Charli Cooksey | We Can Do This

Friday, August 18th at Missouri’s Botanical Garden, WEPOWER hosted their second ever Garden Party. Charli shared some reflections and also presented investment checks to two entrepreneurs leading businesses that WEPOWER Capital has recently invested in.

August 18, 2023

Charli Cooksey | We Can Do This


Friday, August 18th at Missouri’s Botanical Garden, WEPOWER hosted their second ever Garden Party. Charli shared some reflections and also presented investment checks to two entrepreneurs leading businesses that WEPOWER Capital has recently invested in.


Good evening, let’s celebrate LaParis and Paula one more time! 


First, I want to express my deepest gratitude to this year’s sponsors: Rio Vista Foundation, Wells Fargo, the Regional Arts Commission, BioSTL, Cortex, Kwame Charitable Foundation, Mary McKay and Jane Browne, as well as our host committee. I want to thank this year’s second ever co-chairs, WEPOWER’s board chair and the biggest champion of STL I know, my friend Roo Yawitz and Vanessa Cooksey, the amazing president and CEO of the Regional Arts Commission and my sister cousin friend! I would like to also thank Missouri Botanical Garden for co-hosting this year’s Garden Party. We are in a REAL garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the world! I would also like to shoutout Nyara Williams for premiering her first documentary she’s directed and capturing some of the stories and journeys of our WEPOWER. And, I would especially like to thank the team who made tonight possible - Alicia, WEPOWER’s VP of Development, and the HunniPop team, led by Stacey Pugh, and our vendors and caterers for tonight. The amazing WEPOWER team - past and current - thank you for riding the waves. Lastly, I want to thank each of YOU for coming out tonight - looking beautiful, smelling good, and partying with a purpose. Because when you’re outside with WEPOWER, you’re outside for…our babies, communities, and futures. 


I am Charli Alexa Cooksey–daughter of Mary Wheeler Jones and Charles T. Cooksey; Granddaughter of Willie Lee & Rudolph Wheeler and Dorothea and David Cooksey. I am, like Paula and LaParis, a proud native of North St. Louis City. And, I wouldn’t be mad if Mary chose to pass on to me her beautiful home that overlooks Fairground Park. Hint hint. Lol I am here because of the wildest imaginations, prayers, and resilience of my ancestors, and elders. And, I wake up every day and express my gratitude to them and God for protecting me even when I didn’t and still don’t recognize I need protecting. 


Last year, I talked so long I got tired of hearing myself speak and was ready to take off my heels midway through. LOL. So, hopefully, I’m a tad bit more brief this time around. 


We CAN do THIS. We can create our way to a better world, a better St. Louis, and more neighborhoods that nurture instead of harm the bodies and lives of Black and Brown families. The way we created a way to travel to the moon, the way we created a vaccine for COVID-19, the way we created the internet, we can create a future in which every zip code and every community has the resources to thrive and be well. The inherent potential of creation and the many case studies of the collective will, focus, and resourcing of such inventions as the plane and vaccines should give us hope and also be a call to action that we should apply those same values to uprooting systemic racism and economic injustice. Not only can we do THIS, but we have a moral responsibility to do so. So, who is “WE” and what is “THIS”? We is all of us here this evening and then some, and THIS is “measurable shifts in life outcomes” for families most on the margins here in St. Louis. THIS isn’t a feeling but a transformation that must be tangible. THIS is fully funding early childhood education in St. Louis. THIS is creating a  region where housing security, home ownership, communal ownership is not the exception or a privilege but a fundamental right for everyone. THIS is substantially shifting the way our economy works in a way where our collective wealth is valued over the wealth of a few through the exploitation of many. THIS is moving beyond talk, business as usual, and towards the redistribution of power. 


My next thought is if you don’t feel uncomfortable, nearly daily, then you and we are not doing the hard things to create our way out of our region’s many wicked challenges. Too few of us carry too much of the weight and discomfort of making transformational change. Those too few of us, way too often, are young Black, brilliant, fearless leaders who could be anywhere else in the world doing easier work for better pay in better health than we are here in STL. I can attest to and have heard the transparency of others as they reveal the trauma, physical harm, and wear and tear this work takes on folks who are working tirelessly to lead and create our way to a better future. It is time for us to share the collective discomfort of making change, of creating a radically different set of outcomes. 


I’ve been asked a few times if I planned to share a story similar to what I shared last year and I didn’t plan on it, but here’s a little story. Thanks to my amazing board and team, I’m returning from a 2-month sabbatical - one in which I was able to truly rest, reflect, heal, and care for myself so that I can stand here before you well and healthy. I’ve been asking my mom to go to Paris since I was in middle school with zero concept of how money and reality work. After two attempts including purchased tickets, both trips got canceled the day before departure…where I was on my way to realize my dream of living my best life in Par-Ree. This third time, during my sabbatical, I planned the trip on my own terms and made my way with success–as I grappled with really important questions about my purpose and place, about the work and future of WEPOWER, about whether I even belonged or felt safe in St. Louis. I kept encountering reminders of home –from the 2-hour history lesson on the one and only Josephine Baker, to passing by on multiple occasions a lavish store named St. Louis, to letting an Australian stranger borrow my phone to capture a picture to text herself while we both immersed ourselves in 200+ Basquiat and Warhol pieces, and realizing of the 200+ pieces of art, this Australian stranger took a picture of Baquiat’s handwritten note that said Meet Me in St. Louis. By the end of my dream trip, while I came with questions, I left with answers - the main one being, I’ve still got work to do in St. Louis. I traveled across the world to be reminded of the important role St. Louis plays in my life and purpose. So, yes, this work is SOOOO HARD, but I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, and I need each of you. We need each other. We need to wrestle with and navigate the discomfort of revolution, transformation, and dismantling injustice together. Supporting one another. 


Okay, last thought. If it’s not risky, it’s not the right work. New futures require new paths and new ways of being and thinking and collaborating. So, if the discomfort isn’t making your stomach a little queasy, if the risk isn’t too risky, we’ve got to step back and re-evaluate what are we doing, where are we headed, and who are we working with?


As I wrap up, I want to say THANK YOU to anyone who considers themselves part of the WEPOWER community and for leaning in over the past 5-years–imagining with us, creating with us, healing with us, building wealth with us, navigating the complexity of this work with us. Thank you so much! Together, tonight, we can celebrate a few things: training and supporting 300+ changemakers as organizers, future public leaders, and systems change agents. We can celebrate winning over $17 million in public funding with and for the childcare community, knocking on 100k+ voters doors, deploying nearly $1 million in capital to entrepreneurs, and most importantly, we can celebrate the fact that we’ve made it this far, because, man, has it been a wild ride!!!


To close out the evening, I want to ask Amina, Tiffany, and Reggie to join me on the stage:


Congratulations to Reggie, owner of a Rooterman franchise for a $95,000 investment. 


Congratulations to Tiffany, owner of Cheryl’s Herbs for a $100,000 investment. 


RooterMan and Cheryl’s Herbs were selected for investment because they are promising local businesses that create quality jobs in the region without a high barrier to entry, and they are run by talented entrepreneurs who expressed a commitment to create a positive community impact. Reginald Jennings (J3 Enterprises’ RooterMan) and Tiffany Jones (Cheryl’s Herbs) were both members of the WEPOWER Accelerator cohort of 2021.



Thank you to our amazing Director of Investments, Amina Abdul-Malik, and one of WEPOWER’s ride or die team member’s. Yoni, for making these investments possible.


We need more thriving Black and Latinx businesses with a clear analysis of race, class, and power, and with a commitment to building wealth for not only their families but our communities. 


Before I pass it to Tee Parks, DJ Nico, and Lexodus, I’m calling on you all to make the WEPOWER Weekend pledge by committing to join the early childhood Power & Policy Action Group or the Community Wealth Action Group, both focused on community-led policy change. If you want to learn more about our work, you can grab coffee with a member of our team. We are here, ready, and willing to build relationships and partnerships to unapologetically and relentlessly create a better St. Louis. 


Cheers to this 4-day weekend– Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Beyoncé! lol