Finding My People

When I made my big pivot to the nonprofit world back in 2019, I imagined that I would have to put in my time, garner enough experience and build a portfolio of wins to be able to choose the organizations and causes I worked for. I also wanted to still flex my public relations and marketing skills but in the service of development work.

My first official foray into the nonprofit world affirmed the need for a strong marketing lens. As a Major Gifts Officer, I saw first-hand the importance of telling the right stories at the right time for the right audience. In my mind, the relationship between fund development and marketing was key. I was surprised to find, however, that synergy between these two essential functions wasn’t always the norm.

Given this set of expectations – putting in my time, building up my portfolio and wanting to leverage my communications skills – it wasn’t easy to find the right fit. After countless conversations with friends and colleagues, so many interviews and oodles of applications submitted, I stumbled upon an intriguing opportunity with a nonprofit social justice organization working in the education space. The organization, Embracing Equity, was looking for a development professional to accelerate their growth on the partnership side. As a startup still building out systems and processes, they also wanted functional skills in marketing along with a demonstrated passion for equity. I found my unicorn!

After an incredible, immersive and collaborative three weeks of exploration and engagement with Embracing Equity, I was offered and have accepted the position of Senior Director of Partnership Development! I am beyond humbled, honored and excited to embark on this next journey.

Embracing Equity is a Women of Color (WOC) social justice nonprofit organization that understands the legacy of systemic racism in education and aims to address these inequities with a holistic approach that encompasses individual learning, interpersonal actions, and institutional-level transformation.

Since their founding in 2017, Embracing Equity has grown dramatically, working with over 2 thousand individuals, across 47 states, accelerating simply by word of mouth from the success of their early participants. In this new role, I hope to leverage and grow their success, helping them to identify and engage with even more institutional partners within the education ecosystem. Our shared goal is to accelerate growth and to impact over 1 million children by 2030!

Getting to this place has been, in many ways, such a perfect alignment of who I am, my values and my goals.

My Story of Why

People see us through the lens of our various identities. As a professional, an advocate, a wife, and mother – those who know me would likely describe me as strong, outspoken and, at times, brave. I believe I am those things on my best days, but I could not draw on these qualities when I was young and most in need of strength and courage.

Growing up in a predominantly white, upper-income community, I experienced endless incidents of being taunted and called out simply for being who I am, Asian. Or the many times I’ve been told, “Go back to your country.” As if I wasn’t already here.  This world that was reflected to me through my peers, my community, and the media, did not look like me and did not see me.

One memory from my high school days has stayed with me. l am in the locker room and a “popular” girl was next to me, talking to her friends. I don’t remember her exact words, but she was mimicking the facial features of a Korean girl (there were only two of us in our high school) by pressing her hand against her nose and then pulling up at the corners of her own eyes, exaggerating the traditional almond-shaped eyes of most Asians but in a mocking caricature of our faces. Laughing and giggling was the response from her friends. In that moment, I held my breath, silently hoping to simply vanish. By then she saw that I was also in the room. Momentarily startled, she smoothly recovered and stated, without a trace of embarrassment, “Oh, you’re fine. You’re more like us.”

I don’t think that girl thought of herself as a racist. Who does? But it was a callous and mean and, yes, racist remark, insidious for its easy perpetuation of the message that I had received many times before: We may grant you permission to be seen but only if you are “like us.”

I didn’t have the language to express what was happening and how this made me feel. I remember it as a general sense of disconnection, as I could not be “like them” in the most fundamental way. I could not change the color of my skin, nor the shape of my eyes. But being accepted relied on my putting up the façade. I was a teenage girl with no allies to support me, and I had not yet developed the resilience I needed to create a different path for myself, or others like me. I have often wondered where my life could have taken me if I had not wasted so much time and energy trying to pass undetected, pretending to blend in, to be something I could not be.

It wasn’t until I moved to a larger city to attend a big public university that I began to see that there were more people like me. But even then, as a transracial adoptee raised by a white family, my family, while well-intentioned, did not acknowledge my Korean birth culture in any meaningful way. This further compounded my feelings of disconnection and lack of belonging. It was only when I became a mother myself that I began to recognize and explore this multi-layered dissonance as part of my identity.

However, being a member of a marginalized group does not absolve us of responsibility to do the work or to keep us from finding ourselves on the wrong side of right. I’ve come to learn that not being racist is different than being anti-racist. To be anti-racist means moving from knowing and into action. I did not speak up that day for myself or for the one other Asian girl. I forever regret that I did not have the courage to act nor the understanding that my silence made me complicit.  

While this happened decades ago, and we have collectively begun to face this country’s systemic and historic racism, we still have not normalized talking about race. It’s uncomfortable and fraught with deeply rooted layers of unearthed traumas and denial. So, can we solve a problem that we can’t yet talk about?

Yes, I absolutely believe that we can. Despite of or even because of my past, I am an optimist who carries hope for progressive, meaningful change in my lifetime. All of us have the power within ourselves to make it happen. This is a core belief that I have often espoused, especially to my three mixed-race daughters.

Embracing Equity in partnership development is my way of showing up and being a part of making positive change happen. Education does indeed power our future.

Embracing Equity’s model for disruptive change in the education space has already proven transformative and successful. They envision a world in which all children can thrive, regardless of differences in race, gender, identity, or socio-economic status. Embracing Equity’s vision states it perfectly, ” A just society where all children are affirmed in their whole humanity and nurtured to their fullest potential.” We can do this.

Published by kimberlystrenk

West Coast native, enjoying life in Austin, Texas with three teen daughters, awesome husband, and one adorable, vertically challenged doxie pup, Ollie.

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