Tamyka Perine is the first woman of color to serve as executive director of Cultural Leadership, a local nonprofit aimed at training civil rights leaders among local Jewish and African American students.
Perine, 38, joined the organization this month after working as director of development for City Academy, an independent school in north St. Louis, and starting a business, Prestige Consultants, that has worked with local and national nonprofits such as the United Negro College Fund, Saint Louis Fashion Fund and Ferguson Youth Initiative.
Karen Kalish, a local Jewish leader, founded Cultural Leadership in 2004 to try to build a partnership between Jewish and African American students. It has since expanded to include students outside those groups.
The program aligns with the academic year and includes more than 420 hours of programming, including cultural activities, public speaking, leadership training and facilitated workshops on issues of injustice, according to its website.
Perine spoke with the Jewish Light about why she wanted to work for the organization and her goals for the group.
What interested you about the job?
What interested me most about this position is having the ability to have a direct impact on our youth and developing them into social activists and individuals who are working to ensure that there is equity in our community.
If we want to change the world, and if we want to make the world a better place for all, the youth is where we start by educating them on the reality of our world and the reality of what individuals across different backgrounds have experienced. In Cultural Leadership, that is what we do.
Were you a participant in Cultural Leadership?
I was not. I didn’t know about Cultural Leadership until recently, which is a crime — because of all the amazing work that we do.
There were a few of our alumni from City Academy who participated in the program, so I had a chance to speak with them and hear about their experiences, and it’s been amazing just how life changing their experience with Cultural Leadership has been.
What makes you say it’s been life changing for them?
A lot of the conversations at Cultural Leadership aren’t being had outside of those doors.
I know the diving into social justice and diving into some of those hard conversations — for a lot of the kids, this is their first time being exposed to it.
One of the students wants to be an attorney, and that seeded was planted was at Cultural Leadership.
The other thing that is really incredible is we are able to bring together kiddos from all different backgrounds, and they get to form these unlikely friendships that for some, last a lifetime.
For our students of color, they didn’t necessarily know or weren’t exposed to the Jewish faith. They were able to go into the homes of their counterparts and experience family time and holidays with families from the Jewish community.
Is there a reason why you think it’s especially important for people from the African American community and people from the Jewish community to build those relationships?
I think that as individuals learn more about one another and learn about different cultures, they learn that there is way more that we have in common than what divides us and having that realization is what helps dispel stereotypes and myths.
What are your primary goals for the program?
As I said, before the last few months I had never heard of Cultural Leadership, which to me is a crime, considering the amazing work that we do.
My goal is to change that, to help the organization grow, to help grow our footprint across the St. Louis region, to help grow partnerships across the city.
I love what Interfaith Partnership does, and I don’t know that we have a lot of relationships with the Black church, so reaching out to different faiths and buildings partnerships across those faiths and churches will be a goal of mine as well.
And I just want to get our name out there. I want the world to know about Cultural Leadership. I want the world to know about how we are changing our alumni’s lives.
Is there something about any part of your life that you think makes you the right person for this position?
Absolutely. I worked in the corporate world, and later on, I worked for nonprofits, and in working for nonprofits, I found that what drives me is seeing the impact of the work that I do.
And I am passionate about students. I am passionate about education. And I am passionate about ensuring equity and inclusion within our community.
I think those pieces along with my desire to connect communities across the region together is what makes me a really great fit.