I've spoken to folks across St. Louis city and county—families, educators, school and business leaders—who are worried that we are leaving a huge number of kids behind. Families, especially those harmed by racism, poverty, prejudice, and trauma, are struggling to find safe, high-quality, affordable ECE and childcare options.
Have we given up on early childhood education? What is our collective commitment to our youngest residents here in St. Louis?
We owe it to the 94,000 ECE-age kids in STL city and county to usher in a new era of innovation and support.
High quality ECE also means a better, stronger, safer future for St. Louis. Research shows that high quality ECE means better professional, personal, and academic outcomes, and a stronger workforce that drives economic mobility. It means kids’ health issues are diagnosed and treated sooner. It means less spending on special ed interventions, remedial classes, and incarceration. In other words, each dollar invested in great pre-K yields around $4-$9 in societal return.
We also know that our region is full of passionate innovators who are ready to create change. This is why WEPOWER is thrilled to announce the launch of our new fellowship.
The Tomorrow Builders Fellowship is an opportunity to equitably reimagine and redesign our region’s early childhood education (ECE) system. This is a chance to engage community, research practices across the country, and access top tier trainings and education, provided by WEPOWER and our partners, including the Clark-Fox Policy Institute and the Social System Design Lab at Washington University.
Fellows will activate their abilities to create large-scale systems change and positively impact education policy. Using this knowledge, they will work together to publish a playbook of recommendations for improving ECE in St. Louis, a vision for change that will inform an upcoming ballot initiative.
The Fellowship will be structured through monthly in-person sessions, scheduled with Fellows’ professional and personal responsibilities in mind. Each fellow will receive a stipend for their participation. We highly encourage full-time educators, center or home-based directors, and parents or guardians of ECE-age kids to apply.
Does this sound like you? Apply between now and January 13th.
Or does this remind you of someone you know?
Can you forward this in to your network? With your help, we can build a better tomorrow.
The work of equity and justice in the ECE space is critical to the future of our region. To continue this conversation—as an advocate for children, a prospective Fellow, or a believer of a better St. Louis—read our partner's new report, Make Work Work.
With an unwavering belief in every child of St. Louis,
Director of Policy + Systems Change
This April 2018, 16 Black women from across North St. Louis City, of all ages and backgrounds convened to embark upon a journey of self-exploration and community change. None of them exactly knew what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for WEPOWER’s Power-Building Academy. They began as strangers, new classmates. Eight months later—sooner than ever imagined or planned—the group sparked a movement to improve education.
By July, I witnessed these 16 women-Power-Builders become family and declare three demands with courage, hope, and strength so bold one would be a fool to block them along their journey. Their initial curiosity and concern about issues in our schools had evolved into a vision and strategy to achieve policy changes of equity and fairness across St. Louis Public Schools.
That is what WEPOWER is about—activating community power to redesign systems to be just and equitable for all. We are a vessel for communities to take action as advocates and leaders of policy change and entrepreneurs of tech-ventures, scaling to disrupt systems and challenging conventions across the nation. Our partnerships with communities have begun with a focus on education. Over time, we also will work to push and shift health, economic, and justice systems because they all currently do more harm than good to Black and brown folks.
Power-Builders have taught me that we all have a right and obligation to unite and relentlessly and continuously demand a better future for every kid in every school and every community across every zip code. Our children and the neighborhoods they call home deserve advocates whose courage to demand better outweighs the viciousness of complacency and commitment to the status quo.
The North City Power-Builders have activated a tremendous network around their vision for change.
Can you imagine what’s possible a year from now when we activate hundreds more community members and work to change more systems beyond education? With the launch of our second Academy in East St. Louis and applications open for our third Academy and new Fellowship, we are on our way to doing just that!
Join us. Your investment will fuel our efforts to get organized in service of a new reality where educational equity is not just an idea but a practice sustained by policies.
Together, WE can build the power to boldly demand a better St. Louis.
Charli A. Cooksey
Founder & CEO
Election tensions are high. A lot is at stake. I want to offer seven strategies for moving forward in the pursuit of justice even when the ground feels uncertain: How to Stay Grounded in Hope.
Tomorrow’s elections are also powerful. The act of voting is a tool we use to turn our visions for change into reality. Casting your vote will impact the lives of our students and community.
We will have the opportunity to vote for many important positions like state and U.S. Senators. In St. Louis city, where our Power-Builders are running GOTV canvasses and phone banks, the ballot includes candidates for the district’s elected school board.
City residents — if you don’t yet have a personal vote plan, make one using this helpful chart! If you’d like to collect signatures at the polls with Better Budgets Better Schools campaign, reply to this email. I'll connect you with the coalition.
We know that the work does not end when we submit our ballots. We must continue our efforts to build long-term change by supporting and listening to resident-led calls for change. With this in mind, will you join us the Wednesday after the election at the Public Hearing on Why Equitable School Funding Matters?
We have an abundance of updates and pictures for you below! I hope you enjoy them and they inspire you to connect with us this coming month.
powering our future together,
North City Education Power-Builders Alums turn Organizers
Following their Better Budgets Better Schools Teach-In at Julia Davis Library, the inaugural class of Power-Builders gathered for a graduation celebration. Gloria Nolan wrote an op-ed published in St. Louis American: My fight for better budgets and better schools for all SLPS kids.
Alums of the Academy, Monti and Elise, have continued the work of the campaign as field organizers. They have led our wonderful volunteers to phone-bank and canvass to get out the vote (GOTV) in North St. Louis City wards 3, 4 and 22 where there is a history of low voter turnout. This week’s cover story of the St. Louis American details their efforts!
The Better Budgets Better Schools coalition invites you out on November 14th for the Public Hearing on Why Equitable School Funding Matters! Over dinner you will hear community members and leaders testify on the need for policy solutions and share best practices from other districts. Free dinner will be provided to all who RSVP here.
North City Power-Builders want schools to be equitably funded AND to have more funding. They want students to have the resources they need to thrive! They stand with the third goal in St. Louis Public Schools’ latest strategic plan is to achieve the “equitable distribution of human and material resources across schools.”
However, they believe the district’s goal of equity cannot be reached without increasing transparency and community input into the budgeting process. Equity includes intentionally putting those most impacted at the center of discussions and decisions.
They are calling for our district leadership to formalize a long-term commitment to equitable practices so they become imbedded into the culture of SLPS. Will you sign onto the demands by sending a letter in support to SLPS superintendent Dr. Adams?
East St. Louis Education Power-Building Academy
Our second 6-month Power-Building Academy launched in September in partnership with organizer Jessica Wernli and the East St. Louis Center. This Academy is based in East St. Louis and is focused on education policy reform.
Early in the Academy, we embarked on a tour facilitated by social justice legends Eugene Redmond and Reginald Petty of historic places in East St. Louis. More recently, Power-Builders reviewed East St. Louis education data during an Academy session.
We co-hosted and sponsored this year’s Vision conference that brought together hundreds of St. Louis entrepreneurs interested in launching and scaling new ventures. We loved connecting with the participants at our booth! It was also such a pleasure to host venture capitalist and trailblazer Arlan Hamilton as this year’s keynote speaker.
Intro to Entrepreneurship
We are hosting three Intro to Entrepreneurship events with the Promise Zone to share resources and hear what community members in North city and county need most to launch and grow successful businesses. Space is still available for the third event on November 15th, 6-8PM. RSVP here!
Black Census Project
As part of our Engage Community programming, we are partnering with Black Futures Lab on the Black Census Project. The project engages Black residents in conversations about what’s important to us. Kristen Trudo, St. Louis field organizer with the Black Census Project, reflects on the Project’s recent community organizing training in Atlanta: Visioning Our Futures through Courageous Conversations.
During these last months our team has been busy dreaming, challenging, and fortifying our values, our strategies, and our definition of impact. Our first pilot program hit its half-point mark, and we are cultivating a sense of energy and purpose with our regional partners and our inaugural cohort of power-builders.
As we strive to live out our unwavering belief that power is a human right, we continually explore and analyze sources of power. Organized people, for example, become a source of power when they disrupt systems and build new ones to better address their needs. Organized money is another source—one that can resource community-driven change. By building economic prosperity for all—as opposed to just a few—we weave power into the fabric of every community, no matter which side of Delmar they fall.
To realize a future where shared economic prosperity accelerates policy and systems change, our bold and unapologetic plans must be driven by people—amazing, energizing change agents. At WEPOWER we are building a dynamic team to courageously advance our power-filled vision. To this end, I am elated to welcome our newest team member Bijal Desai-Ramirez to the role of VP of Entrepreneurship & Investments. In her position, Bijal will use entrepreneurship as a catalyst to advance community-driven power.
Bijal Desai-Ramirez at Love Bank Park. Photo by Kristen Trudo
Bijal brings a unique set of assets to the team. She joined WEPOWER in June after co-founding Filament, a startup dedicated to helping people think together better. During her 2.5-year tenure as COO, she built out a team and infrastructure that allowed the company to achieve an average quarterly growth rate of 34%.
Prior to her time at Filament, Bijal held key roles with organizations old and new, large and small, and across sectors for 15+ years. She served as Executive Director of Education Innovation and founded the ED Collabitat—a hub for entrepreneurship, collaboration, and professional development—at the University of Missouri–St. Louis; as Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis overseeing strategic planning and capacity building through a period of explosive growth; as a consultant for nonprofits, startups, and for large corporations such as Pepsico; and as a young leader working with Pfizer both in the field and at their global headquarters.
Building upon these experiences, her work takes on a cross-sector approach and introduces new ideas to build capacity and innovation within organizations. In addition, her work is informed by personal experiences as a woman, a personal of color, a parent, and the daughter of immigrant entrepreneurs.
What drives her work most and what aligns her experience with the mission and vision of WEPOWER is that Bijal infinitely cares about people. She demonstrates this in the way she knows best: by building stuff (foundations, systems, processes, relationships) to make impact for the betterment of society, communities, workplaces, and life—particularly for women, children, people of color, and other communities who are systematically disenfranchised.
Our team recently sat down with Bijal to hear a bit about her perspective on her role supporting community-based entrepreneurs. And today she is sharing that story with our broader community!
I know Bijal’s entrepreneurial experience and her commitment to equitable innovation will empower us to live out our values more fully. Throughout 2018, she will design a strategy that accelerates business growth and economic prosperity in communities that have been left out of the startup ecosystem for far too long but who have creative ideas and vast potential. In collaboration with the broader WEPOWER community, her work towards economic prosperity will tie into and grow our policy and systems change efforts.
Please join me in welcoming Bijal to our team. Together, with our WEPOWER community and partners, transformation of our city, region and country is possible!
At this month's North City Education Power-Building Academy we reviewed themes of U.S. education policy from the last four centuries. We asked ourselves to reflect on these policies–in particular, how they have impacted our lives. Following this, we discussed characteristics of effective educational systems. As the day continued, our cohort developed a collective education policy initiative to advocate for in the coming months. Stay tuned for more!
On Saturday afternoon leaders in education reform joined us to share their varied experiences and perspectives of St. Louis' public education systems.
We send a big "Thank you!" to the group for sharing their candid stories with us! Our organizing potential is truly energizing!
Top left: Post-its with clarifying questions from our training about using data to help analyze our education system. Photo by Monti Hill
Top right: Panelists reflect on their time advocating for public schools. Photo by Monti Hill
Bottom left: Power-builders hear from panelists.
Bottom right: A slide show identifies landmark cases in US education history.
Does our Power-Building Academy sound interesting to you? Do you know a friend who you believe would flourish as change-maker?
As part of our second weekend with our cohort of north city residents we engaged in developing and practicing some fundamental community organizing skills and principles! The Spring 2018 Education Power Building Academy is our six-month Academy. Power-builders work to develop fundamental leadership skills, build community, and organize to improve our city’s public education system.
On Friday we shared stories with one another about who we are and what drives us to organize for education justice. Saturday morning we practiced hosting 1:1 meetings. These meetings help us ground our relationships with our partners so we can build power together more effectively and genuinely. Before lunch, with the goal of door knocking 250 houses collectively, we headed out the door to talk with our neighbors about their top education justice concerns! We spent the rest of the day identifying the difference between issues and problems and practicing planning and hosting house meetings. To wrap it up we broke bread with one another one last time over dinner.
Left: Kristian leads discussion at the Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being.
Right: Gloria and Buena door-knock with their neighbors.
With great excitement, I'm writing to you having transitioned from interim Executive Director of Forward Through Ferguson into serving as fulltime CEO & founder of WEPOWER.
Just two weeks ago, WEPOWER officially launched in North St. Louis city when we kicked off our inaugural Power Building Academy with 28 northside residents who are working to achieve an education policy change that will improve our public education systems. Our goal of supporting black and brown residents organize towards a future worthy of our youth is one that is dear to me and, I imagine, to you too.
I'm 31, and I have lived on the same street in North St. Louis city for the past 30 years. I love my neighborhood–my neighbors, our history, our culture, our resilience, our hope, and our potential. Yet, each time I return home from other areas of the region, I am reminded that we are plagued by the harsh impacts of inequity–educational inequity, economic inequity, health inequity, and racial inequity.
Some will blame the frequent gunshots and numerous abandoned schools and homes on my neighbors and me. But I know these are symptoms of the intentional, systemic disinvestment in communities where people look like me. Too many communities of color and those living in poverty bear the brunt of decisions, which are often dictated to them instead of made by or with them. We are plagued by many of our regional leaders’ commitment to the status quo, which strips us of our power to be heard, make informed decisions, and to act towards systems change.
My neighbors truly understand what is at stake and have powerful visions for the future. It’s the children and their parents who know our public schools. It’s the tenants, the grandmas, the aunties, who stay in the neighborhood, who know what innovative local businesses will support our health and wellness.
Community is our best expert. It is time that we tap into the experiences and expertise of our fellow St. Louisans–including my north city neighbors.
Today, our region is at a critical juncture. We are facing a moment in our history where transformation awaits us if we collectively choose it. Our past is urging us to dismantle exploitative structures. Our future is demanding us to create community-driven and principles-driven change.
Still, this transformative future is only possible if we equip communities with power. This is only possible if we step back, listen, and follow the lead of those most impacted by inequities. We must ensure communities of color build and leverage power. We must support the dreaming of bold dreams and the turning of imaginative thinking into innovative solutions. We must ensure all of our communities are equipped to uplift courageous, proximate leaders.
This is why I am so encouraged by the launch of WEPOWER.
We are activating this future by partnering with neighbors in my community—and in communities like mine—to support the development of resident-driven power. This will happen through the monthly gatherings we host for residents to build community, access direct services and opportunities, discuss equity issues, and ideate innovate solutions. Our six-month to two-year leadership academies, fellowships, and residencies aim to position residents to drive responsive policy and systems change. We will also accelerate and invest in community-based ventures whose returns fuel long-term change driven by residents.
I invite you to get to know WEPOWER–to meet our team, to connect and collaborate with us!
We have a lot in store, so stay tuned! Here are a few examples of how you might help us spread the word of our launch.
Let us be resolute and collective in our pursuit of a renewed St. Louis! I look forward to talking soon.
Hi friends, Here are some resources and sample social media posts you can use to help spread the word about our work!
Sample Posts | Feel free to use these posts and their accompanying photos to spread word about the launch. And in the coming weeks, show your love with likes, shares, comments on our content! Tag us and we'll do the same.
Additional Ways to Boost us | We appreciate your help growing out network!
Feel free to message us on Facebook or Instagram if you have immediate questions. Otherwise, Charli is available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for taking the time to support us as we launch!