In her strong New England accent, the Rev. Cheryl Cook-Posley describes her mission with a passion fueled by her doctoral degree in theology.

“We want to achieve dignity, hope and joy for people — and not just in an idealistic way,” said Cook-Posley, who in October 2023 was appointed national director of movement building for the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

“We want Black and Brown children, particularly those who are most impoverished, to thrive, whether it’s feeling safe at school or getting the right medical care.”

Cook-Posley is also working on her second doctorate – in instructional design and technology – from Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education and Professional Studies. “I want to look at how education can impact some of the social challenges that we are experiencing, and how we can do a better job creating culturally responsive pedagogy that engages all people equitably.”

She describes her job as her “dream role,” adding, “My passion has always been children, youth and families.”

As national director of movement building, Cook-Posley said, “I’m coaching leaders in our state offices to help advance platforms in our seven policy zones,” which include children’s health, education, poverty reduction and early learning.

In Cook-Posley’s previous role as chief impact officer of United Community, a nonprofit in Alexandria, Virginia, she saw herself as a “change agent,” encouraging citizens to “activate their power” and work with government to improve playgrounds, increase safety and reduce the digital divide.

Her wide-ranging career has taken her from the National Civic League, where she was director of federal and community partnerships, to the U.S. State Department, where she evaluated the Fulbright fellowship and other cultural exchange programs. Cook-Posley also worked at the University of Virginia, where she assessed pre-kindergartners.

“It’s all about keeping children in the center of everything,” she said. “We want to unleash joy for children, and we want to make sure that those who are charged with taking care of them have the supports that they need.”

Cook-Posley serves as associate minister of Shiloh Baptist Church of Odricks Corner in McLean. She received her theology degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. Her doctoral dissertation led to the creation of Hamlets of Hope, a collective of six social action ministries at faith institutions in Virginia and Maryland.

“It educates members to move from the stained glass of the sanctuary to the streets,” she said. “It’s great to have a homily, but there are hurting people on the outside.”

Cook-Posley began the ODU program in 2022. She’s found “amazing thought leaders and intellectual disrupters,” including John Baaki, associate professor of instructional design and technology, and Brett Cook-Snell, senior lecturer of educational foundations and leadership.

“They’re looking at the design process and asking: Is it inclusive? Is it accessible?’ They’re leaning in, asking questions and challenging the academy as well as practitioners to apply a racial justice, equity, inclusion and accessibility lens.”

Baaki, who is also the graduate program director, said, “What Cheryl does so well is jump from the big picture, which can be overwhelming – understanding all of the political, economic and social issues – and zero in on the actual intervention that we can use.”

Cook-Posley is leading one of seven teams designing learning experiences to revive the language of the Lenape Nation in Pennsylvania, Baaki said. “She’s so open to learning and challenging herself. She embraces the uncertainty that goes with design. She allows herself a transformative experience. Her enthusiasm is contagious with her peers.”

Living in Northern Virginia, Cook-Posley is an online student through ODUGlobal. “It’s stretching me in a way that I’ve never been stretched,” she said. “I have to make sure I stay organized enough to self-regulate to do the work to maintain a 4.0 average.”

“I love the fact that ODU is one of the leaders in this online learning space,” she said. “Here’s an institution that can rest on their laurels, but they chose to continue to evolve. That’s who I am. I want to continue to be a dynamic disrupter.”