ImpactAlpha, August 13 — Charli Cooksey has lived most of her nearly 35 years on the same block in North St. Louis. After decades of systemic racism and disinvestment, crime and poverty rates in the predominantly Black neighborhood are significantly higher than national averages.
Growing up, it felt like “the tale of two worlds within a single city,” Cooksey tells ImpactAlpha, “compared to other parts of St. Louis, where resources and access were so normal, it was as simple as breathing.”
After years of teaching, launching an education nonprofit and activism following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, she knew it was time to try a new approach. “It’s my responsibility,” Cooksey says.
She founded WEPOWER to “reconcile the disparity between my part of St. Louis and other parts of St. Louis” by building an ecosystem of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs and innovators to build and take control of their own wealth and wellbeing.
This week, WEPOWER neared its $1.5 million target for its inaugural impact fund, Elevate/Elevar Capital, after a $500,000 commitment from Living Cities and individual investors (see, “WEPOWER fund will back diverse founders to build community wealth in St. Louis”).
The fund will provide entrepreneurs with flexible, revenue-based financing. Community representatives – residents, investors and Black and/or Latinx founders – will reinvest a portion of the fund’s returns in the neighborhood as they see fit.
“We really wanted to make sure that we can create a vehicle for communities to self-determine their own liberation,” says Cooksey. “Communities that have been exploited and experienced disinvestment should have the right to control the resources that support them.”
Once the model proves out in St. Louis, WEPOWER plans to raise larger funds and help expand resources for communities of color in other cities. “St. Louis is ground zero for change across this country,” she says, “and there’s so much work to do.”