Having grown up in an African American community in Florida that bused students to predominantly white schools, I was forced to come to terms with issues of race and diversity very early in life. It was the beginning of my understanding that people come from different places and that I’m just as valuable as anyone else. I also discovered that other people could benefit from a relationship with me as much as I could from them. Working in the field of diversity and inclusion opened the world to me, allowing me to work with diverse populations across the United States as well as Indonesia, South Africa, and Ireland.
The lessons I learned about being my authentic self were learned from my home, church, and community. I started writing about my observations and interactions with others in second grade. To my surprise, when I visited my second-grade teacher a decade later, she still had one of my papers that I had written! She truly respected and cared for me, in turn teaching me that there’s good in all of us.
My career in the field of diversity has made we realize that the human relations work I chose was more complicated than I could ever imagine. I found out very quickly that there’s a distinction between human resources and human relations—and successful leaders need to know both. Traditional human resources deals with employee relations, compliance, and legal matters. Human relations requires you to have a comprehensive yet flexible understanding of the multiple dimensions of diversity and recognize the value diversity adds to your organization. This ultimately shapes the culture of your organization.
This powerful combination made me an effective leader, facilitator, daughter, life partner, and friend. For me valuing diversity and inclusion is a way of being. I believe this understanding has shaped my leadership style, which is inclusive. It’s important to encourage people to achieve their highest potential and I always felt I needed open communication to do so. My personal experiences growing up and the career I have chosen in the diversity and inclusion space have allowed me to see the complex dimensions of diversity in all of us, and this has helped me to steer the American Conference on Diversity in a promising direction.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life? What did he/she motivate you to do?
My mother instilled in me the importance of civil rights, morality, and social justice, but a group of women in my Orlando community nurtured me outside my home. They were members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. These educators, professionals, community, and church leaders significantly shaped my academic growth, provided personal empowerment, and inspired me to join the sorority. I saw how impactful I could be in the lives of other young women. Now, in my current job, I’ve come full circle and am able to have a similar impact on the lives of other young women that these remarkable women had on me.