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!
Forward Through Ferguson board, staff, and former Ferguson Commissioners // Photo by Lawrence Bryant
I recently concluded my tenure as the interim Lead Catalyst/Executive Director ofForward Through Ferguson. It was such an amazing year with the team, board, and so many committed partners. Before I transitioned to full time at WEPOWER, I had the great pleasure of designing and launching a three-year #STL2039 Action Plan. Take a look! Engage. This important work is not possible without your action, belief, and radical collaboration!
Class of 2015 InspireSTL scholars graduation ceremony // Photo by Chuck Olu-Alabi
Last fall, InspireSTL selected Adam Layne as their new Director. Adam is a Teach For America-St. Louis Alum and previously served as InspireSTL’s Director of Scholar Support & College Access. In this role, Adam designed and launched college access and support programming. He led the first cohort of scholars towards 100% high school graduation and four-year college acceptance, and secured millions of dollars in scholarships and grants. I am so thrilled that his entrepreneurial spirit, brilliance, passion, and charisma will now drive forward the work of ensuring our scholars thrive in school and beyond.
To date, inspireSTL has inducted and now supports eight cohorts of scholars, ranging from seventh graders to rising college seniors! Adam wanted to be sure you knew:
Our Spring 2018 Education Power Building Academy launched this weekend! We are working with a cohort of 28 north city residents–power-builders, who are participating in our six-month Academy, which is facilitated out of the new Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being. Power-builders will work to develop fundamental leadership skills, build community, and organize towards policy change that improves our city’s public education system.
The first weekend of the Academy was powerful. We developed shared language around key terms like educational equity, power, and systems change led by organizers and facilitators Brittini Gray and Kristian Blackmon.
On Saturday morning we headed out to visit sites up and down the North city and downtown. Washington University's Bob Hansman guided a tour that grounded the Academy in local history. Later in the day, we engaged in an Interrupting Racism training facilitated by NCCJ. We shared with each other why we joined the academy. Power-builders connected with one question in particular: Who in your life has driven you to work for educational equity? This work is deeply personal, and we love having the chance to build roots with our new crew!
After a weekend of intense learning, growing, and community building together, we are beyond thrilled to celebrate that as a result of April’s Academy experiences:
Here are a few snapshots from the kick-off.