What drives your work, what is your why?

The Caribbean islands are scattered throughout the Caribbean Sea between North America and South America. The physical distance between the United States and the Caribbean is not vast, and yet the life experiences in the two places are a world apart. I understood this fact as a young girl when we were schooled in the idea of “Developed” versus “Developing” nations. The United States was developed. We, in the Caribbean, were not. It was clear to me that the amount of money at the disposal of nations coincided with their ranking in this system.

When I immigrated to the United States as an adult, I became aware of the full scope of the economic system. The surplus wealth that denoted the status of this country is not equally distributed among the citizens – this is an injustice that I see replicated on the world stage. There is an ever-expanding chasm between the ones who have and the ones who do not have. I am committed to playing a role in transforming this jarring phenomenon of human existence and closing the gap between those with and without resources to lead a successful life.

Redistribution of resources does not capture the nuance and complexity of Development work, but that is the crux of what I am able to do in my current role. My ability to build relationships with well-funded stakeholders to garner investments in community-serving organizations aligns with my moral imperative. I believe that re-allocating resources for public schools in the city of Chicago is my small way of contributing to a global human issue.

What is the moment/event/situation that inspired you to enter the field you are in now?

As a student in a Master of Social Work program, I was eager to learn how the implementation of social policy impacted the individual. I accepted an opportunity to learn-by-doing during a Graduate Assistantship in a community-based organization focused on mental health. One of my first tasks included applying for a state grant to fund a novel program. Even though the application was cumbersome and complex, I enjoyed crafting language the described the unique work of the organization. I was able to have conversations with program staff and board members in order to fuel my understanding of the importance of the organization in the community. It was a collaborative process that relied on my ability to organize multiple moving parts while creating a coherent and compelling proposal. The looming deadline pushed me to become more creative with my writing, and I celebrated when we submitted all the documents.

There was an incredible sense of euphoria when the grant was approved. I was grateful to be involved in a process that led to the expansion of work in the community. Furthermore, I was hooked on the challenge of communicating complex ideas in a way that could compel others to invest funds and change the lives of others. That is when I realized that my efforts could be amplified and have widespread impact through a career in Development.

What do you believe best prepared you to be successful in your career?

Relationships are the foundation of a career in Development. The best preparation for success in this career is the willingness to lean into active listening in order to build effective relationships. As a Development professional, I am the conduit for the programs of my nonprofit. My voice and words paint the picture of the work for funders who may not ever have the chance to see the programs first-hand. I must be able to listen to the concerns and interests of potential funders and listen to the descriptions of the work from the program staff. In this way, I can accurately represent the important work that requires the investment of funders; this is an exercise in vulnerability that requires the trust of an intentionally crafted relationship.

However, all of the listening and relationship-building skills would be wasted if I were not an effective communicator. As such, practice with written and verbal communication is essential preparation for the field of Development. In my experience, I have been able to significantly improve these skills with multiple varied experiences and trusted feedback. Time, frequency, and radical candor have had incredible impacts on my confidence in communicating.

Who is the mentor that has made the most impact in your life and why? What was the best advice they gave you, and how has it stuck with you throughout your career?

I am fortunate to have learned a great deal about myself and the work of development, from every supervisor, colleague, and student that I have encountered on my career path. It has been an incredible journey to discovering how I can best use my combination of skills and strengths to play a role in reimagining the future.

As a Chicago Surge Fellow, I am able to draw from the collective genius of my cohort. The Surge Institute is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment, advancement, growth, and achievement of youth and communities of color that educates and elevates leaders of color. From this incredible group of education professionals, I have learned the importance of dependability and vulnerability in the formation of trusting relationships. Most of all, I am understanding how transformative it is to have a tribe of people who are invested in my success to the same extent that I am invested in theirs.

As a Black woman, I have recognized how internalized oppression has sometimes created a false sense of competition between myself and other colleagues. As a result, I felt isolated and incapable to truly belong to any group. I believe that humans are wired for connection, so our sense of belonging is an integral aspect of our existence. I do not think that I would be able to navigate my career in Development without feeling as though I belonged in this profession or to a tribe of professionals.