Ahead of Summit West 2020, NationSwell is profiling leaders and luminaries from a diverse array of fields to discover how they lead with purpose — and inspire others to do the same.
For DeNora Getachew, the professional is personal. As the New York Executive Director for Generation Citizen, she’s leading the charge to help young people to see their own civic stake in our democracy and empower them take action on behalf of themselves and their communities. NationSwell spoke with Getachew about what fuels her commitment to acting with purpose in her professional life. She shared with us a pivotal moment from her teen years that showed her how powerful results can be achieved when advocating for action.
NationSwell: Tell us about a moment from your personal or professional life when you acted with purpose, and how acting with purpose made a difference.
DeNora Getachew: For me, my professional purpose is a direct result of my own personal purpose. I found my own civic voice as a pregnant teen at a high school in Harlem, and at the time didn’t realize what it meant to be civically engaged and to advocate for oneself. And when I was encouraged to transfer to an alternative high school for pregnant girls because my pregnancy was a distraction to the community — they were worried it was something that could be caught in the water — I decided to launch an advocacy campaign to stay at my school and graduate on time with my peers.
That was two decades ago, and I didn’t realize at the time that that was what I was doing, but it’s been powerful to think about how that moment as a self-interested young person sparked my own civic journey. About how that has manifested itself and the work that I do, how it helps me be more mission driven.
“Every once in a while you should write your own personal mission statement.” — DeNora Getachew
NS: What’s your advice to others on how we can all better act with a sense of purpose?
Getachew: We live in a fast-paced world, and I think that’s more true than it ever has been. I think many of us don’t take the time to reflect on what it is [we’re doing] and why we’re doing it, reflecting on our own mission statement and why it is we’re called on to do the things we do, and whether we’re doing it in the most impactful way possible. Every once in a while you should write your own personal mission statement, and write why it is you’re doing what it is you’re doing and whether you’re using all the tools in the toolbox to advocate for that and harness that. I think if we were all more conscientious about doing that it might be more visually impactful, and seeing it will make a difference.
NS: Who are the other leaders and luminaries who inspire you to keep acting with purpose in mind?
Getachew: I am inspired by so many leaders, but especially leaders who don’t take no for an answer and, like me, are “ninjas” for what they believe in. I recently joined the board of Higher Heights for America, an organization committed to building the political power and leadership of Black women from the voting booth to elected office. I call myself a democracy ninja because I use all of the tools in my toolbox to advocate for an inclusive and reflective democracy. I am most inspired by leaders like Shirley Chisholm, who paved the way for me and my peers; young leaders like Yara Shahidi, who is a tireless advocate for young people participating in democracy and registering to vote; and Michelle Obama, who is an all around #BlackWomenLead.