specialist

Reserved for members of the media.


The St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN) is bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address racial, economic, and spatial inequities in the St. Louis region through focused efforts to increase employment, income, health and wealth building.

DuBourg Hall

Saint Louis University is joining with other institutions and businesses to form the St. Louis Anchor Action Network. Photo by Justin Barr. 

The idea for the network grew out of conversations among local institutional leaders that began in December 2019 and intensified in 2020 in the midst of growing inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued national reckoning with racial injustice. 

The pandemic had an out-sized 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.

“As a Jesuit university, we are dedicated to advancing equity and justice and are thus proud to be a founding member of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network,” said SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D. “This initiative is another important step forward in our vision to work with the people of St. Louis to reimagine, transform and unify our city.” 

The other founding network members include BJC HealthCare, Edward Jones, Harris-Stowe State University, Mercy Health, St. Louis Community College, the Saint Louis Zoo, SSM Health, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, and Webster University.

“SSM Health is dedicated to providing greater access to high-quality health care and improving the overall health and wellness of our communities – especially for those who are economically, physically and socially marginalized,” said Jeremy Fotheringham, Region President of SSM Health in St. Louis. “By partnering and aligning our community transformation efforts with these like-minded organizations, we can make a larger impact across the greater St. Louis area, creating a better tomorrow for thousands of our neighbors, friends and family.”

The University of Missouri–St. Louis and Edward Jones are providing leadership and staffing for the network.

All of these institutions have a shared commitment to working together to drive equitable wealth building and economic development that can benefit the entire region. This will be possible by leveraging intentional hiring, career development, and spending in a footprint crossing the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County that for too long has faced substantial, systematic disinvestment.

The initial goal of the network is for member institutions to increase employment and spending in the footprint with the aim of increasing the share of Black and Brown employees in their workforces and to expand spending with businesses owned by people of color from the footprint.

Network members plan to build a model of peer learning and sharing to accelerate the adoption of best practices, and they are working to create a standardized data tracking system on hiring and spending and other community metrics to monitor their efforts.

Network members have held a series of focus groups with residents, organizations, and community leaders in the footprint to shape the network’s approach and the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) recently awarded support for the network’s start-up phase. MFH is working to build a more equitable future through collaboration, convening, knowledge sharing, and strategic investment. Working in partnership with communities and anchor institutions was a natural fit for this work as the foundation seeks to address the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes. 

Stefani Weeden-Smith has been tapped to serve as the network’s inaugural director, working out of UMSL’s Office of Research and Economic and Community Development. She 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 in St. Louis. 

“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.”

About St. Louis Anchor Action Network

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network is a coalition of institutions and companies working with community leaders and stakeholders to collectively leverage intentional hiring, career development, and spending in communities of color facing high poverty rates to drive equitable wealth building , improved health and economic development in the region.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.