YEP STL! Grant Recipient, Cultural Leadership

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Black and Jewish leaders, activists and youth marched arm-in-arm against persistent discrimination, faced the consequences together and celebrated the victories as a unified community. It’s this spirit of unity and the voices of young people 60 years ago that echo today in the work of Cultural Leadership, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more just community by training area youth to be the next generation of civil rights leaders. The organization is a 2023 recipient of a YouthBridge Youth Engaging Philanthropy (YEP) STL! grant.

“When Karen Kalish started the organization nearly 20 years ago, this was the vision she had – to create the powerful relationships Black and Jewish youth had during a pivotal time in world history, in order to effect the changes we need now,” says Tamyka Perine, Cultural Leadership Executive Director. Today, the organization engages youth from all racial, ethnic and religious identities “to expand the breadth of perspectives,” she says.

The cornerstone of Cultural Leadership is its year-long program for high school students that immerses them in history, culture, issues of injustices and leadership training. “We help them understand the realities of Black and Jewish histories and roots of prejudices that exist today,” says Perine. “At the same time, they learn about the resilience and impact of the generations before them and how to carry the torch forward as changemakers in their schools and communities.”

During the year, students visit each other’s schools, worship services and cultural events, and for three weeks in June, travel to cities throughout the East Coast and South, visiting people and places significant to social justice and the Civil Rights Movement. They attend workshops and hold discussions on “heavy topics,” says Perine. “They have disagreements, for sure, but that’s okay because they’re learning to listen and see the world through another’s point of view, while also finding their own voice.” Some of the most rewarding results are relationships that form from unlikely individuals, she says.

Over the years, the organization has found ways to offer these experiences to more students through a condensed summer camp version of the high school program and an appropriately scaled program for middle school students. College-age alumni also have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in a paid Social Justice Internship program at a St. Louis area nonprofit or corporation.

Cultural Leadership works hard to ensure its programs are accessible to all students across neighborhoods, school districts and socioeconomic lines, because “anything less would be counterintuitive to our focus on equity,” says Perine. While the actual cost of the program is about $10,000 per student, parents pay on a sliding scale – anywhere from $150 to $5,000 – based on their available resources. “Very generous donors make up the rest,” she says. The YouthBridge YEP grant will support scholarships for future program participants.

“This is our first gift from YouthBridge and we are so honored for the youth of the organization to see the value in what we are doing,” says Perine. “YouthBridge has always been a great supporter of the community and in capacity building for nonprofits, which is rare and wonderful because we can’t grow our impact without growing our capacity to serve.”