What is Cultural Leadership?

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.

When and why was Cultural Leadership created?

Cultural Leadership was founded in 2004 because, despite much progress, our nation continues to be deeply affected by our own history and the current condition and treatment of many minority groups. St. Louis, specifically, is one of the most racially segregated metro areas in the country, and too many people are suffering the inherent consequences.


There is a dire need for future leaders to address the many issues our communities face. Cultural Leadership was created to provide our young people with the knowledge, motivation, and skills necessary to do just that.

What are the objectives of Cultural Leadership?

Cultural Leadership…

  • explores and explicates the causes and consequences of social injustice;
  • promotes cross-cultural awareness and understanding by immersing youth in diverse cultural experiences, dispelling ethnic and cultural   stereotypes, and encouraging cooperation, mutual respect, and dialogue;
  • provides direct exposure to leaders of social movements as mentors and models of social activism to demonstrate how youth can become agents of social change;
  • develops leadership competence through practical skills training, including public speaking, facilitation, community organizing, and public relations;
  • motivates students to initiate change in their families, schools, neighborhoods and other circles of social influence; and
  • develops the next generation of activists, community organizers, and leaders who will work to secure the inalienable rights of all people.

What have been the outcomes of the program?

The students who graduate from Cultural Leadership emerge better educated, more curious, and more confident in themselves. As such, they join an ever-growing national network of youth committed to fighting ignorance, teaching understanding, and promoting lifelong learning. The achievements and contributions of our students include…

  • a group of alumni organized a diversity roundtable at their high school
  • Jen recruited 14 classmates and began a tutoring program for African American middle-school students who are reading below grade level
  • two students together started a tutoring program
  • independently, Cece and Cydney (both Black) started Diversity Clubs at their mostly white high schools
  • Emily planned and carried out Mix It Up Day at her high school
  • a Black alumna was on the board of Hillel at her college
  • Ron lives in Israel and is in a Muslim-Jewish dialogue group
  • Jillian was awarded the Community Leader Award by her local YWCA
  • Terrell, Tyjuan, and Maurice attended Brandeis University on the Transition Year Program (each is the first in his family to go to college)
  • a Jewish alumnus was a member of a Latino empowerment group
  • Jeremy produced a documentary on civil rights and lived on the Social Action floor of his dorm at NYU
  • Richie was an Ingram Scholar at Vanderbilt
  • Blake is bringing a chapter of the first multi-cultural fraternity to his state university
  • Hannah in Class 5 and Trevor in Class 6 both received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations

Who may participate in Cultural Leadership?

Cultural Leadership is open to high-school sophomores and juniors in the St. Louis region who have demonstrated curiosity, maturity, a sense of civic responsibility, and leadership potential. Our curriculum focuses, in part, through the lens of the African American and Jewish experience. Even though many of our students identify as either Jewish or African American, we welcome applications from everyone interested in becoming a civil rights change agent and "troublemaker of the best kind."


What qualities do you look for when selecting students for the program?

Among the traits we value are...

  • Maturity: students must be responsible, dependable, and committed to Cultural Leadership and its mission
  • Open-Mindedness: students must be curious and open to new experiences, new thoughts, and new ways of doing things
  • Risk-Taking (Social and Intellectual): students must be willing to go outside their comfort zones, to try and to fail, to learn from that failure and try again... and again... and again
  • Action: students must be motivated to Stand Up, Speak Out, and Take Action when they see any injustice; and to "grab an ally or two or three, roll up their sleeves, and get to work"
  • Leadership: students must be able to inspire and motivate others to rally around a cause

How many students does Cultural Leadership accept each year?

The number of participants accepted into the program depends on the field of candidates each year. In order to maintain diversity and an excellent level of participant quality, Cultural Leadership neither seeks to fill a pre-set number of slots, nor artificially limits the number of participants. However, class sizes have ranged from 20 to 36 students.

What part do parents play in the program?

Parents/guardians are very important to the success of Cultural Leadership. They meet approximately every six weeks while their children are in the program to experience some of the highlights of the student programs. This parallel curriculum is designed to help parents better support their children and guide them through this experience and the changes they experience as a result. However, participation in these programs is not required.


Parents are also asked to take turns providing food for all of the student programs.


How much does it cost?

Cultural Leadership is an investment in a student's leadership and cultural understanding. Tuition for Cultural Leadership's high-school program is $2,500. Tuition includes a non-refundable deposit of $100 due upon acceptance to the program. Do not let the cost deter you from submitting an application or participating in the program. Need-based grants are available, tuition payment plans for families who qualify, as well as assistance for students fundraising some of their tuition.


Please Note: During the three-week Transformational Journey in the summer, Cultural Leadership provides food, lodging, transportation, and admission to all venues for the students.  The cost of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and the leadership training throughout the year is approximately $8,000 per student.

How many programs are participants required to attend?

Attendance is required at ALL programs throughout the year. This includes:

  •         eight programs and three weekend retreats
  •         the three-week Transformational Journey in June
  •         School Swap Day
  •         Holiday Swap - sharing Easter and Passover (go to another family's holiday celebration)

The most recent schedule for Class 12 is available here: Class 12 Programs

What kinds of things do you do at the programs?

Cultural Leadership programs include a tremendous variety of discussions covering a wide range of topics. We listen to and engage with guest speakers; complete exercises and team-building activities; experience educational films, music, and other arts; discuss current events and other topics relevant to our mission; learn and practice valuable skills, including public speaking, community organizing, and fundraising; visit museums and other venues relevant to discrimination and social justice; and talk and listen to one another about how we are experiencing our group and individual journeys.

What is the "Transformational Journey?"

lorraine motel signThe Transformational Journey is a three-week trip that all our students take together. Leaving from St. Louis in early June, we fly to New York City; bus to Philadelphia and then to Washington DC; fly to Atlanta; bus to Whitwell, Tennessee and Scottsboro, Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuskegee, and Selma, Alabama; Jackson and the Delta of Mississippi; Little Rock; and Memphis. Throughout the journey, we visit places important to both the Civil Rights Movement and current struggles for equality. We meet with more than 50 speakers to learn what we can about what it takes to make a difference in the world. We talk with change agents like Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rev. Al Sharpton, former Mayor of New York Ed Koch, Geoffrey Canada, Marc Morial, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl). We go to such important institutions as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Museum of Tolerance New York (A Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum), and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.

We call this the "Transformational Journey" because at some point during or after the trip, our students find they have embarked on a spiritual journey as well, and their lives have been fundamentally and permanently changed as a result.

What is the "School Swap?"

The School Swap began as a challenge from our founder, Karen Kalish, for students to visit each other’s schools for a day. But after the first pair of students took up the challenge in Class 3, the reactions of the students, the schools, and the community were so great that now the Swap is a mandatory part of every year. It begins with a visit by Cultural Leadership students to an underperforming city school, where they are escorted by students of that school. Then, those escorts spend a day at a well-performing county school.

How is Cultural Leadership funded?

Cultural Leadership has an annual operating budget of $300,000. The total cost per student for program, travel and food expenses exceeds $8,000 this year. In addition to the small program fee ($2,500), Cultural Leadership is funded through donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The chart at left indicates our funding sources in 2013.


View Cultural Leadership's Form 990 on Guidestar.

Who is on the board?

Our board of directors is a diverse mix of professionals, entrepreneurs, educators, parents, and alumni. For the current members, please see our board page.

How is Cultural Leadership evaluated?

Cultural Leadership hires an outside evaluator to provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the individual programs as well as the overall program. See evaluations here: