Activism, Policy Focus Leads to School Board Post for Sagastume

Alumni; Community Engagement; Social Work

Robert Sagastume’s life journey began in Honduras and proceeded to the U.S. and the Brown School, where his talents and training led to work and the opportunity to realize an early dream: Being elected to a big-city School Board.

An undocumented immigrant who came with his mother to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of 12, Sagastume, MSW/MSP ’19, eventually became a naturalized citizen and moved from his home in Kansas City to St. Louis, where he specialized in nonprofit management and policy at the Brown School.  “I have always been super interested in how systems work and the impact they have in communities,” he said. “The Brown School allowed me to refine some of the skills I had and gave me the platform to hone my expertise in education and policy.” 

Sagastume was a practicum student at the school’s Clark-Fox Policy Institute (CFPI) and 2018 CFPI Graduate Policy Scholar. CFPI Director Gary Parker said Sagastume’s journey reflects the potential of utilizing acquired knowledge and skills to enact real change.

“Witnessing Robert’s growth and commitment to equity and education while a practicum student at the institute was truly a privilege. His dedication serves as a reminder of the difference one individual can make,” Parker said.

Sagastume worked for the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis as a student advisor before returning to Kansas City in a similar role. Now, he is a senior family college prep program advisor with the Hispanic Development Fund of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. He provides family and academic advising support centered on students who’ve completed their high school studies and are seeking opportunities in postsecondary education and alternative pathways.  

He had always hoped to join the School Board and put his policy training into practice, and last summer he saw his chance. A member of the Kansas City School Board resigned, and Sagastume became one of two write-in candidates for the position with less than three weeks to go before the election. “I canvassed every day listening to community members and helped them understand why I was running,” he said. “My district has the highest percentage of immigrants, and we did need to talk about equity and inclusion on the Board.” His campaign was a success and Sagastume, sworn in in June, is now voicing community concerns as an elected member of the Board.

Social media post celebrating Sagastume’s win.

“I want to make sure our communities are included in conversations about education,” he said.  “Understanding and overcoming my own barriers and limited resources motivated me to help others do the same. When I decided to go to college I was undocumented, and one of the things that I’ve learned is that there are systems in place and we can create changes if we prepare ourselves. I’m Latino, but I want to represent all immigrants in my district, not just Latinos.”

“The school board is at the core of what I’m fighting for; access to education, but also equitable policies, to create more impact,” he said. The possibilities are apparent in his own family.  As the only one of eight children to go to college, he became something of a model for younger family members – his nephews and nieces are now in college. “It’s really nice to be able to inspire others and give them the resources and tools that they need,” he said.

Working with students motivated him to run for the School Board to address challenges immigrants are constantly facing:  language gaps, a lack of understanding of available resources, and making sure there’s someone around who looks and sounds like them, he said.

“It’s truly given me a lens of understanding the why of some challenges, and I’m seeing how the why impacts the community,” he said.

Wherever his career leads, Sagastume says, he’ll remember those who helped him early on

“I am here doing what I’m doing because I’ve always had a group of people who have believed in my dreams,” he said. With their support, and the support of schools like the Brown School I was able to push myself into places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise.”