Category Archives: Non-Profit Sector

Diversity – Where Are You?

I must admit, one of my greatest frustrations with working in the Community Change (non-profit) sector is our repeated attempts to “find” diversity and our repeated “failures” in “finding” it.

I’ve sat in many rooms with many great leaders of some pretty awesome organizations and listened to the conversation about how our boards don’t “look like” or represent the clients we serve and our staffs don’t either.  Many times the conversation has gone to the fact that those in administrative positions may “look like” the clients but those in decision making roles do not.  After all this talk has occurred, I can generally feel eyes in the room glance at me, as if I – the single Black woman in the room – might have THE answer. I don’t.

I don’t know why many of our organizations sit around the table at strategic planning meetings, board meetings, staff meetings and hiring committees and ask this question. I don’t know.  I deleted the line in this post about the reality that people have mounting student loan debt and can’t afford a life in the non-profit world, that’s a fact. I also deleted the line about people finally “making it out” and wanting to make the kind of money they never had before.  I have to respect both positions, but I don’t think the answer is there.

I think the answer is so much deeper than that.  I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to my friends about the work I do and they say, “oh, you are doing your non-profit thing”, as if one day I’m going to snap out of it and pursue a real career.

I think the world needs to start talking about our sector differently.  I happen to feel I’m having a greater impact on the lives of many more people doing my “non-profit thing” than some of my banker friends who “have arrived” because they are making huge paychecks.  Wouldn’t it make sense for us to swap salaries and I make the fat paycheck for changing the world? I’m speaking candidly, but we need to be bold about the work we are doing and the REAL change we are impacting.  To me it is not about dollars but it is about a respect for the work and not just from those of us within the sector.  If society placed the same value on real community change as it does on making a lot of money, I think more and more people would desire to work in our sector.

This change is community change. It is social change in the way our work is viewed by everybody.   As my friend and collaborator Ericka Hines says:

“That takes thinking about our work from a 35 k foot level, repackaging it and send it back to us.”

To this I say, let’s go to the mountain top and repackage it ourselves.

My Life As A Non-Profitnary

I’m sure as many of you visiting my space here would say, my life of service began when I was a child. Growing up in a  Southern Baptist church, service is what we did.  The youth choir would visit the local senior centers and sing. We would make food baskets for the homeless.  Since I was always involved in extracurricular activities, we were always holding a drive for one cause or another.  I didn’t know it then, but all these experiences were building blocks to my true purpose – a life lived for others.

Although I can say my life of service began at an early age, there is a definitive moment where I felt the calling to serve – and it wasn’t too long ago.

After volleyball season ended my senior year of college, I started working at the Cecil County Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center.  Domestic violence was something foreign to me.  By the grace of God, I had never experienced it in my personal life and had never known of anyone close to me being affected by it (not to say they weren’t).  What I found working at the shelter was that it wasn’t just a job for me. If I didn’t get called in for a week, I felt like I needed to stop by to check on the residents in case they were about to leave. I didn’t want to be in the office. I wanted to be in the living area talking with the women, playing with the children.  Somehow, their lives became intertwined with my life and their stories became apart of me.

As graduation neared, I started applying for jobs at domestic violence programs all over the Tri-State area.  I just knew I had been called to work with victims of domestic violence and to see them become survivors.  One day while sitting at my desk, one of the counselors brought me a job announcement for a legal assistant position at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore. It was the perfect opportunity. So, I applied, interviewed and I got the job!

After graduation, I moved to Baltimore. Imagine that. This girl from New Mexico moved to Baltimore!  I was so proud of the work our organization did.  If anyone asked me where I worked, I had a mouthful to tell them.  Soon after I started working at the PJC we made some internal changes and I started providing advocacy at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) for inmates in need of healthcare.  The clients I worked for, the severity of their medical needs, the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration that they were caught in – wore on my soul. 

I also began volunteering for a sexual assault and dv program in Baltimore County – TurnAround, Inc.  I volunteered for their Emergency Room Advocate program.  I’ve responded to many ER’s in the Baltimore area at 3 in the morning, meeting more women and children who have been raped or beaten by an intimate partner more times than I would like.  Many times after going over the standard protocol I found myself telling women in what seemed like hopeless situations – “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know why I was sent here, but I was. So if you can just lean on my faith, somehow this is all going to work out for you”.  It troubled me to not know what happened to some of the people I met after leaving that ER, but I knew I had to keep serving.

This work can wear on a person, and often when I felt hopeless and wanted to throw it all in, things would happen to remind me that I didn’t choose to serve – I was called to do it.  

 One night I was at an er in the heart of Baltimore to see a client who had just been brought in.  While I was in the hall waiting to see this client, a woman I had served at the Cecil County shelter was brought in in a wheelchair.  She couldn’t talk, she wouldn’t cooperate – and here I was, the only person in the hospital who could tell the nurse who this woman was and where she had come from.

My first year in Baltimore, my heart became heavy over the state of the young girls I saw walking around, wearing clothes too revealing for an 11 & 12 year olds body, talking as if they had lived an entire lifetime – it really depressed me.  So, I wrote out a full 28-page business plan, took my check to the State’s business licensing bureau, and incorporated A Designer’s Original.  I contacted every middle school principal in the Baltimore Public School district, and one school responded.  I started programming with the 7th & 8th grade girls.  I wanted to create a space for them to come and “keep it real”. 

Not too long after incorporating, and before filing for tax-exempt status, I started my MPA program at the University of Baltimore and also started fundraising for the PJC.  I quickly learned that the non-profit sector was full of eager, young minds like mine, and I began feeling a call to not create ANOTHER non-profit organization, but to devote my skills and talents to better the current non-profit sector as a whole.

So, this is where I stand today. Still serving.