Place-Based Philanthropy


Diamond Seeds Under Pressure: Shaping East St. Louis’s Radiant Renewal

As the early morning light bathed the city of East St. Louis in a new day, our second day there as the Grand Victoria Foundation staff and board members promised a deeper understanding and stronger connections. We felt a profound sense of kinship with the community leaders gathered before us. A powerful narrative of rebirth and transformation is being written, propelled by the collective strength and unwavering commitment of these residents.

East St. Louis’s path toward renewal is unfolding much like the meticulous and intensive process of diamond formation, meticulously shaped under immense pressure. The change agents of this community, with steady and unwavering determination, are in the midst of crafting their future. Their efforts, still ongoing, hold the promise of yielding results as radiant and enduring as diamonds, symbolizing both the city’s resilience and its potential.

Our honor was immense as we met with the trailblazers of this transformation. Our discussions, rich in insight and vision, unfolded at New Life Community Church, a place filled with purpose and resolve. It was here we engaged with leaders like Jessica Wernli, a formidable facilitator and community organizer; Marie Franklin, an influential figure with United Congregations of Metro East (UCM), East Side Aligned (ESA), and WEPOWER; and Wyvetta Granger of Community Lifeline & New Life Community Church. Their stories and perspectives shone brightly, illuminating our path.

Our dialogue extended to Mamie Cosey of COFI, a stalwart voice for advocacy and change; Zach Chike of City of Joy Church, a symbol of the community’s spiritual fortitude; Charlie Cooksey of WEPOWER, a representation of the organization’s robust strength; Lettie Hicks from Parents United for Change in ESL, fervently advocating for the community; Evan Krauss from Eastside Aligned, offering fresh, innovative ideas; and Jaylon Cal from United Congregations of Metro East. Each individual added a unique thread to the evolving tapestry of East St. Louis’s transformation.

Our conversations with these leaders and advocates illuminated their visions for a brighter East St. Louis. They spoke passionately about addressing essential needs like food and transportation, and tackling systemic challenges such as poverty and inadequate housing. The discussion frequently turned to accountability, emphasizing the need for responsible action and transparent governance to effect lasting change.

Another key focus area of our discussions was the empowerment of youth. Recognizing that the city’s future is intertwined with the prospects of its young people, these organizations are dedicated to providing mentorship and educational opportunities. This investment in the youth is a cornerstone of nurturing the next generation of leaders.

A particularly moving realization during our conversations was the understanding that many of these steadfast individuals might not personally see the full fruits of their efforts. Yet, this reality does not deter their commitment. Their resolve is a testament to their deep dedication to revitalizing East St. Louis and ensuring a better tomorrow for coming generations.

The transformation of East St. Louis is an ongoing narrative. The change they envision, if realized, will stand as a powerful testament to human resilience and collective determination. But they can’t do it alone. The revitalization of East St. Louis is a deliberate and intricate process, paralleling the creation of lab-grown diamonds. Various agencies, community organizations, and philanthropic groups play crucial roles, each providing necessary resources and expertise, akin to skilled gemologists in a lab.

To deepen the understanding of this listening session, we’ve added video featuring these change-makers. Through this medium, you’ll hear directly from the people about the issues, their aspirations, and their continuous efforts to rejuvenate East St. Louis.

We extend a special thank you to our key partners on this journey of exploration. The Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, played a pivotal role, hosting our board meeting and facilitating critical discussions with other area philanthropists. Their support is integral to East St. Louis’s revitalization. We also express our gratitude to our board members, who took time from their busy schedules to witness and support our work firsthand.

Join us in supporting East St. Louis’s journey towards a brighter, more hopeful future. Your involvement can make a significant difference in this ongoing transformation. By supporting these organizations, you become an integral part of East St. Louis’s story of hope and renewal. Together, let’s turn the pressure of our challenges into the diamonds of our collective future.

Support These Organizations:

  1. United Congregations of Metro East (UCM)UCM
  2. East Side Aligned (ESA)ESA
  4. Community Lifeline & New Life Community ChurchCommunity Lifeline
  5. COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues)COFI
  6. City of Joy ChurchCity of Joy
  7. East St. Louis Center for Human Rights
  8. East St. Louis Youth Council

Images From The Day