Stephani Brownlee attended the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School during a time when she had some challenges in her life. She had lost her mother at a very early age and soon after, when her grandmother was raising her, her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and it was a devastating blow. Cooking, cleaning the house, cutting the grass, and washing clothes were no longer Stephani’s chores, she says. “They were my self-assigned duties, because my grandmother wasn’t able to complete them herself. It became my job to care for her and my siblings as well.”

All this time, no matter how difficult things seemed, Stephani’s Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School instructors encouraged her so much she somehow kept going. “They had me featured on national television on the NBC Today show. They allowed me to visit the White House and meet Michele Obama. They helped me attend Brown University for the summer to take a music production class.  It was there that I truly embraced my friend, my music.  I learned to be proud to say, ‘I am a musician,’” Stephani says.

“However, as I fell deeper in love with music my other studies I became more and more frustrated with my life,” she adds. “Coming home from Brown University that summer as well as returning from the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School each night was painful.  To go from clean, safe, state-of-the-art facilities to my neighborhood –full of abandoned houses – was depressing.  I couldn’t reconcile how I could be so inspired and talented in one physical space and then feel so uninspired and lacking in another. But the academy and school kept encouraging me not to give up and to go for my biggest dreams in life.” 

After writing and conducting her own symphony in the 9th grade and eventually becoming The Soulsville Charter School’s valedictorian in 2013, Stephani earned a scholarship to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where she received her bachelor’s degree in forensic science. She then earned a master’s in Criminal Justice Studies from Florida State University on full-tuition scholarship and worked as a criminal intelligence analyst for United States Department of Justice. She is now working on her second master’s degree, this time from Harvard University, on another full-tuition scholarship, while working remotely in Memphis for the Department of Homeland Security based in Washington, D.C.

As if she weren’t busy enough, in 2020 Stephani started her own marketing company, Mokup Digital Media & Marketing, soon expanding it with Mokup Kidz Company. All of that landed her and her marketing firm a profile in Forbes magazine in 2022

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Now, in 2023, the only Soulsville Charter School graduate ever invited back to deliver the graduation commencement speech has branched into the realm of philanthropy,  recently launching her own nonprofit organization, the Brownlee Family Foundation. Its mission is to enable youth in need to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens by providing educational, financial, and life-impacting resources to communities. 

Chosen as an honoree for this year’s Super Women in Business Awards presented by the Memphis Business Journal, Stephani Brownlee has already set up a scholarship to pay for a student to attend the Stax Music Academy (where she became a very talented keyboard player) and a stipend for The Soulsville Charter School valedictorian in 2023. She also conducts back-to-school supply drives and has a program that allows teens to be mentored by shadowing professionals in the workplace.

“I’m not sure that I ever dreamed I would come this far, but looking back, I think my Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School instructors knew I would somehow succeed,” she says. “They have that kind of faith in all of the students and care about each one of them as much as they have cared and continue to care about me. I always encourage everyone to support the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School. I am just one of thousands of young people who I am living proof that being in those programs is a good investment in the future.”

The Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School are part of the Soulsville Foundation, which also operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in South Memphis at the original site of Stax Records. To visit Stephani Brownlee’s MoKup sites please visit https://www.mokupllc.com/ and to visit her Brownlee Family Foundation site visit https://www.brownleefamilyfoundation.org/.

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