The path toward community leadership is different for everyone. For Saunjah Powell-Pointer, a recent graduate of our People’s Academy for Community Engagement (PACE), the journey was rooted in family and faith. Her motivations, passion, and goals are so tied up in these two forces that it is nearly impossible for her to separate them.
“My faith and my mother are truly the driving forces of my life,” says Saunjah. “Because of my faith, there is a sense of responsibility to empower others and to find ways to make a contribution. My mother represents my ‘True North’ and holds me accountable to being authentic and to staying focused on the things that really matter in life. As a result, I’m motivated by things that serve the greater good.”
These motivations are what drove Saunjah to work on inclusion and diversity strategies, in addition to her technical project management and procurement responsibilities, in her 17+ year career in the pharmaceutical and retail industries. They are also what pushed her toward investing in community work focused on civic engagement, youth development, and empowering women and girls. These efforts reflect Saunjah’s life goal of “creating safe environments where people can be their best selves and, in so doing, make a greater impact in their respective spheres of influence.”
It was this stated life goal colliding with a series of national tragedies that inspired Saunjah to take another step on her path toward community leadership and register for the People’s Academy for Community Engagement (PACE).
“PACE came at a time when I was searching for a way to become more involved in the local community.”
“Given that I have seven brothers, the repetitive instances of unarmed black men being shot by police officers left me feeling afraid, confused, and powerless for days. Then nine people praying in a church were murdered, and it felt like I was living through a time that many in America thought had passed. PACE came at a time when I was searching for a way to become more involved in the local community.”
Saunjah entered the program in the Fall of 2016 wanting to learn more about effective community organizing and how to influence change as an average citizen. She was joined by 25 other students from varying backgrounds and with divergent interests. For 11 weeks, they spent their Tuesday evenings at Miller Community Center immersed in trainings centered on public engagement, inclusive outreach, accessing government, conflict resolution, public speaking, and more.
She walked away from PACE with a solid understanding of city government, knowledge on how to access public officials and local resources, and connections to an extended network of community leaders for potential future partnerships.
According to Saunjah, the impact of this training is already evident in her daily life and work: “Since PACE, I have become even more actively engaged with the Seattle chapter of my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I now serve on the Civic Engagement Committee and have also been elected President of our charitable-giving arm, Dynamic Urban Opportunities Foundation. In addition, I now serve as an advisory board member for the Seattle chapter of Juma Ventures, a social enterprise that strives to break the cycle of poverty by paving the way to work, education, and financial capability for youth across America.”
When asked what she would tell someone who is thinking about applying for a future session of PACE, Saunjah does not mince words: “Just do it…and pay it forward!”
For more information on the People’s Academy for Community Engagement, visit seattle.gov/PACE.