WEPOWER Prepares North St. Louis Residents to Lead Education Policy Change

Charli Cooksey


Good morning!

With great excitement, I’m writing to you having transitioned from interim Executive Director of Forward Through Ferguson into serving as full-time 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.

  • Follow us on social networks [FacebookInstagramTwitter], share our posts with your friends, and poke around our website!

  • Sign up to canvas or partner with us!

  • Forward this email to three people who also believe every community deserves the power to determine a future for themselves—one where all children are safe, thriving, and supported by equitable systems.

  • Maybe someone you know would be interested in joining in our East St. Louis Academy. Share this link with them!

Let us be resolute and collective in our pursuit of a renewed St. Louis! I look forward to talking soon.