It is our pleasure to share more about our new CEO Dr. Angela Griffin! With a deep history in social and racial justice, our new leader is committed to guiding Byrd Barr Place into the future through deep listening, community engagement and shared leadership.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in Long Beach, California, to two revolutionaries from East Texas. Through the late 60s and early 70s both my mother and father were engaged in the civil rights movement. My mother was particularly interested in pushing against systems of discrimination in education. Along with five other Black students, she volunteered to integrate into an all-white high school and despite the predictably hostile environment, was able to complete her education there.
My father was engaged with the Black Panthers in Los Angeles, and up until the Watts Riots, he was deeply involved in community action and mutual aid. He then enlisted in the army and was sent to the Vietnam War where he earned 2 purple hearts fighting for our country, despite further military segregation and discrimination.
I have always had the opportunity to be around amazing leaders who have been willing to shepherd and mentor me and help me better understand who I was as a young Black girl and young Black woman in society. This has translated into the types of work I want to do in social service and racial justice.
Your name Angela has special significance, can you tell us about that?
My father named me after Angela Davis. As an active participant in the early stages of the movement, he really admired her leadership and the causes she fought for. My dad was so impressed that he would constantly put my hair into an Angela Davis style afro!
Since we had the same name, I spent a lot of my childhood learning and writing about Angela Davis, and consider her a personal shero. I even had the opportunity to meet her twice, and she was very gracious when I told her about my name and my dad.
What drew you to Byrd Barr Place?
When I look at the five components of Roberta Byrd Barr’s life as a student, educator, leader, activist and storyteller, I see so many aspects of my own story.
I am a lifelong learner. I got my EdD from Seattle University in 2021 and am actively searching for further educational opportunities. I believe I will always be a student, both formally and informally, and highly prioritize being in learning spaces.
As an educator, I taught formally in a Los Angeles middle school and, throughout my career, I have facilitated educational and training opportunities for the community. In my last position at Launch, I dedicated my time ensuring equitable access to high-quality education and care for our young people in Washington state. I truly believe in the power of education to change lives.
I have served as a leader at all levels of organizations. In addition, my doctorate is in organizational development and educational leadership, specifically about how organizations run and how they can be effective with leaders of color, Black women leaders in particular. I have found that for Black women to be successful in leadership roles, we need mentors, sponsors, coaches and adequate resources.
As an activist, advocacy has been central to my work. While I don’t do a lot of rallies or marches, I really enjoy direct conversation with decision makers. I like speaking to them about the issues and bringing solutions to the table, saying, “Hey, here’s the problem we are seeing in the community, and here is what you could consider doing to fix that problem.”
Finally, it was the story of Byrd Barr Place that really attracted me. The mission, vision and values of this organization are so inspiring, and I can’t wait to tell this story; go out and share it with the community, funders, potential clients, and others; and draw people into our mission-driven work in the ways that fit them best.
There is just this incredible alignment, so when I learned about Roberta Byrd Barr, I couldn’t help but think, “That is so me!” To come in and keep the legacy going in this space is very exciting to me.
You have named shared leadership as a particularly central value for you, can you expand on what that means in regards to your leadership at Byrd Barr Place?
For me shared leadership is simple, it means that we all own the mission. From the staff and board, to the volunteers and community partners, we all own the outcomes and impact of this organization – it doesn’t just end with the leadership team.
It’s important to me that everyone knows their role and the expectations that are responsible for when they step into this space. As a leader, it is important to me not to get into peoples’ way. I let people do the work they have come here to do, using my role as the CEO to make sure they have the resources and capacity to do that work.
I believe that if everyone owns their pieces of the work and are able to bring their best selves to that work, then we all get to collectively celebrate the incredible impact we can make in our community.
What are you most excited to work on at Byrd Barr Place in the coming months?
I am excited about the strategic planning process. I am inspired by the Sankofa bird in African parables. The Sankofa bird looks back just enough to gather the wisdom and seeds that are important to bring forward for planting that will enable us to harvest the best fruit going forward.
Using that perspective of Sankofa, I am excited to use the strategic planning process as an opportunity to engage our community in reflecting on the past and bringing forward all that has worked well. I’m also eager to build on what I have learned in other roles and partner with community to determine what it is that we are going to do moving forward.
What is your vision for an equitable Black future?
I think we have gathered a lot of information about the inequities for Black people in Washington state, Seattle and the Central District. We have a wealth of data, qualitatively and quantitatively. It is time to use what we know to hold funders and decision makers accountable to taking and supporting action that will break those inequities and ensure that Black people have everything they need to not only survive, but to thrive.
The time for our people is now. While it can be a scary word for some people, I do believe in reparations. Not necessarily that everyone gets a million dollars, but instead reparations of the systems and policies so we have access to what is rightfully ours — homes, education, health care, jobs and economic resources — that ensure we are a thriving people.
Do you have a quote or mantra you live by?
Yes, my favorite quote is by Mary Mcleod Bethune, another shero of mine. She says “Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”
People tend to describe me as fiercely optimistic, and I think that’s true. For me, faith isn’t necessarily from a religious perspective, it’s more internal – if you believe something can be done, it can be done. If you don’t, it won’t.