Robyn Afrik: “It’s more painful not to do this work than it is to do it.”

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Robyn Afrik, who was appointed the first Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director for Ottawa County in June 2019, notes DEI holds many definitions these days. Depending on which sector you're in, you may not even know it's an issue.

What was your career trajectory?

I don't really consider my career a trajectory; rather, it has matured through unique opportunities that have led me to incredible people, leaders and diverse experiences. Everything from convening global leaders in Washington, D.C., to discussing race relations during the National Prayer Breakfast, to bringing my story and work to Seoul, Korea, which was featured on Achimadang, the national Korean Broadcasting System. I've led Sankofa trips throughout the U.S. and then ended up on Goree Island in West Africa, only to make a full circle back to the plantations of South Carolina. All these examples and more stem from a combined state of natural curiosity and a deep desire to learn, coupled with the need to apply and lead. This has given me access to multiple disciplines and platforms that express my contributions beyond job titles. I also fully recognize that traditional job titles, i.e., manager, director, and coordinator in organizations today, do not have the capacity to hold or know how to translate the above kind, expressed leadership into transactional activities—which doesn't make it wrong. It just requires a different perspective and, quite frankly, holding both traditional roles and the ones above enrich the work and capacity to be more.

Because of this, I have had my "work" take me all over and across the U.S., leading and pioneering programs or efforts specifically in diversity and inclusion. It has been applied within for-profit, nonprofit, private and public sectors. I'm also an author, consultant, professor, and speaker and have owned my own business.

Why do you believe DEI is worth fighting for?

I prefer to say DEI is truly a leadership issue. It doesn't have to be a "fight" worth "fighting for." It can be so many other things, as long as leaders realize their role in making it what it is and reinforcing the concept that every single person has a part to play in it, whether they're aware of it or not. It's more painful not to do this work than it is to do it.

You're a founder of Women of Color Give. What is the ultimate goal with this group of women?

To actualize the following:

"Stop (women of color / BIPOC Leaders) from being viewed as recipients of goodwill and instead, begin as shapers of communities and leaders that we are." —Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys, Co-Founder, Women of Color Give

How we do that is in our secret sauce!

What three words describe you during this season in your life?


Visit https://wocgive.org to learn more about Women of Color Give.

Written by Jennifer A. Pascua, Digital Content Manager for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Dec 2020/Jan 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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