Where are they now: Geri Caldwell Phillips
Profession: St. Louis Metropolitan Police Citizen Academy Board Member - Location: St. Louis, Missouri - Class of 1971
Geri Caldwell Phillips never failed to surprise people. In 1969, she became the first black cheerleader in KHS history. She describes herself as crazy and ambitious, always wanting to try every sport and take every class. As a runner, a soccer player, a tennis player, a gymnast and a swimmer, she believed herself to be well-qualified for the position. Her determination got her half of the way there; she only had to get through the try-outs.
New cheerleaders earned their place on the squad by performing jumps and routines in front of the student body, who then cast ballots for who they thought was best. Phillips ranked three out of 14 and remained on the squad from sophomore to senior year.
“I wouldn’t accept the position just because they needed a black person,” Phillips said. “That’s not me. I wanted to see the rankings first because I earn what I get. If I didn’t score high enough, I would not have accepted the position. I did not want them to make me their token.”
When Phillips could not afford the expensive uniform, she said she was able to receive help from her mother’s co-workers by showing them her report card, a reflection of her go-getter attitude and exceptional academic readiness. Her Spanish teacher, Orlando Recio, often asked her to teach the class due to her consistent perfect scores on every test. Jill Goad, Phillips’ fellow cheerleader and friend throughout high school, said that there was no controversy when Phillips was accepted onto the squad.
“There was no question that she deserved it,” Goad said. “Everybody loved her.”
After graduation in 1971, Phillips took classes at Washington University and Meramec Community College studying business and computer science. Because the technology was rapidly expanding during this time, Phillips believed working with computers would secure her a stable job. Then she moved to Boston, Mass. and worked for Wang Laboratories and attended Northeastern University where she carried a 4.0 GPA throughout her time there. She continued to work in Boston in a management position at a small incentive Marketing Motivational Mailing company, which she later quit to come back to St. Louis because her mother had become very ill and she had to move to help with her care.
She then got a job as a contractor for Anheuser Busch and raised her daughter, Ingrid Caldwell, who also attended KHS. The Caldwell women continued to shatter stereotypes when Ingrid became the first female football player on the KHS varsity team.
She lost her job in computers in the early 2000s and applied to work for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a Transportation Security Officer. She was required to take two eight hour exams, which she finished in an hour and a half. According to Phillips, she aced the exam and shocked her test administrator.
“I liked every job I had, but being a black woman was negative in some corporate environments,” Phillips said. “It didn’t matter how awesome I was, there was always someone who didn’t like that I was surpassing them. They were intimidated because I figured something out that they couldn’t do.
According to Deja Tart, junior, seven out of 17 members of this year’s varsity cheer squad are black. She said she appreciates the removal of racial barriers to create a friendly and diverse environment.
“My favorite part of cheer is how you can bring a group of different people together and do amazing things,” Tart said.
Today, Phillips is a board member for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Citizen Academy Alumni Association (SLMPCAAA). After 36 hours of training on the different aspects of the police department and their responsibilities to the community, she graduated from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Citizens Academy which she earned an opportunity to interact alongside the police in a community engagement role, to assist with events in the community, and perform other acts of kindness to support the people living in the St. Louis City Metropolitan area. Phillips said she will continue to serve her community and never fully retire because she loves to be occupied with a project.
“I don’t like to be unemployed,” said Phillips. “My parents raised me to do everything well, and I believe I have stayed true to these instilled values throughout my life.”
KHS 1971 Varsity Cheer Squad
Phillips modeling for Wang Laboratories in Boston, Mass.
Phillips graduating from St. Louis Metropolitan Police Citizen Academy