Karl Guenther, assistant vice chancellor for economic and community development at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, was among five recipients of the Christian Hospital Foundation’s 2023 Drum Major Awards.
The awards, presented on Jan. 13 at the sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Luncheon, were created to honor unsung local heroes who have given their time, talents, treasure and service in the name of justice, equity and equality.
Guenther was recognized for more than a decade of work in economic community development, much of it focused in neighborhoods in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County that have faced decades of disinvestment.
“Our history of systemic racism, segregation, policies and practices have shaped why disinvestment has taken place,” Guenther said. “It’s going to take intentional strategic reinvestment and improved systems and policy to build that more just, equitable St. Louis, where everyone can thrive. We have to fix structural barriers for people to succeed and for residents to build vibrant communities they desire.”
That was the goal underlying his involvement with many efforts throughout his time at UMSL. including as a founding staff member of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis, a coalition of 70 non-profit community development organizations, banks, businesses and public sector agencies working to build more equitable neighborhoods in the St. Louis region.
It has continued more recently with his work leading UMSL’s Economic and Community Development efforts and helping launch the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, which UMSL is co-leading with Edward Jones.
“With the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, what’s really neat is seeing how that’s helping build a culture of commitment to the focus geography, which has seen so many decades of disinvestment and faced structural racism and segregation,” Guenther said. “You see partners thinking about their policies and practices in new ways and making changes so that they can work alongside community to build ladders of opportunity in our region.”
While personally honored by the award, Guenther also wanted to highlight the partnerships and group efforts involved in championing and working towards justice and equity in our communicates.
“This kind of work is always done in partnership and by trying to put yourself in service to good work,” Guenther said. “It takes many hands to foster, so I see this particular award really honoring the team here at UMSL, our community partners that we work with and the residents and businesses that we work with. This award lifts up what we’ve been able to do together in the pursuit of a more just St. Louis.”
The other honorees at Friday’s luncheon were St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell; Cenia Bosman, the president and CEO of Community Action Agency of St. Louis County, Inc.; Eric C. Rhone, the executive producer and talent manager at Visions Management Group; and James E. Williams Jr., the president and CEO of Estel Foods, which operates McDonald’s franchises in Missouri and Illinois.