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Meet Trailblazer Whitney Stovall

Today we’d like to introduce you to Whitney Stovall.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the organization, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Saint Louis, MO, the oldest of my siblings. My mother, grandmother, and aunt raised my sister and me in a very ad-hoc family situation that worked. Early on I captained a dance troupe and volunteered at a local elementary school instructing young girls. In hindsight, those were likely the moments that planted the seeds for my journey. Upon graduation from high school, I enrolled at Howard University; which was easily one of my best life decisions and almost the dream that wasn’t. Thankfully, I got the Gates Scholarship so woo who!

Like many, I wanted to be a lawyer when I first applied to college. Soon after my first internship, I realized I didn’t. I was mentoring through a couple of programs on campus and was thoroughly enjoying the moments spent supporting the students in their personal and academic challenges and triumphs. So, I changed my major to communication and culture. Following graduation, I relocated to Atlanta, GA to pursue a career in the city’s social sector and to study public administration and nonprofit management at Georgia State University. I completed my Masters while serving as a mentor for an organization in South Atlanta. I also held roles with many respected nonprofits; including the American Cancer Society as the Interactive Media Intern, Operations Associate at Lutheran Services of Georgia, then later the International Rescue Committee Atlanta as the Refugee Youth Program Supervisor, and the International Program Manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

But it was a part-time role that imprinted on me the most. As an Interim Site Coordinator and Teacher in an arts and academic program that served low-income refugee and African-American students, I became interested in educational opportunities for women and children in Africa. I was inspired to work more in international relations and completed my final course studying social enterprises in Accra, Ghana. Since Ghana, I’ve continued my travels, with my favorite trip being an annual literary service project in Jamaica.

When I returned to the states during the summer of 2014, I felt like my eyes were open to a world of possibility. Then, Michael Brown was murdered in my hometown later that month. He wasn’t the first Black male I knew who was killed or even assaulted by the police, but it was the first time it hit so close to home, I’d walked those very neighborhoods that were being slandered. Inspired by platforms like Black Girls Rock, I created a social media campaign to celebrate men and boys of color that later became Hello, My Name is KING, Inc.

Today, in addition to leading HMNK, I am a social entrepreneur and global storyteller, with a specialization in community and nonprofit programming and development. I have done/do a lot, but I don’t consider myself busy or burdened, I’m privileged to be able to do the work I do. In the words of Nikki Giovanni, “There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect.”

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has been anything but smooth. One recurring struggle is being the only and the often, the youngest in leadership. It is so frustrating at times to feel like you’re being overlooked and not heard; especially when you know it’s not because of your work or professionalism, but because you’re not a man or a white man. Even when I founded HMNK, I found myself making a conscious effort to look a certain way to avoid being judged before I open my mouth. However, you know what I learned? It doesn’t matter if I wear pants or a skirt, wear my hair up or down people will judge me the moment they see. It’s human nature. Once I accepted that truth, I began to use it as an opportunity to change their mind, and not a burden I’m made to bare. The reality is there is no changing the way I look, my race or gender. So instead I change their minds, and I make them listen, and I make them see me because my words are so powerful and my presence is so big that it cannot be ignored or caged. Which leads me to my advice, have a boss support system of women of varying ages and backgrounds who will push you, hold you accountable and remind you that you’re exceptional. Having a support system has been the defining element in my journey. If nothing else it’s a constant reminder that it’s not just about me, but all women of color like me.

We’d love to hear more about Hello, My Name is KING.
In short, I inspire and educate people to become the change they seek in the world. I’ve worked in nonprofits for almost nine years, in nearly every area including programming, operations, data analysis, and community outreach; serving mainly woman, youth, refugees, immigrants, and other underserved populations. In my most recent position, I was a Program Manager for country offices in Sudan and South Sudan. However, I was consistently approached by others seeking support in developing or sustaining their organization. Identifying the need, I now provide consultation and writing services to other organizations and individuals wanting to improve their community through projects and content that connects and builds across cultures.

While my day to day work is fulfilling, I am most proud of Hello, My Name is KING. The initial idea was simple, share the stories of boys and men of color to rewrite the narrative and become the reminder to the world of their humanity, excellence, and beauty. Today, HMNK has grown into a movement that continues to touch people in the digital space, but also through other community initiatives. We collaborate with schools, mentor programs, and other nonprofits to provide sustainable programming and resources to identified groups of needs.

Our mission is to empower boys of men of color to challenge themselves, break barriers, and make a difference. I’ve had so many people, mostly men, tell me that HMNK inspired them to start a similar project or become more of a presence in their community and family. For me, that’s what it is all about.

While other organizations focus on mentorship, college readiness, and other formalities, many do not address those issues that exist beyond the surface, the common denominators of history, self and social awareness. We aren’t afraid to go there as an organization and ask the hard questions, have the real conversations, and unearth truths to move forward entirely. Furthermore, HMNK is led and was founded by a woman. Most people are shocked when they realized I’m the founder, but I believe this is one of the factors that keeps the organization balanced.

For instance, HMNK serves not only males of color but is a resource for everyone in the community. We provide a learning and multi-cultural educational opportunity for all participants. Surveys from previous events and programs indicate that over 90% of participants learned something about someone in their group that they did not know before the program.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
My advice for networking is to leave your business cards at home. Sounds crazy, but if we’re honest, many of us go to networking events only to exchange cards with someone’s whose name you still won’t remember. Without the business cards, you’ll be more likely to have meaningful conversations with people because you will have to go with a different lead-in. Once you all become wrapped in dialogue, you can ask for their number or exchange social media handles. In the end, you’ll both have a memorable experience instead of a business card. Carry no more than three emergency cards in case 1) someone wants to pass on your information or 2) you meet someone who is more traditional, and it’s clear that they NEED a card.

I’ve met future business partners and friends using this method. The best part is it makes the thought of a networking event less exhausting and stressful.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Derek Wilson

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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