The past two years as NACAS CEO have been very reflective of my life story. I have always valued the contributions of people who have been positive factors in my professional and personal life. Working with people has always been important to me, and I believe that I have made a positive difference in the lives of others. My story is that I get energy and renewal from problem solving with others, and I’ll also be the first to admit it takes so much energy that I will say, I don’t like people. What I’m really saying is that I wish people would expect as much for themselves as they expect from others. I have a strong desire to make a difference, and stepping out in new uncharted directions is my comfort zone. I had never imagined so many parallels would exist when I took the job as CEO. I, like most of us, assume that at some point we find the meaning of life lessons and apply them, but, then again, they might not ever apply at all.
In the past two years, I have had to use all of my life lessons to their fullest, and in each and every situation, they have served me well. Let me back up a bit and share some of my story. I hope that my story will only be reflective of how your story can serve you well as your professional skills and people skills will be put to the test to develop new programs and services to support your institutions and professional aspirations in the coming years as never before.
I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, the same year the first Russian satellite was put into Earth’s orbit. It was also a time in our country when civil rights were not a benefit of all Americans and the Civil Rights Movement was a political and human consciousness that was organized mostly by church and civic organizations in cities and communities throughout this country. My story in all of this was that my parents and grandparents believed strongly in a sense of personal value that could not be extinguished or diminished by words or laws. I was taught how to be respectful of all people and to expect the same from all people. My grandparents lived in Florida, and when we visited every summer, they taught me how to respond when I was denied access to restaurants or other areas that were open to me in New York. Those lessons served me well, not only for survival, but to serve as a beacon to guide decisions and actions with my dignity intact. I look at the mission and responsibility of NACAS to keep our Association open to all diverse professionals and institutions that work serving students and communities they reside in. I was taught that all of our actions, words, and deeds leave a trail that tells others who we are and what values we hold. I hope the same for NACAS.
My mom and dad were both very active in grassroots politics and taught me the value of relationships and community building. As I reflect on this, I don’t think they ever talked about building consensus when protesting human or social injustice or when being denied access to opportunities like jobs or education. What they said to me was that when you take a stand, be prepared to stand even if no one stands with you. Make good choices, and be prepared to defend your choices.
Our institutions are being challenged to deliver outcomes that affect the lives of future generations and questions are being raised as to our role and responsibilities.
My parents never told me what to become or what path to take; they made sure that I was prepared to play a role and not have my future dictated by others. My parents offered me up (I had two older brothers, one younger brother and one much younger sister) to be involved in the first school desegregation busing mandate in New York City. Years later, I learned why they did this and, in particular, why they chose me. As activists, my mother and father knew their family was not immune or could be sheltered from consequences of their activism. So when the time came to answer the call of who is ready to serve, they sent me. The “Why me?” question was simply answered by them telling me that they thought I had the skills to survive the expected hostilities I would face going into an extremely unwelcoming environment. I appreciated their confidence, but I never would have volunteered to face what I experienced on my first day of school in the fourth grade.
My point about my story is that we are facing those times now; the time to choose to change the outcome of lives and our communities. Our institutions are buses that carry the hopes and dreams of a better future for generations that need us to take a stand, make a choice.
I call upon NACAS and the many volunteers and professionals who strive every day to make a difference in auxiliary services in higher education to share our stories through professional development programs, annual conferences, articles in College Services magazine, and through The Connections That Count with each other.
I have shared my story, and I hope that you will share yours.