Stacy Stout began her career in higher education and moved into community-based nonprofit work, public schools and philanthropy. Today, she serves as Assistant to the Grand Rapids City Manager, working to address structural racism and advising on authentic neighborhood engagement. She is also the recipient of the 2016 ATHENA Young Professional Award.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did that dream evolve?
I wasn't exposed to multiple careers as a child—just the ones surrounding me: teachers, factory work and my mom working in mental health and with the elderly. All I knew is that I wanted to be useful, help people and that I was here for a reason. My mom repeatedly and clearly told me that I have a purpose and that the Creator made me for a reason.
In addition to this affirmation, I've always had a strong sense of justice, an inquisitive mind and a strong spirit to stand up for what I believe is right.
As I went to college and explored my indigenous and Latina roots, my purpose became clearer—I'm here to use my voice and privilege to advocate for people to have fair opportunities to thrive and be engaged in decisions that impact their lives.
I have long said that, regardless of who signs my paycheck, I work for the community.
What do you love about your job?
I'm new to government and to this role.
One key learning from my career path is that structural change and addressing root causes can be hard—but is key to long-term positive outcomes. So when this position in the executive office was posted, I was most excited to partner with city staff to eliminate structural racism often found in government policies, practices and programs.
Government, national, state and local, had a key role in creating structures that marginalize communities, particularly communities of color. Now that we know our historic role, we have a responsibility—and a great leverage point—to make changes that will create conditions in Grand Rapids where one's race or ethnicity doesn't determine, in a statistical sense, their education, health and employment opportunities.
In addition to helping operationalize racial equity, I help oversee the annual Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit. Our goal is to increase resident awareness, skills and networks for improved sustained change for stronger neighborhoods, resulting in a stronger city.
What leadership advice would you offer young women?
Surround yourself with strong women that will support and challenge you, allow you to vent, and then help you strategize on how to address the problem. You don't want to be around "Yes Women"—you won't grow that way. You want your circle to push your thinking. Ask for help. When I started this role, I met with several community leaders and explicitly asked them to support me—let me know of blind spots, community feedback on issues and to offer me feedback on my work. Again, I work for the community, so I want to know what the real issues are so I can help.