Traci is an only child from Danville, Va. She grew up in a single parent household and she described her childhood as “very independent.” She learned to take initiative and do a lot on her own as a pre-teen. She’s a first generation college student and has exceeded expectations by earning a Master’s Degree in Justice & Legal Studies.
I caught up with Traci at the Hall of States in Washington DC. With all the state flags draped throughout the lobby, it really set the tone for an interview with a young politico. She currently works for Governor Terrance R, McAuliffe, as a Deputy Director. Her passion to serve has thrust her into leadership her whole life. She is also the president of the Northern Virginia Urban League.An organization founded to create and maintain economic empowerment for minorities in America. Traci’s work is pivotal and at such a young age, she is definitely on pace to make some major strides in the long run. A young difference maker in this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Traci: I have two passions. I have a passion for service and helping others. Secondly, I have a passion for Leadership and developing other leaders. Well I always knew service was my passion. From the time I was young, my life has always been about helping other. Growing up I saw my mom, she works in home health care and my aunt is a teacher.
Who did you look up to as a kid? Mentors?
Traci: As a kid, I looked up to my mom. Umm she is incredibly resilient. I always watched her and she worked long hours day in and day out. And something that always impressed me about my mom is that she always cooked! No matter what she cooked for me and my friends. She’s an amazing cook. I just always looked up to her for her strength and resiliency.
I have a few mentors now and just people I look up to. One is Cynthia Jenkins, she’s the CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League. She’s a former employee of the Washington Mystics and has worked with Sheila Johnson Lee, the wife of former owner of BET.
What do you do now in your role?
Traci: Professionally, I’m a governmental appointee. I serve as the deputy director of the Virginia office of Intergovernmental Affairs, for Governor Terrance R. McAuliffe. I also volunteer a significant amount of my mine time with the National Urban League Office. I am the Northern Virginia President of the Urban League Young Professionals Network.
What is your day to day like doing intergovernmental affairs?
Traci: Essentially, I’m a liaison between our congressional delegation and the governor and the cabinet. Another piece, one of the main jobs of our office is tracking federal legislation and the Virginia impact. Those are the two biggest components.
What is the mission of the Urban League?
Traci: That’s a very good question. So it was founded in 1910 and it was founded out of a fight of a fight for jobs and economic empowerment. That’s why the organization was actually founded but different chapters started popping up around the country. Each of those affiliation chapters really continued to live out the legacy and the mission of the National headquarters which is founded in New York. The national urban league is one of the very few civil rights organizations that provides direct serves. In 1999, the young professionals network was officially developed and it focuses on developing the next network of leaders. We also focus on Jobs, Health, Education, and Housing.
What inspires you to succeed?
Traci: My family. Just my family. Being an only child and growing up in Danville, Virginia, I realized early on that I have to do a lot to support my family. There are a lot of economic challenges and hardships in Danville, but again being that only child, and realizing that you have aging parent and aging grandparents and that I’m gonna have to step up to the plate a little sooner than I’d like to. That’s been the biggest driver.
Whats been the biggest challenge in your career thus far?
Traci: I’ve faced many challenge in my career. I think again, being from Danville, I don’t think I was exposed to a lot of things that could have pushed me toward success a little faster. It’s certainly not an excuse for anything. I think you can make the best out of your circumstance no matter where you are. But some of the challenges for me are how to be open enough to receive feedback. That’s been a big challenge. It’s been a challenge being such a leader outside of the professional space and then learning to adjust and be a follower in my professional life.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Traci: I’m very proud to be a college graduate. Neither my mother nor my father finished college. I’m also very proud to have made it to DC being from Danville and being on my own. I have a few accolades that are professional and service related. I was named the EnVest Top 40 under 40 in 2013. I was also the Person of the Year for the Omicron Kappa Kappa chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the Lavern Chapman leadership award for the Northern Va Urban League.
What frustrates you most about today’s culture?
Traci: The lack of urgency. I think that there’s a lack of urgency when it comes to social issues. I think we’ve become desensitized to a lot of the things we see in the media. We’ve lost a bit of our sensitivity and become disenfranchised.
Are we talking about incidents like Ferguson or something different?
Traci: I think I’m speaking more on a broader scale. I can definitely speak to the incident in Ferguson, but more on a broader scale. There is a sense of urgency when an incident is so bad that it really catches people’s attention but where’s the sense of urgency when it’s not attention grabbing? But I understand it’s hard to watch the news sometimes when it’s always just something else negative.
What would you say is the #1 factor behind your success?>/b>
Traci: I mean I feel like I’m still climbing. I’m still trying to get there! But umm, one, I would say it definitely comes back to my family. They’re always a driving force for me. Even though I’m an only child I have several younger cousins that I’m very close to. It’s always in the back of my mind whether I’m setting a good example for them. Two, I think I have a great support system. Not only from my family, but also from my friends. Also other people that have seen potential in me over the years have certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone and pushed me further than I ever thought I could go. Third just my overall drive and focus. I know what I want out of life and I have no problem going for it.
Advice for the aspiring Politicos out there?
Traci: Be willing to take the job that no one else will and be willing to see the possibility in every opportunity. The political space is a very large playground, if you will. I think there are a lot of different avenues you can take. The one thing about politics is that there’s no straight path.
Johnny: Great advice! It’s said “Be stubborn with your goals and flexible in your methods.” Traci, continue to lead, serve and @ShineHardFamily!