I moved to Boston in August of 2011 after completing a grueling but rewarding PhD program at Oklahoma State University. While I left the 112 degree weather for the more tolerable 85 degrees of New England, I wasn’t sure what was in store for me as a new Assistant Professor in the School of Hospitality Administration (SHA) at Boston University (BU). While my hometown is Chicago, and I lived in the hospitable south (Florida, Atlanta and Charlotte), I had reservations about moving to Boston. I knew that I would be a good fit for BU; however, the city of Boston continues to suffer negative stereotypes and perceptions from many African/Black-Americans throughout the USA, and I was reminded of this by many people prior to moving.
Therefore, upon my drive to Boston, I made the decision to not fall for the talk, which I also received from my family from the Midwest upon moving to the South and to Oklahoma. I was determined to make the best out of it. After moving to Boston, I found that the negative perceptions weren’t accurate and other than getting used to their accents and interesting phonetics of local cities and towns (i.e. Peabody and Worcester), I was warmly received by my work colleagues and people that I met and to whom I was introduced. One of those people I met through my mentor, Katherine Kennedy, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard shortly before the beginning of the school year was Chef Cheryl Straughter. Chef Straughter shared the story about the Akilah Institute in Kigali, Rwanda, and thought that a partnership between BU and Akilah would be beneficial. At that time, the timing of the visit did not work well for SHA; however, I never forgot about the request. Upon attending an Akilah fundraising event in the fall of 2011, which took place at Simmons College, I heard the testimonies of two Akilah students, the music and dance of Rwanda, and the talk from Elizabeth Dearborn Davis and knew that I had to do something…but what??
The fall semester kicked off into gear, and with the passing winter and spring semester, I didn’t forget the experience and story of Akilah. I decided to hold a book drive for Akilah, and told Professor Stan Buchin about my idea to collect books from faculty; in less than an hour, I was being led into his office where I met with BU-SHA students: Kerianne Ketterer, Alyson Lynch and Laurel Kramer, three officers of the BU chapter of Eta Sigma Delta Hospitality Honors Society. I presented the idea and they responded with enthusiasm, creating flyers, posters and communicating with the SHA student body to donate the books. Their efforts, with little supervision, resulted in 8 boxes of books being collected from the SHA student body, faculty, and staff. Now, the organization is geared up to strategically partner with Akilah when they return to Boston in October of 2012.
So, my story comes full circle. In less than a year, female leaders (and men too!) have helped shaped my entire experience here in Boston and have shown me that vision, hope, and hard work can make anything happen. That is what I look at when I see the girls and women of the Akilah Institute. Regardless of your past, where you have come from, or people who are discouraging or have negative views about any given topic, your present and future are determined by yourself, and people will always help others who have focus, direction, and purpose. The students of both the Akilah Institute and BU-School of Hospitality Administration have given me the reassurance that they will lead our chosen industry into the future with service and giving hearts.