History and Background

Cultural Leadership students learn the skills needed to become risk takers, activists, and problem solvers who recognize and resolve critical issues facing society while building and using a diverse network of allies.

Cultural Leadership is modeled after a similar program in Washington, D.C., Operation Understanding DC (founded by Karen Kalish in 1993), which was inspired by a similar program, Operation Understanding, begun in Philadelphia in 1985 by former Congressman William H. Gray III and George Ross, former President of the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia. Both programs were designed to rekindle the historical alliance between Jews and African Americans. (Click here to learn more.) Historically, these two groups have worked side by side to fight for social justice. Cultural Leadership expanded on this mission.


Mission Statement

Cultural Leadership exists to create a more just and equitable community by educating middle school and high school students to recognize and resolve issues of privilege and injustice through the lens of the African American and Jewish experience. Our students develop leadership skills, build relationships, facilitate dialogues and create change in their circles of influence.

Why We Need Cultural Leadership

Examples of mistrust, intolerance, misunderstanding and inequality are everywhere and we saw the need for a future generation of leaders, activists and change agents who would fight for social justice, inclusion and an end to discrimination. Using the lens of the African American and Jewish experience, we train our students to do just that. Over the course of the year, our student participants become “troublemakers of the best kind.”

Program Overview

When our students see a problem, they are the ones to grab an ally, or two or three, roll up their sleeves and get to work to make our community more inclusive and socially just.

Cultural Leadership students meet monthly August through August for Sunday programs, three weekend-long retreats and a three week summer journey to visit sites of historical significance and meet with, and learn from, leaders, change agents and activists. You can view our program and curriculum here.

We know how important it is to evaluate the effectiveness of our programming and we value any feedback that might improve our efforts in training teens to bring about social change. In addition to consistent internal assessment, in 2008, we hired an outside firm to do a year-long, in-depth evaluation. We are proud of the results. You can download and read the full report from EMT here.

The United Way of Greater St. Louis has awarded a significant grant in 2012 to Cultural Leadership to conduct an in-depth impact evaluation of our program. Through focus groups, interviews with alumni, as well as interviews with parents, board members and staff, the evaluation will explore the impact our graduates have on their communities.  Results will shape alumni programming as well as provide a review of our current curriculum.

Parent Involvement

Parents of our participants also meet every six weeks during the year to engage in many of the same activities and discussions as their teens. With this component, we hope parents can be informed allies to their children as they work to fulfill the mission and vision of Cultural Leadership.

Lasting Impact

In 2012, the United Way of St. Louis helped us complete an evaluation of our impact on alumni. Read the complete evaluation here.

After graduation, our students continue to spread the knowledge they learned here. All of our students continue to live the mission of Cultural Leadership; here are a few examples of their work and accomplishments:

  • Blake Harris (Class 1) started a Multicultural Fraternity at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
  • Jeremy Cropf (Class 2) was the first ever freshman elected president of the NYU chapter of STAND (Student Taking Action Now Darfur).
  • Richie Gallant and Tyjuan Morrow (Class 3) founded Students Working for a Purpose (SWAP) - a peer-to-peer mentoring program, and received a $1,000 grant from Ashoka's Youth Venture for the program.
  • Kyriah Shannon (Class 4) spearheaded and organized the observance of Black History Month at Ladue High School for the first time in six years.
  • Candice Nichols (Class 5) worked to bring “Jim Crow Week” to McKinley Classical Leadership Academy (SLPS). This program was first organized and executed by DeAnna Tipton (Class 4) at St. Elizabeth Academy.
  • Hannah Rosenthal (Class 5) led a campaign through her Diversity Club to make Ladue High School “No Place for Hate,” an Anti-Defamation League program that works to promote respect, character and unity in schools.