Name: Johnette Richardson
Title: Executive Director, Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc.
How did you choose your career path?
To be honest, this path chose me. In 2003, I was newly married and, one night, my husband and I were talking about career paths. I remember expressing to him that I truly wanted to find a job that didn’t feel like work but one that I enjoyed and could throw myself into. He introduced me to Barbara Aylesworth, my predecessor and great mentor. Barbara hired me as a program assistant. I started by answering phones and creating flyers. I learned so much in that role.
I must have worked in every position in the organization. I just loved it! Asset-based community development, building from strength, neighbor collaboration, selling homes and business opportunities – I loved it all! In four short years, my mentor went on to work in a citywide capacity and I was appointed the Executive Director.
What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
While I did learn a great deal from Barbara, it was impossible for her to completely prepare me for my road ahead. I didn’t have formal nonprofit management experience. Barbara was a giant in the larger community and I was a newcomer. What was once organizing community wide events and working with neighbors on block clean ups and projects, suddenly became more about building rapport and maintaining connections with outside stakeholders, grant writing and report submissions, strategic planning and staff development. I had to learn (in short order) how to balance my love for working with the community to now establishing myself in a larger community that included, city department heads, elected officials, funders, peers, the media and my board of directors, just to name a few.
Given these realities, there were two things that I knew I wanted. First, I knew I wanted to remain authentic. With so many new relationships and partnership coming my way, I had a great need to approach these by just simply being me. It was (and still is) important for me to build authentic relationships with partners and stakeholders from a true foundation. Yes, it’s true, the organization needs the support, and in most cases that means funding, however; my desire is that the partners know who I truly am as a person and who the organization is at its core. My job then is to encourage these stakeholders to make an investment in us rather than a donation.
Second, I knew I wanted to always remain present and in the moment. I never wanted the job to become one that I couldn’t have time to enjoy every win for the community. I would often stop myself and my team and celebrate everything, no matter how small. Even today, as our community and city are experiencing challenges and yes, we pivot move to adjust to current community needs and competing priorities, but we deliberately and on purpose celebrate wins.
These two principles have guided me from my first moments as the Executive Director to today, more than a decade later.
What lessons did you learn?
I have learned to be authentically and unapologetically me! I have learned to surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I have learned to work smart and deliberate versus hard and erratic. Pursue passion over all else because you’ll typically find that passion will put you right where you need to be in every aspect of your life.
How do you maintain your passion for the job?
A rule of thumb for me has been to only hire brilliant people. I literally sit with brilliant people and convince them that there is no better organization for them to work in this city! I take these individuals and put an all-star team together. It’s no surprise, then, when my team comes to me with pilot ideas and initiatives that are so awesome, it keeps me going. I maintain passion because there’s always something crazy brilliant that my team has cooked up that I must see to fruition. The challenges in the community are great. Seeing my team rise to and surpass them is just exhilarating. Our program meetings are incredible!
What’s next for you, personally or professionally?
I have a teenager. She just turned 13 and this is still quite unbelievable to me. In my mind, I can still see her crawling about the house. We are talking about high school choice, school dances, and who is into who these days at school. I am trying to catch every volleyball game of hers that I can. Simultaneously, I am loving being a “Maunty” (mom/aunty), to my great-niece. She has been with us for three years now and is beginning to hit her stride. She is improving her grades and really becoming such a remarkable young lady. I think for now, I just want to take this moment in and completely enjoy it.
I have just been appointed to the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. This is such a new and amazing challenge for me. I am learning so much and I love it! I want to take a breath, dive into this area, and work alongside my fellow commissioners and our CEO to bring the changes to the school system that are needed to help our young people grow and prosper. I am a product of public school education and it means so much to me to be able to give in this way.
What advice do you have for younger women hoping to follow your career path?
Be patient with yourself. Trust your instincts. Surround yourself with brilliant people. Be open. Always say yes to opportunities, then find a way to knock it out the park!
Personal: Husband, Evan Richardson. Daughter Zoe Richardson, great-niece Kali Davis, dog Theo (doggy, the cutest cockapoo in the world)
Education: BS, Morgan State University, MBA, Regis University.
Professional: Executive Director, Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. The 2017 winner of “Women on the Move” from Associated Black Charities. The Daily Record Leading Women Award 2012; The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow, 2010 graduate and member; Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative, 2009 graduate leadership program; Greater Baltimore Committee, 2008 leadership graduate and member; Community Development Network, Advisory Committee Member; Morgan State University National Alumni Association; Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition, steering committee member.
Three things most people don’t know about me:
- I am a huge comic book fan.
- I have a standing Thursday night “girls night” with my girlfriends. If you are at Johnny’s you may see (or hear) us.
- I am kind of shy about this but I really do love to sing.