The Center for Spirituality & Sustainability hosts an annual awards ceremony honoring two awardees each year. One award is presented for spiritual leadership and another for leadership in sustainability. These annual dual awards allow the Center recognize those who have shown leadership values that reenforce the Center's mission to promote humanity's sacred connection to the Earth and each other.
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Meet the 2018 Spirituality and Sustainability Awardees:
Sustainability Award • Sheila Voss serves as the Vice President of Education at the Missouri Botanical Garden, helping engage, educate, and inspire current and future generations of citizens to transition to a more sustainable world. She leads a team of diverse professionals, including environmental science educators, early childhood specialists, curriculum developers, teen program coordinators, public engagement strategists, exhibit designers, and community outreach staff based at the Garden, Shaw Nature Reserve, and the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House. In this role, Sheila leads the public awareness and education initiatives of BiodiverseCity St. Louis, a region-wide effort involving more than 100 organizations working together to enhance and protect local forests, wetlands, grasslands, rivers, parks, trails, and community green space in ways that improve health, well-being, and quality of life for all. She also co-chairs the Biodiversity Working Group of the OneSTL Sustainability Plan, an East-West Gateway Council of Regional Governments-led initiative to transition the greater St. Louis bi-state region toward more sustainable policies and practices. In 2016, Sheila was appointed by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat to serve on the Informal Advisory Committee on Communications, Education, and Public Awareness, a multi-sector group of biodiversity communications professionals from more than 15 countries. In this role, she collaborates with international colleagues to mainstream biodiversity into public awareness, policies, and practice.
Sheila has over 25 years of experience working in informal science learning environments, including zoos, aquaria, nature centers, and botanic gardens. Prior to joining the Garden, Sheila served as Corporate Director of Education and Conservation for the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Discovery Cove parks. In this role, she developed visitor engagement initiatives focused on the parks’ zoological exhibits and conservation programs, reaching more than 20 million people a year. She worked with global wildlife organizations including World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic Society, National Wildlife Federation, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and others to launch public awareness campaigns, develop cause-related marketing programs, and further conservation education worldwide. Sheila also served as Executive Producer for the Saving a Species family documentary series, and earned a 2006 National Daytime Emmy Award for Saving a Species: The Great Penguin Rescue, documenting a catastrophic oil spill off the coast of South Africa. During her zoological career, Sheila co-founded and served as the executive director of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a non-profit foundation supporting species research, habitat protection, animal rescue, and conservation education around the world.
Today, Sheila remains an active board member of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and also serves on the board of Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, a regional non-profit focused on restoring and protecting urban trees and forests. A native Floridian but lover of Midwest seasons, Sheila currently resides in Edwardsville, Illinois. She co-chairs the Environmental Committee of Action Metro East, a local group of 1,400 citizens working in focused ways to promote progressive people, policies, and practices that improve quality of life for all. In 2017, Sheila and her family participated in the Solarize Madison County group purchasing program, installing a 16-panel solar array in their backyard, nestled in the middle of their native prairie garden. In her spare time, she strives to spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors with her husband and two children – hiking, gardening, volunteering, nature-sketching, and exploring. On the weekends, she especially enjoys planting trees and removing invasive species at local, little-known outdoor gems like Edwardsville’s Watershed Nature Center and cleaning up trash in local creeks and streams. Sheila holds an M.S. in Environmental Sciences (Public Administration and Policy) from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University.
Spirituality Award • The Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Acting Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries of The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO.
Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for nine years prior to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pastor in the 159-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ. A registered nurse with more than 25 years of healthcare experience, Rev. Blackmon's clinical focus was cardiac care. In later years, her focus shifted to mobile healthcare in underserved communities, with the greatest health disparities being in her region. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham - Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).
As pastor, Rev. Blackmon leads Christ The King in an expanded understanding of church as a sacred launching pad of community engagement and change. This ethos has led to a tripling of both membership and worship attendance over the last seven years, expanding membership engagement opportunities, and the establishment of community outreach programs. Community programming includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library, and girls' mentoring program. All housed in the church.
Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit, a mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life. Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls. In addition to, Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.
A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO, has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama.
Rev. Blackmon toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairer of the Breech, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and Pastor Emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus, proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.
Rev. Blackmon is a graduate of Leadership St. Louis and currently serves on the boards of The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Woman Preach!
This year, Rev. Blackmon co-authored the newly released White Privilege curriculum through the United Church of Christ and has received several awards and recognitions, inclusive of:
- The White House President’s Volunteer Service Award
- The St. Louis American Stellar Award
- 2015 Ebony Magazine Power 100
- Deluxe Magazine Power 100
- St. Louis University - Community Leader of the Year
- 100 Black Men of St. Louis Community Leader of the Year
- The Coalition of Black Trade Unionist - Drum Major Award
- NAACP - Rosa Parks Award
- Rosa Parks Award - United Trade Unionist
- The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Woman in Leadership Award
- National Planned Parenthood Faith Leader Award
- The United Church of Christ - Antoinette Brown Leadership Award
- Honorary Doctorate, Eden Theological Seminary
Rev. Blackmon currently resides in both St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH and was recently named as one of St. Louis' 100 most influential voices. Rev. Blackmon is the proud mother of three adult children: Kortni Devon; Harold, II; and Tyler Wayne Blackmon.