Congratulations to our January 2014 IMPACT Leader of the Month, Charlene Carruthers!
Charlene is the national coordinator of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), an activist member-led organization of Black 18-35 year olds dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all African Americans. Charlene is a political organizer and writer with more than 10 years of experience in racial justice, feminist, and youth leadership development movement work. Her passion for developing young leaders to build capacity within marginalized communities has led her to work on immigrant rights, economic justice and civil rights campaigns nationwide.
She has led grassroots and digital strategy campaigns for national progressive organizations including the Center for Community Change, the Women’s Media Center, ColorOfChange.org and National People’s Action. She has also facilitated and developed political trainings for organizations including the NAACP, the Center for Progressive Leadership, the New Organizing Institute, MoveOn.org, Young People For and Wellstone Action.
Charlene earned a B.A. in History & International Studies from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. She was born and raised on South Side of Chicago where she currently resides.
INTERVIEW | Getting to Know Charlene Carruthers
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic and social commitments?
Community organizing in any context is difficult. My work requires frequent travel, which means I am often away from home. Finding balance is not always possible, or the optimal goal for me. I focus on making sure I take care of myself in whatever way I can. I check in with family and friends. I spend time alone reading, walking or cooking. Building a village is crucial. I realized years ago that in addition to my family, maintaining a community of social justice activists, community organizers and educators are essential to my growth and ability to stay in this work for the long haul.
What is the biggest mistake young professionals make, especially when pursuing a new venture?
Pursuing a new venture is a difficult endeavor for any individual. For young professionals, the biggest mistake we often make is choosing superficial networking over intentional relationship building. Relationships are the foundation of success.I believe that dedicating the time to research and connect with the leaders in your field is more valuable than a stack of business cards. I also carry the belief that no one is unreachable, take the risk to reach out and get connected.
What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to diversify their skill sets and become involved with issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, especially people of color?
I’ve never taken the expected route to pursue my professional goals. As a college student I double-majored in a traditional discipline and an interdisciplinary discipline. I designed my own concentration in graduate school. My internships, while all social justice oriented, were quite different. I sought out opportunities to work with different agencies, institutions and organizations. The key for young professionals is to not get stuck in the path others have prescribed as “the way.” I know that my end goal is to always work towards achieving a world where the marginalized and oppressed are liberated. No one profession holds the key to that pursuit. For those outside of my field, there is no one way to get to an end goal in any profession I can think of.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
I am fortunate to do the exact work I want to do, so this question is tough. I once worked in an after school program at a middle-school in South St. Louis. Young people in that stage of development are both fragile and full of resiliency. The young people I had the privilege to teach hands-on cooking and nutrition, science, writing and sexual health taught me so much about compassion and what it means to really develop students into leaders.The experience taught me how to work with young people who faced deep socioeconomic barriers and various difficult situations in the home. They were some of the most amazing young people to work with. It was a major responsibility and I bring what I learned there to my work today.
What’s next for you in your career? What should we look out for?
My current role as BYP100 National Coordinator is what I plan to focus on throughout the coming years. Our work focuses on leadership development, direct-action organizing, education and advocacy. Please look out for our Chapters in the Bay Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and New Orleans.We can be found on twitter (@BYP_100) and Facebook.
In addition to working to build out our national network of young Black activists, I plan to write and publish more pieces relevant to people invested in liberation.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Charlene Carruthers.