Rico Bush – Communications Director

More than a decade ago, I had a dream to become a television journalist. I was passionate about the art of storytelling and within months my dream came true!

My journalism career has taken me to several states including Oklahoma, Virginia and Missouri. During my time as a local TV reporter, I had the opportunity to step into the personal lives of ordinary people and share their stories of joy, heartbreak and even tragedy.

Being a journalist was one of the best moments of my life, but in the years that followed, I longed for more. I believed I needed to do more to help communities.

I wanted to be a fierce social justice advocate for the most vulnerable populations.

In 2019, I left my job as a TV reporter in Missouri and months later joined Empower Missouri as a Communications Director. It was the best decision I could have made. I am now sharing stories and doing work that I believe truly help people.

Empower Missouri has always stood for basic fairness and equal justice for every person in our state.

I am honored to have joined a non-profit that advocates for the well-being of everyone.

In this role, it is my mission to continue to push for positive change in Missouri and build on the great work that Empower Missouri does every day.

Molly Pearson – Justice Organizer

I am honored to fill the role of Justice Organizer at Empower Missouri, where I staff the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition. While I “officially” began this role in February of this year, this work is not new to me; I have been a Coalition member since February 2018, a practicum student with the Coalition during the 2018 – 19 academic year, and served as interim organizer with the Coalition during the summer of 2019. For me, this work is not a purely professional pursuit. Having grown up in a queer household that was directly impacted by the epidemic, I know the pain of stigma and disparity.

My openly gay biological father died of AIDS-related illness in 1989, followed by my mother in 1994—just two years before effective treatment was finally made available to people living with HIV (PLHIV). My other openly gay dad (my “second dad,” as I call him) finished raising my sister and me.

I know in my bones that we can – we must – do better to protect the well-being of PLHIV and those who love them. When a single daily pill can allow a PLHIV to have a full and healthy life, there is no good reason for people to suffer today the way that my parents did, much less face criminalization. The structural oppression facing PLHIV, Black people, indigenous people, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people living with low-incomes is by design. I believe that through collective action, we can dismantle these harmful systems so that we may all thrive. We deserve nothing less.

Many of my lived experiences motivate and inform the work that I am called to do, and I am also highly aware of the privilege I bring into this space. While I have always lived with HIV as a part of my life, I am not living with HIV in my body. While my family was uninsured and working poor, our whiteness opened doors that are closed to so many because of racism. I approach my work through a lens of shared struggle and solidarity. Our liberation is inextricably bound together.

In addition to my work as the Justice Organizer, I am the Training and Education lead for Campfire, where I teach storytelling skills and methods with individuals, groups, and organizations. I hold on tight to the belief that to create change, we must change the story. I am overjoyed to take part in changing the story with my fellow Missouri HIV Justice Coalition members.

Keyana Cooke – Empower Missouri Intern

Hi! I’m Keyana Cooke. I will be graduating from Saint Louis University’s Masters of Social Work program with a concentration in Communities and Organizations in

December 2020. I am excited to be doing a second semester of my internship with Empower Missouri. This summer, I will be focusing on criminal justice reform and food security initiatives.

During my time so far at Empower Missouri, I have learned so many things. I have witnessed Missouri’s lawmaking process by writing and giving testimony on key Empower Missouri issues and talking with legislators about the community’s stance on these issues. My favorite part about my work at Empower Missouri is engaging the community through advocacy days, community forums and coalition calls. I strongly believe that voice of the community is important and that when we bring those voices together it is powerful enough to make change for all of Missouri.

Upon graduation, I plan to continue advocating for racial equity and justice in Missouri. I am passionate about incorporating policy and community engagement to reform areas such education and the school to prison pipeline.

Leah Lewsader – Empower Missouri Intern

Hi! I’m Leah Lewsader, a rising 3L at the University of Kansas School of Law. I am so proud to be a Fellow with Empower Missouri as part of the Urban Leaders Fellowship. This summer, my work will focus on criminal justice reform and housing advocacy.

Originally from Illinois, I earned my degree in Elementary Education from Loyola University Chicago in 2012. Shortly after graduation, I moved to Santiago, Chile where I spent six years teaching elementary school. As a teacher, I learned the power of community and working in service of it. As a law student, I’ve spent my time engaging with various communities through immigration and family law clinics, advocating for regional farmworkers, and interning at a local hospital to provide free legal assistance to patients and families.

In addition to my work at Empower Missouri, I also spend time working under Missouri Senator, Lauren Arthur, focusing specifically on access to quality, affordable housing. I hope to enact meaningful change through my advocacy work with Empower Missouri, tying legislative priorities with community needs. I truly believe that advocacy and policy must go hand in hand – the community must inform the policy making.

I am invested in and committed to pursuing a career in public interest law, particularly in the areas of racial justice and LGBTQ equality.

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