Reflection and Forward Movement

Reflection and Forward Movement

The Backstory

I grew up road tripping every summer with my parents and little brother. Flying was reserved for visiting my grandparents in Jamaica. For everything else, there was Daddy’s Buick Regal. When we weren’t heading south on I-95, we were exploring all that NYC had to offer – museums, landmarks, the Bronx Zoo, City Island – all of it. It made me an explorer and gave me my fascination with creating a sense of place. I wouldn’t recognize what that feeling meant until I was an adult, but I took my wanderlust and curiosity to pretty much anywhere I found myself. College towns like Ames, IA and Maryville, MO, Baltimore, DC, back home to the Bronx for a few years, my adopted home in the Atlanta Metro. Each city tells stories about its people, its values, the way it does business. Too bad I didn’t know what urbanists and city planners did when I was in high school because my academic trajectory and student loan debt situation would look VERY different today. In any case, it turns out studying how we learn was the right thing for me because I use those skills all the time.

It’s a good thing I started school early (and skipped a grade), because it took me three attempts at three different schools to advance from freshman to sophomore year in college, and I started with a full academic scholarship to Iowa State. I went from straight-A student to barely hanging on, and back again. As I would later reassure frantic students and panicked parents in my office, resilience is one of the most important lessons in life. Failing isn’t the end, it’s a save point. Fast forward through my academic advising career and grad school (x2). I discovered during my research assistantship that I was good at web development, and more importantly, applying my hard-won research & data analysis skills to help small business owners make evidence-based decisions is my superpower.

It’s a good thing I quickly realized how to implement those coding skills because when I moved to Atlanta after my comprehensive exams, there was no Dean of Students, Director of Instructional Technology, or Higher Education Leadership faculty position patiently waiting for me to finish my doctoral coursework. The part-time management position I held with an education company contracting with local public schools evaporated the day I was admitted to the hospital in premature labor with my youngest son. Web design and development kept our roof over our head and gave me the flexibility to work from home while trying many new things along the way. Not the least of which was how little in-demand tech skills depend on formal education.

The Highlights

In the 10+ years since the first website I was paid for, there were so many highlights (and save points):

Less than a year into freelancing in web design and digital marketing, I was contracted to teach WordPress as a classroom tool to educators in Bermuda based almost entirely on my Twitter timeline. I live-tweeted conferences between speaking sessions and often joined discussions for events I couldn’t attend. Thank you for the first stamp in my passport, Twitter.

I wrote a WordPress user guide.

I developed a reentry program in front-end web development for homeless veterans and previously incarcerated men and women and launched it in East Point. When I presented East Point Tech at 48Hour Launch in Chattanooga, it was praised for its innovative revenue model, residential component, and integrated comprehensive social services. I am determined to relaunch this program eventually.

I launched a Small Business Week conference to educate, celebrate, and promote business owners in East Point, College Park, and Hapeville.

I ended up as part of a Honda digital campaign – in the middle of a webinar on using big brand social media strategies for free. How’s that for social proof?

I started speaking to local government officials and community leaders about best practices in social media for citizen engagement and collaborative governance.

I worked with the National Policy Alliance to produce the National Black Political Convention, celebrating the 44th anniversary of the original historic event where civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Amiri Baraka spoke and led discussions that became The Black Agenda and resulted in the election of several Black leaders. The 2016 event welcomed domestic and international scholars, elected officials, community leaders, citizens and media for learning, discussions, and policy development. The agenda recommendations borne of that meeting were then distributed and shared at NPA member conferences.

photo of National Black Political Convention article in Northwest Indiana Times

I joined the board of and subsequently rebranded a pre-release, education-based reentry program in Connecticut, immediately leading to an increase in donations. Several donors said that the modern design and ease of use assured them that Second Chance Educational Alliance was a legitimate organization with a worthwhile mission, and SCEA’s Executive Director reported that the validation and increased visibility has led to an uptick in partnership and speaking opportunities.

So many amazing and humbling things, with aha! moments throughout the journey. I’ve learned so much and had a wonderful time. It was definitely not all sunshine and roses, but gain, resilience helped me bounce back and continue to the next save point.

The Transition

Working with policymakers, organizing community events, and developing programs have made me consider how small businesses coexist with the community at the city level and sparked a strong desire to explore and optimize these interdependent relationships. Pursuing this line of thinking further means working with the system from the inside, or at least on a larger, established team that partners with policymakers regularly. I’ve considered what I want to accomplish in service to the public:

I want to help develop policies and programs that support healthy and sustainable economic, workforce, and community development in the suburbs. I want to advocate for transit options and accessibility initiatives that serve the families stranded outside public transportation boundaries so that they can work and play where they live, and contribute to a reduction in the hell that is Atlanta traffic.

I want to be instrumental in developing local public policy that grows a healthy and diverse economic ecosystem that brings employment and amenities to residents of outer ring suburban cities.

I want to be in a position to encourage commercial and residential landlords to rethink the ways they approach space management and leasing so that remote workers, freelancers, gig workers, and other solopreneurs and owners can thrive together. There are so many ways to tackle common challenges if we are all willing to adjust our thinking.

Similarly, I want to encourage Chambers of Commerce and business councils to see freelancers, digital media professionals, and artists as integral to the local business community when they advocate for small business. This means, among other things, membership levels and programming options that support their business growth and helping to make sure they get paid.

Therefore, I’m embarking on this career transition from marketing and technology to economic and community development. I will certainly bring my laundry list of skills along for the ride. I’m ready for my next big thing, backed by years of diverse experiences and a commitment to lifelong learning. You could say that I took the long way ’round since I started in teaching and learning in the first place, and have always spoken passionately about small business, citizens, workforce, and policy as interconnected and overlapping spaces in a community ecosystem.

The Plan

My academic advisor and career counselor hats have never left the building (they are incredibly helpful in working with clients, after all), so of course, I have a clear road map for getting to my desired future state as an economic development professional.

I’m spending summer 2019 studying Economic Development and Urban Planning via online graduate courses from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning. Having focused the lion’s share of my research (and writing my dissertation) on instructional technology on online learning, I’m incredibly thankful that these open learning resources exist. I believe that these options are woefully underutilized as affordable options for workforce development and retraining. That higher education background in degree audits and history navigating articulation agreements is helpful in selecting courses comparable to GSU’s Certificate in Planning and Economic Development.

Knowing that verifiable credentials are especially important in the public sector, I’ll be starting the Georgia Certified Economic Developer certification program offered by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government in September.

I’ll continue to wield my pen – er, keyboard – here and on LinkedIn, and journal my transition on IGTV. Feel free to scroll through my digital footprints, what you see is what you get.