The Power of We
If this pandemic has taught us anything about our community, it’s that we are only as strong as the relationships we build with one another. Staying connected, showing compassion and working together – even while physically apart – is how we will live up to this challenge. WEPOWER was created on the principle of stronger together and believes that the challenges we confront – long before there was a COVID-19 virus – demand urgent, systemic solutions led by everyday advocates with a shared commitment to putting youth at the center. Earlier this year, YouthBridge awarded WEPOWER a $150,000 Think Big for Kids grant to help build the organization’s capacity and sustainability.
“Too many things are getting in the way of children of color realizing their full potential,” says Charli Cooksey, WEPOWER Founder and CEO. “WEPOWER’s mission is to activate community power to redesign systems to be just and equitable .” With a focus on addressing disparities in education, economic opportunity, healthcare and the justice system, WEPOWER has engaged more than 100 community members as changemakers since its start in 2018.
“These are not professional lobbyists but everyday people – parents and grandparents, teachers, clergy – living the realities of inequities every day and wanting a better future for our youth,” says Cooksey. “They’ve never had a seat at the decision-making table, so we partner with them as they develop bold solutions for broken systems and demand seats at the tables where decisions are made about young people and those who care for them.”
In seven to 24-month leadership and action programs, where they foster advocacy skills, deepen their understanding of systems, collaborate with each other and develop data-informed ideas, community members become leaders of community change. Results of their collective efforts so far include increased voter education in St. Louis city, and campaigns around improved early childhood education and equitable funding for St. Louis Public Schools; all campaigns that have been designed and are led by everyday folks.
A north city native, Cooksey is a former educator with Teach for America and director/co-founder of inspireSTL. After a supplemental report to the Ferguson Commission Report disclosed some dismal scores in child wellbeing, education quality and attainment for St. Louis, she set out to activate community power around the calls to action outlined in the report. “They’re just ideas on paper, otherwise, ideas that the community has called on our region to take action on,” she says.
Inspired by models in cities such as Detroit and Tulsa, Cooksey says success depends on a critical mass of advocates collectively co-creating a transformed St. Louis and a host of partnerships supporting community-led efforts. “Better is possible and necessary, but we have to be willing to activate the power and follow the lead of everyday people most impacted by our region’s systems.”
If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.