Executive Director, Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc.
To fully executive the mission of stabilizing homeownership through repairing occupied housing, as well as ensuring tenants have increased access to safe, affordable housing opportunities.
Working in the non-profit sector is not for the faint of heart. You often work tirelessly to combat the ills of society and you rarely get a thank you. However, nothing beats the feeling you get when you help a family get the keys to either their first home or high-quality apartment that they can afford. The long-term effects for that family and the greater community are priceless and the reason why I love what I get to do every day.
As a native Brooklynite I enjoy the hustle, so after undergraduate I went straight in the graduate program (Masters in Urban Planning) at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning – one the best decisions of my life. From there the path of affordable housing and community development seemed to follow me as my first job was the Director of housing in the University Heights community. In that position although I had director in the title, I held many positions because that is the nature of non-profit work – you wear many hats. I was communication person, I did outreach, community advocacy, program services and if the occasion called for it, community organizing. There was never a job/tasks that I wouldn’t do.
While working in University Heights I earned my license for residential real estate. I worked closely with the City Courts on the receivership programs while working with the City of Buffalo on their acquisition rehab resale program for first time home buyers. I traveled throughout the country to be trained and to later train others on financial literacy. Then eventually I transitioned to the Program Director at Heart of the City and then was promoted to Executive Director in 2007. I have been here ever since.
I had attended John Jay High School back home which was a specialized high school focused on law. Most go from there and pursue a career in law or law enforcement. I was determined to go from John Jay to the Legal Studies program then straight into law school. Although I made a different choice by going into Urban Planning, I still use the skills learned from the Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Program, specifically all the statistics, demographics, logic/game theory (not sure if they still require those classes anymore).
As mentioned above, all the statistics classes, qualitative and quantitative methods, need to be your foundation for everything. I took a Creative Writing Law class once, I think the Professor was Dr. Carr. He once said that if you can’t get your point across on a 3x5 index card then it’s simply not worth saying (I paraphrased as this was almost 20 years ago). While that would have been helpful for those going into litigation (which is what I had hoped to do), I use it with grant/proposal writing and have been extremely successful.
I think every student needs the fundamentals and this program is perfect for that. It was in my senior year when I took a class that was an elective through this program that inspired me to go into urban planning. It was actually taught by an adjunct who also was a Niagara County legislator at the time. I remember more of those classes taught by professionals outside of the university than anything else. Also be prepared to have to explain taking this path to your parents and grandparents of a certain generation. As an Afro-Caribbean person, success often looks like going in the medical, law or engineering fields and I didn’t do that. I get to do meaningful work that supports people living a better life and I had to be okay with that and once my family saw how happy I was, they changed.
Look into everything. Many times you will be encouraged to be a specialist but start general and let what sparks your passion dictate where you go from there. Don’t wait until junior or senior year for internships, start right away and consider it like dating until you find the best fit.
I am an introvert. It is a random fact because anyone who meets me never believes it.