Cultural Leadership is a youth education and leadership nonprofit organization. Based in St. Louis, we are dedicated to creating a more just community by training area youth to be the next generation of civil rights leaders.
We train middle and high school area youth to stand up, speak out, and take action. Students learn about our country’s history of systematic oppression, then about Jewish and African American vibrant cultures of resilience and enduring histories of resistance. Then they carry the torch of their elders as they develop the skills to be agents of change.
We support our alumni in continuing the work in the professional sphere by arranging paid summer internships in St. Louis organizations that work on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Mission of Cultural Leadership is to create a more just and equitable community by educating middle and high school students to recognize and resolve issues of privilege and injustice through the lens of the African American and Jewish experience. Our motto is that when our students see a problem, they are to grab an ally or two or three, roll up their sleeves, and get to work creating a world of inclusion and equality.
Established in 2004 by Karen Kalish, Cultural Leadership was modeled after Operation Understanding DC, a youth leadership organization in Washington, D.C. Both programs were inspired by a similar program, Operation Understanding, begun in Philadelphia in 1985. The late Congressman William H. Gray III and the late George Ross, former President of the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia developed this unique and profound program. All three of these programs continue to successfully demonstrate the value of instilling young people with a passion for social justice and preparing them to organize and lead others to Stand Up, Speak Out, and Take Action against prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.
Cultural Leadership has made valuable milestones over the last twelve years. Originally envisioned to be a partnership between the Jewish and African American community, Cultural Leadership expanded its student base to welcome applicants who are neither Jewish nor African American in 2009. This change greatly diversified the breadth of perspectives in our student base by welcoming all racial, ethnic, and religious identities.
In 2014, we shifted our high school program year to align with the scholastic academic year and expanded our programming. Camp Cultural Leadership was first offered in July, 2014, as a day camp with an overnight trip for middle school students. Its theme of “Experience. Lead. Change.” offers rising 8th and 9th graders an opportunity to experience our award-winning high school curriculum over the summer at an age-appropriate level. And, in 2017, Cultural Leadership created the Social Justice Internship Program to match college-aged alumni with social justice and diversity and inclusion-related internships at St. Louis area nonprofits and corporations. To this day, Cultural Leadership has transformed over 380 teenagers into social justice advocates, and what we lovingly call “troublemakers of the best kind.”