Community Development

Aspen Young Leaders Are Ready to Change St. Louis

January 26, 2017  • Youth Leadership Programs

With the help of FOCUS St. Louis, The Aspen Institute’s Youth & Engagement Programs has assembled a stellar group of young people for the inaugural St. Louis cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows. The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) is a place-based, multi-site initiative that will develop the next generation of local, purpose-driven youth leaders in the communities we serve. This group of AYLF Fellows represent an array of opinions, identities, and perspectives, and will all bring something unique to the two-year journey that is the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship.

Here are some of the Fellows’ own inspiring words as we gear up for the first session of programing at the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute in St. Louis on February 3.

When asked to describe problems facing their communities and what their solutions to them would be, Fellows said,:

“Currently…the light rail system completely neglects those north and south of the city, closer towards the river. Countless cost to benefit analyses of expanding public transit systems show a return on an investment over time. For a local action project, I’ve already contacted the agency of Planning and Urban Design for the city of St. Louis and members there have agreed that St. Louis is in need of a transit refresh. As an individual, it is difficult to “bootstrap” together a solution to such an institutional problem, and I feel it inappropriate to encroach on the aforementioned agency’s territory. However, we the people can work together with the city to form a solution.”

“I think the main problem is that the police and the youth each view the other as the enemy. They generalize negative feelings [toward individuals] to the whole group instead of focusing on the humanity of the individual. I have an idea for a program that…would bring area police and middle school children together for one day to work on a service project that benefits the community.”

“With businesses, I would propose to lower taxes to incentivize businesses to stay and open in St. Louis… I would propose to offer incentives to students who have just left universities in St. Louis to stay, at least for a few years. St. Louis has a huge population of people who attend our universities, but who live elsewhere. In many cases, after gaining the knowledge from our universities, these people will leave and bring their knowledge elsewhere.”

“In current discourse around education, oftentimes words like “grit,” “resilience” and “perseverance” are tossed around regarding what students need to succeed. However, such a view is failing to account for untreated mental health issues being barriers to success. Adequately treating mental health is crucial to help students succeed in school and later in life. One initial step I would take would be community education outreach to inform local residents about mental health treatments and to reduce stigma around seeking help. A larger step I would take would be setting up free clinics in neighborhoods throughout St. Louis where anyone could go to receive mental health counseling. St. Louis’ disparity in access to mental health care is not just an African American problem, but a human problem. Everyone deserves to be able to live their healthiest lives.”

The St. Louis cohort of AYLF Fellows is extremely driven. Here are some of their mission statements:

“I hope to use my resources and my voice to support and
empower those who, like my ancestors were, are marginalized and

“I plan to do medical research for Tay-Sachs disease at a hospital. I know that I was put on this Earth to help people and that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

“My first priority is to dramatically improve the quality of human life and re-engineer the system of judgement within the society, through outreach, knowledge, and teamwork.”

“My personal mission statement is to empower queer youth of color by creating space for us in spaces that we usually aren’t present.”

“More than ever, the world needs compassionate and understanding leaders – ones who will confront the injustices of the world and make it a priority to change lives and the world for the better.  My true goal in life is… to leave the world better than I found it.”

Meet the 2017 Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship St. Louis Fellows

  • Jasmine Adams (16), Belleville East High School/ Southwestern Illinois College
  • Elyse Bonner (17), Metro Academic and Classical High School
  • Sean Buchanan (16), Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
  • Habakkuk Cooper-Thompson (16), Christian Academy of Greater St. Louis
  • Celeste Cummings (19), Westminster College
  • Kyah Donald (17), Ritenour High School
  • Martrice Ellis (18), Hazelwood Central High School
  • Mariah Favell (16), St. Joseph’s Academy
  • Nisveta Fejzic (20), Webster University
  • David Golder (16), Lafayette High School
  • Max Goldstein (17), Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
  • Bria Hathorn (16), North County Christian School
  • Cameron Hill (20), Washington University in St. Louis
  • Ahmad Hinds (16), Hazelwood Central High School
  • Mouhamed Ndiaye (17), Gateway STEM High School; St. Louis Community College
  • Mya Petty (18), Parkway Central High School
  • Christopher Pulphus (18), Cardinal Ritter College Prep.
  • Lydia Roesler (17), Fort Zumwalt South High School
  • Bob Sforza (17), Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
  • John Stacker (17), St. Louis University High School
  • Hannah Teverbaugh (17), Belleville East High School
  • Zuri Thomas (17), Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
  • Elizabeth Webster (16), Crossroads College Preparatory School
  • De’Ja Wood (17), Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School