1. How did you become involved with Queen Anne Nzinga Center?
I began working at my full time job at DCF in 1988. I was new to the department and part of their affirmative action plan. It was the belief that it was time for (DCYS at the time) to diversify their work force. We were young and excited to make a difference. We attended many “National Association of Black Social Worker’s” conferences and I was moved to develop a program for kids in my community. I was trying to understand what made me different from the clients I was serving and it was simple: I had a community of people who believed in me. I decided I wanted to be just that, so after a lot of meetings, I developed a program based on the “7 Principles of Kwanzaa” and “Intu Therapy Model.” I created a program that would encourage young people of color to learn to feel good about themselves. I wanted to be someone [who is] there for kids that weren’t believed in and make them shine.
2. What is your education and career background and how have those experiences helped you lead the organization?
I have a post Master’s certificate in Clinical Supervision from Smith College, a Masters in Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University and a BSW from Bethany College. I am a licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Connecticut and have extensive child protective services experience. I am also a musical director and artist. I love to put things together― its like I use all the sides of me to make an impact on the community. I like to say I take a bit of everything I am and then give it all away.
3. What is the significance of the name of the organization?
Established in 1989, Queen Ann Nzinga Center, Inc. (QANC), an umbrella organization for varied initiatives, is named for an exemplary 15th century African queen. The name of the organization honors Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande), the monarch of the Mbundu people, who fought against the Portuguese in Central Africa. Honoring Queen Nzinga’s fierce protective nature, QANC resiliently provides Connecticut youth with educational opportunities and protection from the socio-emotional effects of negative racial stereotypes, low expectations, and intolerance. For over 26 years, QANC has continually delivered positive child development and educational programs. QANC was incorporated and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in April 2008.
4. Can you share a memory with us from one of your programs that makes you smile?
I have been doing this for over 25 years and there are lots and lots of stories, so I think I will tell this in two parts. Before I started the program, I did not have children. I actually was a mom to all the kids in the program. So, after a few years, I ended up taking care of some teenagers enrolled in Queen Ann Nzinga Center. Later, I got pregnant and had a baby boy. I never missed a Saturday except to deliver my son. My mother video taped it and brought it in and showed the kids (you know, the “safe” version). This little boy tells people all the time he was born in the program.
Fast forward to Summer Concert 2015; my son sings, “Lay Me Down”. I always make him sing and he reports he doesn’t really want to, but this summer, with his father dying and his friends around he sang the heck out of this song. Many people in the audience know him and his quirky ways, his struggle along the way and now he is 18 years old. He sang and the world smiled and his friends cried and cheered him on. The backstage hands were so moved they called and reported that this was the very best concert ever and my son was the highlight. I think the part that made me smile was that he was finally able to do for my own kids what I had done for so many over the years.
5. What are some of the places that students and Nzinga’s Daughters have performed?
Internationally, the Daughters and participants have performed in West Africa (Ghana) and Northern Spain, (Gijon). In the US, we’ve performed in California, Pennsylvania, New York City, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston (at JFK center), New Orleans and all over Connecticut. We are open for gigs!
6. If you only had three words to describe the organization, what would they be?
Opportunity for ALL to Succeed ( don’t count the little words)
7. What sets Queen Anne Nzinga Center apart from other nonprofits in Connecticut?
We are fluid in the work we do―we work with all ages, young to old. We create opportunities for mentoring, coaching and growing. We accept everyone and always believe in them. We have kids come to us from Waterbury to East Hartford and everywhere in between. We don’t just encourage success, we expect it and make room for it to happen. We are family―we have individuals old enough to be great grandparents working with young people. Its is a great experience.
8. What do you wish people knew more about in regards to your organization?
That we do so much with very little and that we need more support and backing from the community.
9. What is currently “in the works” for Queen Anne Nzinga Center?
We are getting ready for our “Kwanzaa Celebration”, which will be held on December 27th, 4 p.m. at Trinity on Main (69 Main Street, New Britain, CT 06051) There will be entertainment, food and a fun cultural experience.
10. How can people learn more about Queen Anne Nzinga Center?