In April 2021, we introduced our inaugural National Advisory Board. In this new series of posts, we’re diving in with our board members to learn about their careers, inspirations, and vision for the future.
Board member Gabrielle Wyatt is the founder of The Highland Project, an organization focused on building and sustaining a pipeline of Black women leading communities, institutions, and systems, resulting in the creation of multi-generational wealth and change in their communities. Prior to founding The Highland Project, she was a Partner at The City Fund, where she launched the City Leadership Fellowship, an executive leadership development program focused on empowering Black and Latinx leaders pursuing bold education visions. Before joining The City Fund, Gabrielle previously served as the Chief Strategy Officer at Civic Builders, Executive Director of Strategy for Newark Public Schools, and Associate Director of Portfolio Planning at the NYC Department of Education. A Baltimore native, Gabrielle began her career as a Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education member.
Q: Gabrielle, your career has been so varied and deeply embedded in community change. How do you do it all? What particular skills and/or knowledge do you think are most important for success in civic and political work?
A: Sustainability — every leader needs a sustainability plan. This work is hard, urgent, and deeply personal for us as Black and Brown leaders. But we cannot let our drive for change come at a cost to our mental, physical, spiritual and financial health. We will never achieve lasting change if we are consistently burnt out. And yet, practicing sustainability can be hard — often it has not been modeled for us or rewarded. Take time to ask yourself about your relationship to sustainability, define well being, and identify strategies for self preservation, joy, and healing.
Q: What do you think are the key features of the Leaders of Color Program that help address sustainability and well-being?
A: To me, the alumni engagement, nationwide network, and coaching infrastructure that the Leaders of Color program offers for its fellows and alumni is part of the larger answer to avoiding burnout. When you have guides, mentors, and friends who are ready to help you, willing to listen, and, most importantly, willing to push you on when your actions and values may not be aligned — that makes you part of a larger community that’s fighting for real change, instead of feeling like you’re chipping away at it by yourself. The program intentionally works to create community and that is a big part of the puzzle.
Q: In your experience, what’s the one thing people are surprised to learn when they embark on a political or community leadership career?
A: Often we find ourselves power mapping to achieve a particular policy outcome, but we can miss the step of assessing our individual and collective power in the same way. We have individual and collective power already. Sit down and create your personal power map. Ask for your kitchen cabinet of trusted advisors to help you fill in the gaps. Keep growing this map at every stage of your career.
Q: What’s one thing that’s on your mind right now as we think about growing Black and Hispanic political and civic power?
A. I read this piece recently in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and it has stuck with me. I keep returning to the advice the authors offer on building power for the future: “There is no quick fix for building robust and leaderful movements of knowledgeable leaders who are resilient and thriving. If we want lasting transformational social change in BIPOC communities and beyond, we must invest significantly and boldly in these leaders across all sectors.” This is obviously something I’m passionate about and why I’m proud to do the work I do and to sit on the board of the Leaders of Color program.