The Stairstep Foundation began in 1992 as a response to a set of crises/challenges that confronted African Americans – poverty, educational failures, racial disparities in almost all health issues, and the birth-to-prison pipeline. Our thinking was that these problems and pains were not new, but had become more intense and widespread than in other historical time periods. We concluded that the critical connections between people that are the bedrock of community health had dissipated or weakened over time and had been replaced by isolation and alienation. Community had broken down.
The restoration of a spirit of community requires intentional approaches that encourage people to act as if they belong together. Community building is the key to healing what ails the African American community – not addressing isolated problems. Healthy communities provide the relationships and connections from which it is possible to address family, health, and social problems.
Stairstep has set out to understand the components, processes, and dynamics required to revitalize a community spirit and to create and document replicable models that build community.
After more than two decades of work we have articulated seven pillars that must be interwoven in any successful endeavor to build community. (see “The Learning” pg. 5)
Having established this philosophical template, our programmatic efforts pivot on the reinforcement of the African American community institution with the greatest historic credibility and the largest upside potential for impact: the African American Church.
Regrettably, the African American Church has become marginalized, mitigating its potentially constructive impact on community issues. Yet, the church continues to be the institution with the broadest reach and access to African American individuals and families. Given its historical role in developing and supporting community leadership, the African American Church is uniquely situated to be the base of a social infrastructure for African Americans with the ability to impact issues and disparities from health and education to wealth and political engagement.
Since 1995, Stairstep has convened an ecumenical consortium of African American pastors and their congregations in the Twin Cities metro area, encouraging them to move outside their church walls and reclaim their community service and advocacy roles. We convene and facilitate His Works United (HWU), which is a network with a reach of over 100 congregations in the Twin Cities and throughout the state spanning the major denominations and non-denominational ministries.