MPH Alumna Honored as Community Changemaker by FOCUS St. Louis

Alumni; Public Health

In 1976, a Schoolhouse Rock! famously condensed the process of how a bill becomes a law into a three-minute segment. Nearly five decades later, the need to grasp the complexities of government and policy remains just as important.

Brown School alumna Kelly McGowan, MPH 15, has embraced this challenge. She founded Transform 314, an organization committed to fostering civic engagement by educating, engaging, and empowering Black residents of St. Louis to drive local policy changes essential for creating thriving communities. Her efforts aim to ensure that residents have a voice in shaping their city’s future.

Recognizing her impactful work, McGowan was recently honored with a Community Changemaker award by FOCUS St. Louis, the region’s premier nonprofit leadership organization. The award celebrates individuals who inspire and lead positive community change, with honorees selected by a committee of local leaders from public nominations.

“Too often, we find out about things completely after the fact, when the ribbon-cutting ceremonies are occurring and you had no idea there’s this multimillion-dollar development happening in your community,” McGowan said. “We aim to change that narrative.”

Transform 314’s strategy centers on proactive community engagement rather than reactive responses. It’s not just about providing information; it’s about mobilizing action. Through initiatives like monthly meetings and an animated YouTube series called “Straight Facts,” McGowan aims to simplify the workings of local government and encourage residents to advocate for change. 

Episodes of “Straight Facts” cover topics such as how a bill becomes an ordinance, local government meeting procedures, and community issues like the proliferation of liquor stores.

“Local government and government, in general, can be dry and boring, with formalities that often go over folks’ heads, leaving them confused in meetings,” McGowan explained. “We are working to disrupt the status quo regarding how local government works. We are working to bridge the disconnect between local government and black residents. Transform 314 was formed to ensure we are there to educate residents about why local government is important.”

The organization’s advocacy has already led to tangible results. “One of our top priorities, identified through community feedback, is fixing our unsafe streets. We convene monthly to discuss advocacy strategies and work with city officials to ensure equitable infrastructure improvements,” she shared.

For McGowan, the accolades are secondary to the mission of improving her hometown. “I was born and raised in St. Louis. I’m proud of that. A lot of my work has been motivated by wanting to, and it sounds cliche, but by really wanting to make an impact on the St. Louis region.”