Alisha Sonnier and Jami Cox are long-term friends, passionate about informing and educating their community, particularly young people, on current events and local issues through their BlackTea, podcast.
“I think it’s important to inform young people about what’s going on,” Cox, 25, said. “I know that there’s a lot of information out there and it can be hard to go through it all. Looking at TV, your phone, Facebook, Instagram, listening to what your friends are telling you — for a lot of people, it gets to a point where you’re not really tuned into anything going on; there’s so much information.
“We feel it’s important for people to know what’s happening, particularly in St. Louis, because this is the city where we live, work and go to school.”
BlackTea was one of six works selected from 82 proposals to receive $10,000 in funding and support from “The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative,” in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Center for the Humanities, and the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University.
The initiative’s New Funding Opportunity provides individuals and organizations with the chance to draft proposals about global phenomena, social justice and a range of international issues.
The Mellon Foundation started the project in June 2014. Two months later, Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson. The impact of the events that followed Brown’s death has deeply influenced the initiative’s direction.
“The time from finding out about the grant to applying for it was really short,” Sonnier said. “We applied for the grant in August, received notice that the podcast was chosen in September, and then we released our first episode in October.
“There was a lot we had to learn ... because [neither] of us have a lot of experience in podcasting.”
While some people might feel like discussing politics is boring, Sonnier said she and Cox made sure to have fun with what they’re talking about because it’s still engaging.
Sonnier, who is also 25, and Cox post the podcast on all streaming platforms on the fourth weekend of every month.
Each episode has three segments:
— a political element where they explain a specific subject, such as how the Electoral College operates;
— a community spotlight where they invite people who are changing the lives of others in the community, like Missouri Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-78, who was a recent guest;
— ‘I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This,’ where they make light on topics such as throwing away Thanksgiving leftovers and taking down a Christmas tree.
“It’s not supposed to be boring. It shouldn’t be,” Sonnier said. “If I felt this stuff was boring I wouldn’t do it. We call it ‘tea’ because you hear people say ‘get this ‘tea’ as in get this gossip. These are the things that are like gossip, or ‘I’m all for a good kiki on the latest happening with Cardi B’. The same way we can talk about that is the same way we can have other conversations.”
The two coming from two different professional backgrounds. Sonnier is a mental health advocate for a global worldwide health organization; Cox is a real estate and finance professional specializing in housing and commercial real estate.
The pair don’t always hold the same opinions on topics they discuss, which is why Cox feels it’s imperative to have discussions because in the real world you’re not always going to agree with everything people say.
“It’s important because we want the show to represent the real world,” Cox said. “Everyone doesn’t necessarily have the same perspective, but we hope by us being a team, whoever’s listening to the show will be able to connect with one of us in a way that they may not be able to connect with the other.”
Sonnier and Cox met in high school when they attended Cardinal Ritter College Prep around the same time.
Sonnier moved and ended up graduating from University City High School in 2014. She received her bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in December 2019. She plans to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Sonnier has been a community activist since the uprising of Ferguson when she was a high school freshman. She created the group Tribe X in a response to the events following Brown’s death. Since then they have spearheaded numerous protests about racial and social injustice issues.
Cox is a 2014 graduate of Cardinal Ritter. She received her bachelor of arts degree in public policy from Vanderbilt University in 2018, and went on to become a Schwarzman Scholar, where she completed a master of economics in business at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
She launched the University City Youth Society while in high school to bring more awareness about what was happening in the community.
“I want you to leave the podcast feeling empowered and feeling lighter in spirit,” Sonnier said. I’m not just giving you numbers, dropping statistics, and talking, but I’m here to give you a real conversation, which is more engaging. That’s much easier to get your cup filled.”
To learn more about the initiative, visit http://thedividedcity.com/. The BlackTea podcast is available on all streaming platforms.