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The five women who have influenced me are Connee, Barbara, Ronni, Ianthia and Sara. These women have each taught me the meaning of being a good human, neighbor, friend, and leader.
Connee McKinney, mother
My mother is my everything. She taught me how to work hard, how to treat people, and how to be an advocate. She is resourceful and creative in every situation. Growing up, she started her own business to give herself needed flexibility to care for my brother, who had cerebral palsy, and me. She was very active in our community and went on to be a trustee for the town; always leading with transparency, honesty, and a sense of the greater good. My brother passed away when my mom was the same age that I am now. Her resilience and advocacy throughout his life and in his legacy astounds me. Her commitment to our family and me has never wavered. It is an absolute gift to see her now pass on the same values to my son.
Sara Johnson, friend and co-founder
Sara Johnson and I met as program assistants at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, both recent alums of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. We both ended up as volunteers for the Baltimore CASH Campaign, providing free tax preparation in East Baltimore. We became fast friends and then neighbors in Patterson Park, shuttling picnic supplies up and down Baltimore Street on most days. Our friendship is easy to maintain because we are both so committed to the other’s happiness. As strong Capricorns, we organize our minds and our lives in the same way. She knows when I’m struggling, sometimes before I do, and knows just what to say or do. Our work lives continued to crisscross when she took over the Baltimore CASH Campaign & I the Maryland CASH Campaign, eventually leading us to co-found and co-lead the CASH Campaign of Maryland, where we had both started as volunteers. We are close friends and co-leaders. And I can’t imagine it any other way.
Barbara Fenske, neighbor
Barbara Fenske lived two houses down from me and was my first adult friend as a child. She treated me like I was my own person and encouraged me to always think about my role as a change agent, despite my age. She was a quiet leader who organized our community through actions, not words. She created our town’s first newsletter and a community phone book, with ages of all of the children so parents could easily find friends and people could support businesses run by neighbors. These are still in place more than 50 years later. She hosted an annual fundraiser for a charity that had sent my brother to Disney World, an incredible experience for a child with disabilities and almost 10 years before we were able to go as a family. Years later, I learned she was a social worker, which no doubt influenced my career path.
Ianthia Darden, community leader
I met Ianthia Darden as an intern at the Harlem Park/Lafayette Square Village Center, which was part of the Empowerment Zone on the West Side. I learned from her about the complexities of life for families in Harlem Park and how to always champion the assets in every community. Darden had her hands in everything and was known for getting things done. She was always so supportive to me as a young social worker and also gave me tough love when I needed it. Our paths have crossed several times since my first year in Baltimore, and she always sees how whatever I’m doing connects with whatever she is doing. People don’t live their lives in the defined buckets that we offer as services. She taught me how to be the connector and bring everyone together.
Ronni Cohen, teacher
Ronni Cohen was my 4th-grade teacher. She taught us about economics and entrepreneurship, sparking an interest in me that I didn’t realize would come to pass until many years later. These conversations weren’t dinner table topics for me, and they gave me both knowledge and comfort in talking about financial issues. Years later, we reconnected when she was running the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute and its Delaware Money School. We replicated the Delaware Money School model into what is now the Maryland CASH Academy.
|This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.|