Skip to main content

Education Investments Beyond the Classroom

By Charli Cooksey

April 19, 2021

Charli Cooksey ('11)

Over the course of 11 years spent within the education space, I have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in countless conversations about the future of education. As time continues to pass, these conversations and ideas remain at the forefront of my mind—omnipresent reminders that there is still more work to be done. Whether it be the quest toward achieving equitable outcomes as outlined by my time serving communities in St. Louis with Teach For America (TFA), or my own perspective on the challenges outlined by the theory of change at WEPOWER,  there must be an acknowledgement of systems that limit the potential of communities of color and their ability to collectively thrive. I am hyper aware and steadfast in my efforts to lead, or at least cultivate change within an education environment as complex as St. Louis’.

My journey with TFA began after returning home to St. Louis following the completion of my undergraduate studies at Prairie View A&M University in 2009. The time I spent at Prairie View was a grounding experience that, when coupled with my upbringing, was foundational to my efforts as an educator within the corps. Returning to St. Louis as an English teacher was eye-opening and helped to contextualize my own experiences coming of age within the same school system. While there was obvious growth, it was astonishing to see many things remained the same more than a decade later. As a young teacher and native St. Louisan, I was eager to see change.

“Returning to St. Louis as an English teacher was eye-opening and helped to contextualize my own experiences coming of age within the same school system.”

Charli Cooksey

St. Louis Corps Member 2011

When I finished my corps service in 2011, a desire for change led me to co-found inspireSTL. Founded as an educational access venture, inspireSTL was created to educate and support the future leaders of St. Louis. During my time with inspireSTL, each senior class of inspireSTL Scholars celebrated 100% high school graduation and four-year college acceptance rates. After ten years, and still in operation today, I am proud to share that inspireSTL has inducted seven classes of scholars, and is on track to serve approximately 400 scholars annually. These are the results of change in action. This is what it means to be a TFA alumnus. And this is why I choose to lead through service and encourage others in and out of the TFA network to do the same. 

It is crystal clear that these systems, though seemingly all encompassing, need to be reimagined and rebuilt, not simply reformed. While education was the way for me to address systemic racial injustice, my team and I strive to be change agents in other fields. When founding WEPOWER, we sought to address systemic inequity via community-led policy design, leadership, and wealth building with a focus on reimagining four social systems: economics, education, health and justice. Our work is grounded in an understanding that equity and justice require an interconnected approach to reimagine systems that currently work together to harm many Black and Brown families. Our goal is to flip the power system on its nose to collectively solicit transformation. Through our wholly original suite of programming such as Power Building Academy, Tomorrow Builders Fellowship, Elevate/Elevar Accelerator, and Chisholm’s Chair, “we power” community members to engage, activate, and accelerate change.  I am incredibly proud of this work, and in a roundabout way, this journey began with TFA; I regularly draw from my time and network as an alumnus.   

There is a common misconception for those outside of the TFA network that alums disengage the moment their AmeriCorps service ends. If an example was needed to qualify that this could not be further from the truth, here I am. I am invested in the collective “we” and St. Louis communities today more than ever before. I believe I have been called to this path to enact change; years later alongside over 60,000 TFA alumni we are becoming and enacting the change we’ve longed to see. 

To learn more about Charli, inspireSTL, and WePower please visit these links. 

About Charli Cooksey