By Tycely Williams (’97), Chief Development Officer at America’s Promise Alliance in Washington, DC

Tycely Williams head shot photo in black and white

Photo by Travis Dove for Wake Forest Magazine

Tycely Williams has worked in multiple development positions at nonprofits, including YWCA, the American Red Cross National Capital Region, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington (D.C.) and others. She was artistic director of two community dance studios and led a nonprofit that refurbished computers for underserved areas. She was founding board chair of a public charter school and the first woman of color to serve as president of the Junior League of Washington. Below, she offers up her wisdom for how new Wake Forest graduates and young alumni can plug into their local community organizations and continue to embody the “Pro Humanitate” spirit wherever they land.

Build from Your Base.

Before you look ahead to positively change the world, embrace your current position as an opportunity to bolster social capital and social good.  Your success within the classroom and the community has been and will always be fueled by people who contribute to your learning, offer constant encouragement, and willingly connect you to useful resources.

Take a moment to reflect on the people within the Wake Forest community you most cherish or admire because of their commitment to “Pro Humanitate.” Maybe it’s a faculty member who always shows up at Wake N’ Shake? Possibly it is a friend who never misses the chance to Hit The Bricks? Could it be an alum with a featured bestseller in the Social Justice Book Club? This list can and should contain some strangers—people you don’t know but would like to get to know. Dr. Maya Angelou, our first Reynolds Professor of American Studies and a renowned humanitarian would often say, “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.”

Once you identify the people you most admire, including a stranger or two, look for commonalities. Are you drawn to a specific issue area? Do you have an intrigue in a specific form of voluntarism? Does your interest rest in a defined geography? You’ll have ample time to reflect on these answers, but the most important action isn’t analysis, it is forming a connection with a person who shares your principles.

Philanthropy is magical for many reasons. One reason is that it brings people together to advance a specific social good and often times the people are from diverse backgrounds, have different lived experiences, work within diverse industries and reside in different areas of town. The commonality is the charitable mission.

Wake Forest will always be a common denominator and a connection point for you to forge connections with alums from different generations and remain connected to faculty who can help you positively enrich your community. You must seize the opportunity by inviting Wake Foresters to connect with you on LinkedIn, to attend a charitable event as your guest or to join you to volunteer for a few hours. The invitation can help you maintain existing connections or create space for you to forge connections with new people.

Join to Jumpstart Joy.

Doing good is guaranteed to bring you joy. You may pursue a career in the not-for-profit sector, explore possibilities within corporate social responsibility, become a social entrepreneur, or work for local, state, federal government to advance social good. Even when you are surrounded by people working towards a common goal for good, you should join organizations that will offer you support, access to continuing education, and pathways to expand your social capital.

Professional associations are exceptional ways to jumpstart joy. You will find shared interests while also diversifying your skills, increasing tactical knowledge, gaining relevant insights to industry innovations, and possibly the most important—all while having fun. What makes it fun and empowering is your ability to choose and set yourself up for success based upon what will bring you joy.  You will choose what organization to join, how long to remain a member, what offerings you participate in, if you pursue a leadership role, when you mentor others, and what events you attend.

Even if you do not choose a career in social good, you can choose to volunteer. A Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that volunteering improves happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and reduces depression symptoms. You can volunteer as an individual or you can join others to jumpstart your joy. Consider researching opportunities to volunteer at WAKECommunities, with your employer, place of worship, amongst a group of friends, or virtually.

Import Intelligence from Your Unique Identities. 

As you set out to move forward and give back, draw from your unique experiences. Careers in the social sector or volunteering will certainly increase your knowledge and understanding of the world. But, as you seek to learn, also be open to teach. You are perfectly positioned to help others better understand social issues, approach problem-solving in different ways, and reshape conventional approaches.  Whether you commit a lifetime to social good through career choices or occasionally advance “Pro Humanitate” as a volunteer, you have the power and potential to leverage what you learned at Wake Forest to eliminate disparity, ease pain, and erase the needs for economic, political, or social supports.

With every professional or volunteer commitment, seek ways to solve, recommend improvements, provide immediate and substantive feedback to help strengthen infrastructure or implementation. Share your feedback and observations in respectful and sensitive ways, even if it is not solicited. Use language to qualify your lived experiences. For example, I may center my unique identity by using descriptors like “as a descendant of slaves,” “as a practicing Christian,” or “as a Black woman without biological children.” Even within social good, bias and blinders exist. As an individual you are uniquely positioned to help people understand how to reshape practices, policies, or procedures to be inclusive. By speaking to and acknowledging your unique identities, you gift the institution offering social good insights to the values, preferences, and needs of underrepresented identities.

“Pro Humanitate” is more than a motto for Wake Foresters. The spirit of the “For Humanity” sentiment will always move and motivate you to be and do good. Wishing you continued success as you build from your base, become a joyful joiner, and import intelligence from your unique identities.