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NAACP’s Lean In series inspires young professionals

Martin Desmarais
NAACP’s Lean In series inspires young professionals
Women’s Empowerment Series leadership team: Shirma Pierre, Women In NAACP Committee chair; Roxanne Longoria, NAACP Young Adult Committee chair; Denise Kaigler, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Boston Scientific; and Alison Brown, NAACP Young Adult Committee community and civic engagement coordinator.

Juliette Mayers, Blue Cross Blue Shield marketing executive and author of “A Black Woman’s Guide to Networking,” spoke about personal branding and networking on June 24.

Ask any successful businessmen or businesswomen about their achievements and they will often give credit to some mentor or inspirational role model they met when they were young professionals. Volunteers with the NAACP Boston Branch hoped to jump-start such inspiration recently with its Lean In series. By all accounts, they hit the nail right on the head — the response has already caused them to expand the effort.

“We have received so much positive feedback and it is just obvious the need is there,” said NAACP Young Adult Committee Chair Roxanne Longoria. “So far we have followed up with four other events based on what was supposed to be a three-part series.”

The Lean In series started last May and is aimed at providing young professional women of color with information and insight to help them with their careers, maintain work-life balance and avoid the personal and professional pitfalls often faced by women.

Organizers figured they had a shoo-in way to do so in bringing successful women of color to speak to groups of young professionals. The move gives them a leg-up on finding that inspiration that is so highly recalled by veteran businesspeople.

The series began with a talk by Denise Kaigler, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communication at Boston Scientific, on May 20 about navigating your professional career. Juliette Mayers, Blue Cross Blue Shield marketing executive and author of “A Black Woman’s Guide to Networking,” spoke about personal branding and networking on June 24. Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of OneUnited Bank, spoke on Aug. 20 about financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

The next event in the series is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 13 at VLora Bar & Restaurant on Boylston Street in Boston. Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the Dimock Center, will discuss health-related topics and examine health disparities in communities of color.

Minter-Jordan’s talk extends the series even further and will set the stage for future talks based on feedback from attendees. Over 250 people have attended the events so far.

The first sign of success came after the initial event with Boston Scientific’s Kaigler when those who listened to her talk asked if she could do some additional appearances. Kaigler agreed and the NAACP set up a Professional Guidance Workshop series that held three more events in June focusing on networking, seeking professional advice and climbing the corporate ladder.

The NAACP has a long and storied history of prompting movements among communities of color throughout the country and in Boston, however, Young Adult Committee members admit the need to more effectively engage a younger generation.

If engaging young professionals of color through the Lean In series” — and through their desire to succeed in the business world — attracts them to the organization, all the better.

Attendees at the Lean in series have ranged from about 21 to 40 years old, which is exactly the age group that the NAACP hopes will fuel the future of the organization.

Alison Brown, community and civic engagement coordinator for the NAACP Young Adult Committee, emphasized the importance of continuing to build a strong young adult movement in Boston — to encourage them to engage and to be active in the city.

Doing this is a critical way the NAACP can increase its ranks of volunteers that fight the poverty, youth violence and unemployment threatening communities of color in Boston.

“We want to engage young adults, to reinvigorate young adults into the movement. Get them invested in their community and have them reinvest back into the community,” Brown said. “We want to create a pathway of success and involvement in communities of color.”

Edward Hegeman, NAACP Young Adult Committee network and social coordinator, said the Lean In Series and similar young professional-targeted events also casts a line out to those who come to Boston for education and stay for jobs, but struggle to find a place in local communities of color.

“We need to connect them to the community,” he said.

The Lean In series takes its name from the book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, written by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Her book examines why women’s progress in attaining leadership roles in the professional world has stalled, explains the causes and offers ways that women can achieve their full potential.

Her work hit public groundswell after a 2010 talk she gave about how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their career. She encourages women to seek challenges, take risks and aggressively chase their goals.

The most recent event in the series — the August talk with OneUnited Bank’s Williams — topped out at 70 in attendance. Longoria only expects the crowds to grow as the series matures.

“I think the more we have new and different topics and the more we have the series, the more the word is getting out,” she said.

It has even triggered talk of launching a series for men.

“The whole idea is to have that empowerment for all members of the community,” Longoria added.

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