Just for Kids Community Conversation

Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, awarded Executive Director Kayla Reed and Sarah Watkins of Action St. Louis with its Reverend Buck Jones Memorial Grant for Tenant Organizing at the foundation’s Just for Kids Community Conversation on Monday, December 9.

Action St. Louis is the Deaconess Foundation’s Reverend Buck Jones Memorial Grant for Tenant Organizing partner, Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, announced on Monday, December 9 at the foundation’s Just for Kids Community Conversation.

The $40,000 grant will go to support tenant engagement and organizing of Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex residents.

“Out of deep respect for the self-determination of residents, tenants of the Clinton-Peabody community participated in the selection process for partners in this work,” Rev. Wilson said.

The grant is partially funded from the settlement of a suit filed by Missouri's attorney general against the St. Louis Housing Authority and McCormack Baron Salazar at the call of residents from Clinton-Peabody, with an additional contribution from Deaconess Foundation.

“As a result of this award, the Action St. Louis team will convene, train, and support the development of an action plan chosen by the Clinton-Peabody residents in self-organizing toward their desired goals,” Rev. Wilson said.

“Additionally, residents will participate in a People’s Assembly where tenants will form working groups to identify goals to be included an action plan. Once the action plan has been developed, Action St. Louis will provide research on the issues, implement organizing training, support ongoing tenant turnout and communications, and seek out partner organizations for ongoing social services for residents.”

Residents have already started brainstorming with Action St. Louis staff on kick off opportunities to launch the partnership in the coming weeks.

The announcement was made with Ethel Jones, widow of the late Rev. Buck Jones, the namesake of the award. Alongside Jean King and Ivory Perry, Rev. Jones was a key figure in the 1969 St. Louis Rent Strike that transformed federal housing policy and made housing a central issue in the black freedom struggle. At the time, Rev. Jones, a graduate of Michigan State University and Yale Divinity School, served as president for both the Carr-Square Tenant-Council and Vaughn housing projects.

“This year marked the 50th anniversary of the successful conclusion of this important organizing effort which transformed federal housing policy,” Rev. Wilson said.

Following the 1969 strike, Rev. Jones launched a campaign for welfare reform in Missouri through Operation LIVE, founded Project HOPE (Helping Other People Emerge) to improve living conditions for people in East St. Louis North St. Louis, established a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and lead an  environmental justice campaign resulting in a multi-million dollar cleanup from the Environmental Protection Agency in East St. Louis. He passed away in 2002.

Ethel Jones initiated contact with the Deaconess Foundation in her late husband’s memory when she read news reports of deplorable conditions in the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex. “If Buck were here,” she told Rev. Wilson, “he’d be all over that.”

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