Which LIA program(s) have you participated in?:
Leadership Lafayette, Intro Lafayette, Junior Leadership (speaker)
Briefly describe your life as a leader before LIA.
I was one of the lucky applicants to get into LL my first time applying. I was one of the youngest in the class and had just gotten my first job, outside of the military, after graduation from UL Lafayette. My leadership experiences at that point in my life were limited to those in the military, which is very hierarchical based. As a Second Class Petty Officer in the Navy, equivalent to middle management in the civilian world, I was responsible for training and monitoring more than 200 sailors on a daily basis in everything from food sanitation to bomb-building to military qualifications. Because of the structure and discipline of naval operations it was a very unique and rewarding position to be in at the age of 22, but due to my accelerated military promotions, I was able to learn a ton, some through failure and some through sheer persistence, about leadership at a young age. Not much of that prepared me for civic leadership though. Which is where LIA was pivotal in my career progression in Lafayette.
How did you hear about LIA and/or its programs?
My first job out of the military and college was working at Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) as the Events and Public Relations Coordinator. There I was able to meet so many young people, including my former boss Erin Ryan Mareitta, who was in the Leadership Lafayette program when I started. She was instrumental in getting me involved in the705 and then recommending me for the Leadership Lafayette in 2015.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
My cohort. I met some of the closest friends through my Leadership Lafayette experience. Alex Lazard, Kim Broudreaux, Elsa Dimitriadis Missy Andrade and so many others came to be not only my friends, but my champions throughout my professional and personal journey. Through them I was able to capitalize on incredible job opportunities, volunteer for some truly rewarding development projects, start a business and learn more about who I was and who I wanted to be. These people and my experiences with them, quite literally, changed my life. And not just from a professional growth standpoint, but personally and internally. Through my relationships with them, my life’s pursuit shifted. I was able to tap into my core strengths, become more authentic, and really advocate for change in ways I could never have imagined I would do before I met them.
What has been your greatest or most rewarding achievement since your experience with LIA?
Well, there definitely isn’t just one, But two stand out as the most rewarding achievements because of and since my experience with LIA and Leadership Lafayette. As one of only two Black participants during my cohort year, even to this day, I can vividly remember Foundation Day. I remember listening to the history of how Lafayette was founded. I remember hearing about Acadian’s, Germans, Spanish, and peoples of European descent, and their contributions to forming what we know today as Lafayette Parish. I remember distinctly what it felt like to be in that room and the intense sadness and anger that overwhelmed me when Black people weren’t even mentioned. Even more so, I remember the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness; of knowing that pointing out the glaring, at least to me, intentional exclusion of an entire group of people would make me an “agitator.” But, I knew I had to address it. I took a board member to coffee, Anne Swanson, and the rest is history. Rick Swanson has been giving the “Black Civil Rights History of Lafayette Parish” since 2017, and it is one of my greatest, most rewarding achievements of my life, to date. I will never forget the first time I heard the presentation, my history, in my community, told for the first time publicly. There will never be words to capture the multitude of emotions. Through that experience, I was able to start Conversation Starters, now a for-profit cultural competency company for cross-racial dialogue. LIA was the start of all of it and I am deeply thankful and grateful for having been able to turn my experience into something that benefits so many people, not just in Lafayette, but across the country.
Is there any advice you’d like to give future participants?
I think it’s so easy to walk into things with preconceived notions about not only the program but who we are and what we believe. My advice: be open to going on an incredible journey of discovery. There are so many behind-the-veil topics, institutions, policies and projects you learn about throughout the 12 month LL experience. Be open to taking the time to explore what you know, what you didn’t know, and how being in a room with people on the front line of so many social and community issues can transform how you perceive your community, but more importantly, your role in it. Not just in being involved and making a difference, but how intimately connected you will get to your cohort peers and much that can change perspective. Be open to transformation. Be open to opportunities that can completely disrupt everything you thought you believed about the world and yourself. Be open to trusting yourself to evolve. Be open.