A Spotlight on “WOMEN of COLOR – Community Builders”.
In each instance, we want to hear about and share their work – its importance and impact, potential for broader applicability -- and their personal journey!
Why, an Open House…
I began my love of reading as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. I particularly enjoyed history. And, would spend hours mentally transporting myself to some place or another in the world. At the time, I thought how wonderful it would be to have a comfortable, and interesting space where people who look like me – along with friends and “allies” of every persuasion – would come by to relax, share ideas and information; and, most importantly -- motivate others to get “engaged” in common causes that matter.
Something like the storied salons of the “Harlem Renaissance”. Always room at the table for creative thinkers --wisdom and warriors, change agents, new faces, fresh perspectives, and innovators – with a common purpose. To help and uplift each other.
Well, for those who know me well, the traditional home with a white picket fence was not in my cards. But, in this evolving “new normal, I shared my thoughts and personal unfinished business with a few friends and colleagues – and, decided to reclaim my childhood dream. Stop thinking about it, and -- “JUST DO IT”!
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT…
After spending most of my professional career in transportation, I often say that first and foremost, I have been privileged to be in the business of community building! The same can be said about the importance of the decisions and investments made in all of our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors – Transportation Systems, Water/Wastewater Systems, Energy, Communications, Information Technology, Critical Manufacturing, the Food and Agriculture Sector, Healthcare and Public Health, Financial Services – to name a few.
At the same time, this vital connection between our critical “Infrastructure” sectors and “Community Building” is all too often missed or lost in translation – HIDDEN in PLAIN SIGHT. As are many of the people who are engaged in this important work in communities all over this country (and the world). Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of whom also “look” like and are a part of the communities they work “with”, “in”, and “for”.
A CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY …
Today, we have a national and global crisis – and, it is much more pernicious than a pandemic. And, it is only getting worse. Increasing national and global inequality of massive proportions – with gender, race, and ethnicity – continuing to be primary determinants of health, our environmental sustainability, economic and social opportunity, and success. While there are certainly some new and exciting faces and voices – nowhere near the numbers and/or diversity of women we should be seeing – with a spotlight on black, brown, and other “women of color”. Given our national demographics – and projections for rapidly increasingly diversity in the future – greater attention to the continued lack of overall gender parity and diversity across our infrastructure sectors is a necessity.
Add to that – the reality that the “branding” and “shackles” of slavery for Black Americans remain an indelible vise. Unfortunately, anything less than recognizing this as a “Strictly Black” issue in America is misguided and ill-informed. More importantly if we don’t claim it – we will never effectively address it. And, it is another one of the systemic challenges that uniquely impact young black women.
EXPAND the TABLE and the DISCOURSE …
Paradoxically, at the same time, many of our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors – starting with the “lifeline” sectors – transportation, water, energy, and communications – are grappling with major “people-readiness” challenges. Rapidly changing skills, workplace, and workforce changes, lagging career interest, and longstanding diversity and inclusion challenges.
We do not need another Blue-Ribbon Report or study. “ALL” of our critical lifeline infrastructure sectors have well-documented, long standing under-representation of “women” and “people of color” – which they acknowledge. And, have been working to address at varying speeds. Certainly, improvement from when I started. But, far short of where we need to be.
No SURPRISE. I am a PROUD woman of color – a BLACK woman. As a child, I had so many dreams. And, will always thank my parents for the gift of believing that with hard work and commitment --“dreams can come true.” I had a thirst for making a difference and making my family proud of my accomplishments, exposure to potential opportunities, new experiences. A desire for role models, mentors (coaches and sponsors) hoping to have at least some that looked like me – as I moved out of the safe haven of my family and neighborhood. Healthy spaces for learning, experimentation, building confidence and resilience. And, an opportunity to gain meaningful experience, professional visibility, and recognition.
To sum it up, I wanted keys to the twin doors of “opportunity” and “results” – and, a level playing field (on my merits). A place at the table where my ideas, voice, and work would be valued and respected. A “hand up” – not a “hand out” – or, a check mark.
COMMUNITY BUILDING is “WE” Work!
As I reflect on the arc of my personal professional career --what’s missing? In a nutshell – “COLLECTIVE SUCCESS”. I’ve had my share of the proverbial “ups” and “bumps” -- including, considerable individual professional achievement and recognition. I would say – one of the “trailblazers”. But, at the end of the day, personal accomplishment without collective success is at best – hollow!
In taking personal stock, I made the decision to place my interest and energy into helping to accelerate the meaningful participation of women and people of color in infrastructure careers -- the business of “community-building”. Board Rooms, policy tables, elected office, directly working in the infrastructure sectors, strengthening the community foundation and civic muscle in communities – all are needed. The first step was launching Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure, Inc. (“Iyai+”) – www.iyai.org – now concluding our second year of programming.
Bev’s Open House is an expansion of this work. Simply, by expanding our more traditional lens and opening our doors -- there are amazing Women of Color that are “doers” and “thinkers” in this space – all too often Hidden in Plain Sight. Remarkable women (and girls) of all ages and stages in their careers and personal journey who are doing the work of community building every day. All who can serve as a motivation and inspiration -- potential mentors, coaches, and sponsors -- to other young women of color who look like them.
Our goal to recognize, celebrate, and shine a “spotlight” on their work – many role models, sponsors and coaches for a next generation of community leaders, skilled workers, innovators, and entrepreneurs committed to the lifelong work of community building.
And, hope that in the process – both YOU and THEY – take a first look (or, a “fresh” look) at a career working directly in one of our nation’s critical infrastructure sectors.
Today’s portability – a range of experiences and exposures – is a part of the “new” workplace normal that can open amazing opportunities.