Full Name
Charli Cooksey
Job Title
Founder and CEO
Speaker Bio

Charli Cooksey is a proud and committed native and resident of North St. Louis City. 

Charli developed a passion for political change and grassroots movement building early on in her journey. During college, she helped lead several initiatives involving hundreds and sometimes thousands marching and protesting to demand voting rights for Black and young folks. She also ran for the elected school board in Waller County, Texas, to ensure that Black and Brown families had a voice in public education policy decisions.
After completing her studies at Prairie View A&M University, she returned to St. Louis as a Teach For America (TFA) corps member. During her second year in the classroom, Charli co-founded inspireSTL, which existed to ensure city students from under-resourced backgrounds had access to transformative college-prep high schools and opportunities that would put them on a path toward college completion. inspireSTL grew from a small group of volunteers into a high-performing team that has supported hundreds of scholars with gaining access to top-performing high schools, college acceptance, securing scholarships, and matriculating through some of our nation’s top universities like Stanford, Saint Louis University, and Washington University. Ultimately, inspireSTL merged with Wyman Center (a local youth development agency with national impact). While navigating the merger, she successfully ran for the St. Louis City Board of Education, working to realize educational equity through policy change. After transitioning from her role as the Executive Director of inspireSTL, Charli served as an Executive in Residence focused on education innovation at the United Way of Greater St. Louis. 

This commitment to equity further deepened after the death of unarmed Michael Brown Jr. in 2014. Charli spent many nights protesting on the streets of Ferguson. She also partnered with other local young leaders to launch an initiative to mobilize and elevate youth voices during regional discussions about how to respond to the Ferguson Uprising. 

Before launching WEPOWER, Charli served as the interim Executive Director/Lead Catalyst of Forward Through Ferguson. She partnered with the team, board, and many others across the region to develop action strategies to catalyze the Ferguson Commission report to become a tool for action and impact. 

In 2018, Charli founded WEPOWER. WEPOWER’s mission is to activate community power to redesign systems to be just and equitable for all. Through this work, Charli and her team and many excellent partners work with everyday folks to support them with building political and economic power in service of community-led systems change. 

To date, WEPOWER has contacted over 200,000 voters, activated over 300 community members who have launched four different advocacy campaigns, completed comprehensive policy design to improve K12 education, early childhood education, and economic policy change, and are leveraging entrepreneurship to spark job growth across the St. Louis region. 
In partnership with a beloved community of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs and changemakers, WEPOWER has secured over $15 million in public funding for early childhood education, helped businesses increase their revenue 3.5x, launched a nationally recognized multi-million dollar investment fund, and grown multiple coalitions led by residents and community-based organizations committed to economically just policies such as Community Benefits Agreements. She is grateful to engage in hard but high-impact work daily with oppressed communities full of brilliance and resilience. 

Charli Cooksey