Indea HERNDON ’04, Community Engagement Manager

As the Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement Manager for the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Indea HERNDON ’04 partners with community leaders to establish a place for all people to openly celebrate and gain a greater understanding of the African American experience and the art of the African Diaspora. Her unyielding commitment to culture, community, and social change led her to work with the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh first as a Board Member for the Thelma Lovette YMCA, then as the Membership Director and Drug & Alcohol Prevention Director for the Allegheny and Homewood locations. During her tenure at the YMCA, Indea was selected to become a national trainer for the Dimensions of Diversity course, where she taught staff the importance of Diversity and Inclusion. Currently, Indea serves as the Vice President of the Board of Trustees at Pittsburgh Cares, and is a proud member of the Urban League Young Professionals and the long-standing Aurora Reading Club, one of the nation’s oldest African American book groups.
Years at Ellis:Grade 6 to Grade 12 
Occupation:Strategic Partnerships & Community Engagement Manager for the August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Education:B.A. Cultural Studies and Broadcast Journalism, Chatham University
Location:Pittsburgh, PA

How did you become involved in your line of work? 
I have always had a great interest in people and how what makes them different is also what makes them special. My interest actually began quite early as a young girl transitioning from growing up in the Hill District to attending Ellis. Going from a small, predominantly Black school to a school like Ellis was a huge shock that immediately gave me a sense of cultural curiosity. I was fascinated by both the similarities and differences between myself and my classmates and realized that each of these things is what makes us beautiful and unique. I never wanted anyone to feel Othered and this led to a string of committees, boards, jobs, and experiences that allowed me to broaden my horizons. It’s important to me because the more I learn, the more I realize that there is still so much more to be done. Equity and inclusion is a constant fight that improves the world for everyone.

How has your career changed over time? Were there unexpected turns and junctures along the way?
There are almost certainly twists and turns that your career path will take. For me, it was trying to figure out how best to serve my community and what was the best fit for me. Knowing that I had to choose a path was incredibly difficult. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I realized you do not have to stay with only one path. That more relaxed way of thinking allowed me to be open to suggestions and led me to the wonderful position that I am currently in.

How do you influence and create positive change in the workplace?
I am a firm believer that attitude is everything. Others look to you to set the stage for how their day will go. Why not make it positive? Even when I am not feeling my best, I know that there is no reason to drag others down—it can even improve my mood if I know that I’ve lifted others up. This way of thinking carries outside of the office and into my community interactions.

What lessons has your work life taught you?
Patience, compassion, and the fine art of saying “no.” No is an incredibly powerful word when uttered by a woman because so frequently we are taught that “no” should either never be said or should immediately be followed by a series of excuses to lessen the impact. Currently having a woman CEO at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center has only reaffirmed these beliefs and have encouraged me to speak up and speak out.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Try, fail, try again. Perfection does not exist, but experience certainly does, and the only way that you can gain it is to make yourself uncomfortable and try something new. Also, find someone who doesn’t look like you, who has had different experiences than you, and get to know them without judgment. Learn to listen. It will not only make you a better worker but a better person.

We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
Developing my voice at Ellis meant that I felt comfortable and confident enough to put my ideas and thoughts forward without fear of simply being brushed aside due to being a woman. I use my voice not only for my own ideas, but also to lift up and support other women who may be more hesitant to speak. When women support each other, everyone wins.

How did Ellis stimulate your intellectual curiosity and creativity? 
Ellis influenced me to never be content with being average. There is always more to see, more to learn, and more to experience. The dedicated teachers and administrators let me know that it was okay not to know everything, but to strive to know more than you did yesterday. I was encouraged to try new things, step outside of my comfort zone, and push my creative boundaries. Ellis is a huge part of why I am able to do what I do today.

Some would question whether all-girls schools are still necessary today, what do you think about that?
Without a doubt, I believe that all-girls schools are still necessary today. You need only turn on the news to realize that the world we live in still has a long way to go in terms of inclusion and equity. Women still aren’t seen as valuable or knowledgeable when compared to their male counterparts. We are still silenced in the boardroom and our concerns of safety are regularly dismissed. Young women need a place to know from the beginning that they are strong, intelligent, independent, and capable. Once you grow up in an environment that teaches this, it is nearly impossible to see yourself any other way.

Can you recall a time when you have been brave and bold? 
I’ve found that I rarely refer to myself as brave, but I have realized that simply the act of existing as an educated, professional, black woman who cares about her community is an act of bravery. It's difficult to stay positive when so much negativity is happening in the world, but when you make the decision to get up every day and do something positive for those around you, that is brave.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Kind. Dedicated. Unfinished.
 
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