Shamika Starke (2008 BA in Psychology)
Strategic Initiative Manager at The Winston-Salem Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC
Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?
I currently work for The Winston-Salem Foundation as the Manager of Strategic Initiatives. The Winston-Salem Foundation is a community foundation of over 1500 charitable funds. In a nutshell, the foundation links resources to community action – collaborating with donors, nonprofits, funders, and community leaders to build a more equitable community for all. This year, we are celebrating our centennial and have been working strategically across departments to be intentional about our next century of impact. In January we announced our new focus areas of Building an Inclusive Economy and Advancing Equity in Education. We’ve also committed to an explicit focus on racial equity with our work in the community – as well as turning the lens inward at our policies, procedures and internal work culture.
In my department, I work alongside the Strategic Initiates Director to manage two strategic funds of the foundation: The Black Philanthropy Initiative (BPI) and The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem (WF). You can learn more about these initiatives by visiting the Foundations website at www.wsfoundation.org. Both BPI and the WF are in the middle of our 2019 grant cycles, reviewing grant proposals and working with community volunteers to help determine which charitable organizations and programs will receive funding to support program areas that are in line with our respective initiative focus areas.
What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do in my career. Life has taught me that my definition of success will likely continue to evolve throughout my life and career experiences, and that’s okay.
During undergrad at Wake Forest, I initially planned on majoring in Business Administration, thinking that I needed a business degree to be successful. But, during my freshman year, a traumatic experience led to PTSD, depression and academic probation.
I wasn’t accepted into the business school and began to question my value and purpose at Wake Forest. With the love, support and guidance of my then friend and mentor Dr. Barbee Oaks – director of the office of Multicultural Affairs at the time, now known as the Intercultural Center – I realized that not being accepted into the business school was actually an opportunity to be honest with myself about why I was seeking a business degree in the first place, and if it was really the path that I was truly interested in – and the answer was, no.
The truth is that Dr. Oaks (affectionately known as Momma B), in her kindness and example helped me to connect with the reality that all I really wanted was to be like her when I “grew up”. I wanted to guide/help/support/teach/encourage people from a space of genuine empathy and compassion, just as she did for me during one of the most challenging and lowest points of my life. Now, I wasn’t exactly sure at the time what my career-path would look like, but once I understood that innate truth, I realized that I didn’t need a business degree to be successful. So, I decided to major in Psychology.
A few years later, after obtaining my master’s degree in Human Services, I entered the non-profit field working with Family Services and then Big Brothers Big Sisters. Over time, my personal and professional experiences developed a desire to be able to impact change on a deeper level, which is what I believe led me to The Winston-Salem Foundation.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?
My work centers greatly around social justice, and race and gender equity. As a black woman working in the field of philanthropy (a predominantly white space), I am highly aware of the power and privilege that I hold. I embrace my identities and feel that they inform my work; however, my identity and the problems that plague our community often weighs down like a boulder, heavy my shoulders.
I’ve learned that self-care is key, and as an emerging leader in philanthropy, it’s important that I build key relationships with colleagues, associates and mentors in the field who understand my perspective, and the experiences of those in the marginalized communities we serve. I am extremely grateful to my mentors and friends who support me and encourage me to not only take care of myself (mind, body and spirit), but to be a conduit for breaking down systemic norms and barriers not particularly for myself, but for the generations to follow. It’s a delicate balance to maintain.
What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?
I think it’s important to remain open and curious towards life, especially after having achieved such a great milestone like graduating from Wake Forest. No matter the circumstance life presents you, always remain open to improving yourself, whether it’s related to managing your finances, health, values or work/life balance. Maintain an openness and curiosity about yourself and the world around you with in the intention of being the best person that you can be, for yourself and for others. Always stay humble.
We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?
I would say upholding a strong work ethic and character of integrity has allowed me to maintain positive relationships throughout my career, and those relationships have helped to build and maintain my network. So, no matter how big or small your role, I think that it’s important to value and respect all levels of work and the experiences that follow and use those experiences as opportunities to mature and grow personally and professionally. Then, I think those key network relationships will grow organically/manifest naturally.
Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?
I have a small, but mighty circle of mentors who have become more like family. As a naturally introverted person, there have been moments in my career where my natural inclination has been to shy away from leadership or growth opportunities. My mentors have believed in me and are so confident in my potential when I can’t see it in myself. They are always honest with me, constantly encourage me and inspire me to take advantage of opportunities that are far outside my comfort zone. I am so grateful for their steadfast belief in my potential.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?
For those interested in the field of philanthropy or non-profit work, my advice would be – don’t be afraid to question or challenge current systems that may perpetuate the very problems we’re hoping to solve.
I think it’s important to understand the complexities and intersectionality present in philanthropy. I’m often conflicted in my role and the power dynamics at play. I know that it’s important that we connect resources to the communities that need them now, but I’m also cognizant of the need to understand and address systems – the institutions, policies, stories and resource allocation in our community – that keep marginalized people and communities from thriving. It’s going to take time, but this field needs people who are willing to challenge white norms, disrupt systems and interrupt structural power. We need to consider innovative ways to engage disadvantaged communities so that they are a part of shaping a new shared future where life outcomes are no longer determined by race.
“To say that it is not our fault does not relieve us of responsibility. We may not have polluted the air, but we need to take responsibility, along with others, for cleaning it up… The task for each of us…is to identify where our own sphere of influence is (however large or small) and to consider how it might be used to interrupt the cycle…” – Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D
What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?
I’ve always had a love for writing. It’s saved me during tough times and has connected me to new joys during happy times. I plan to finish writing a book of poetry and short essays. And who knows, maybe I’ll get the opportunity to publish my first book through Wake Forest University Press.
Story published in July 2019. For current updates about Shamika, visit her LinkedIn page.