Celebrating our Heritage and Strengths as a Community
Embry comes with a plethora of skills and experiences that have aligned to make her position very rewarding. She graduated from UWM with a degree in Communications and moved to Chicago, working with one of the major retailers. Cleveland, Ohio soon beckoned as she moved near her family. There she received a Master’s degree at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management. She wanted to become an investment banker, but soon realized it was not her calling. So, she began volunteering, as did her Mother and Father before her.
“Many of the non-profits, I volunteered for needed strategic planning and needed to reach out to minority communities,” areas she enjoyed, so before long she was being recommended and approached.
For instance, The Arthritis Foundation of Northeastern Ohio wanted to reach the African American community with services, recognizing the disproportionate ethnic over-representation of acute cases within the community. She facilitated the organization’s strategic planning process, which resulted in a marketing plan to that included the African American population.
Then she followed with work at Marycrest, a residential treatment facility for girls who had been sexually, physically and emotionally abused and/or neglected. “I became their development director and raised money for this very important organization,” she said.
When an Executive Director’s position opened up at the Canton, Ohio Urban League, Embry was referred for the post. The Urban League Movement was very special to Embry because her parents had been passionate volunteers both at the local and national level for over 40 years.
Her father served on the National Urban League Board and her mother was board chair of both the Milwaukee Urban League and the Cleveland Urban League. She worked there for two to three years and reconnected with many old Milwaukee friends who encouraged her to revisit Milwaukee as new posts were opening in the city.
Deborah ended up applying for a position at the YWCA of Racine in 2003. Out of 500 applicants, she was chosen. The YWCA, nationally, had refocused their mission and brand to “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women” and Embry was charged with developing and finding funding for economic empowerment programs for women, leadership development programs for girls, and racial justice programs.
She found her niche! “I had a great sense of accomplishment there. I was able to see change. When I first moved to Racine, many of its residents said there was no need for racial justice programming, or there isn’t racism in Racine … which told me that there was racism. During my four- year tenure with the organization, I had accomplished the following to address racism:
1. Presented three Town Hall on Race events- For the first time, in Racine, all of the stakeholders of the community – corporate, funders, faith and community based leaders, and residents (African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian), learned through data-driven information about racism in our community.
The purpose was to build awareness and have a dialogue around race.
The Town Halls addressed the disparities in housing, employment, economic development, education, health, and the criminal justice system. Over 500 people had participated in those events.
2. Implemented “A Day to Eliminate Racism”- Brown Bag lunches that took place on April 15 of each year at 12 work sites around the city. Employees and residents discussed racism in our community.
3. Founded “Coming Together Racine”, a model of a national organization located in Northeastern Ohio- I had served on the advisory committee in Ohio and thought the program would be a perfect fit for our community.
The mission of “Coming Together Racine” is to actively challenge and eliminate racism in the greater Racine community. “Coming Together Racine” presents anti-racism and white privilege trainings.
Those successes bred the desire for more success.”
Soon, the Racine Common Council President was suggesting that Embry apply for the newly created Grant Facilitator position in the Mayor’s Office’s. The rest is history!
Embry has committed her adult life to serving the African American and low-income community. That passion has been shared with her parents.
“Those are the values that my parents have instilled in me,” she states.
“I come from a family of ‘firsts.’ My father was the first African American general manager in all of professional sports, and he was the first African American in Wisconsin to own and operate three McDonald’s franchises.
“He used his influence in his professional life to provide opportunities for African Americans. He hired African American coaches and administrators. He lobbied to increase the number of minority vendors at the sports arenas and McDonald’s corporate offices.
“As a franchise owner, he hired African American youth, hired African American managers, and gave other African Americans the opportunity to become owner operators.
“He has also served on several corporate boards to ensure that African Americans had equal access to job opportunities, and business development opportunities.”
“Being a housewife was never a priority for my mother. She chose to become a community activist. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and with many others, experienced the hatred of southern racists – she was spit upon, and attacked with words and rocks.
“While employed at neighborhood community centers in Cincinnati and Boston, she fought for equal access to jobs and human services for the minority and low- income community.
“Later as an employee of the Milwaukee Urban League, she fought for equal access to housing and jobs. She was also one of the first African Americans to serve on the board of the Cleveland Clinic, a multi-million dollar hospital. In her role, she fought to increase the number of African Americans as administrators and physicians.”
Their legacy is one of insisting upon access for African Americans in all areas in which they were involved. “ My parents always taught us to never let racism stop you from doing the things you want to do, you just persevere.
“They also expected all of their children to get Master’s degrees and we all did. I have that same expectation for my daughter, Theresa, who is going into her second year at UW-Parkside.”
Deborah Embry affirms the adage, “ a chip off the old tree” as she builds taller ladders to overcome disparities; builds stronger ties to bind injustices and creates deeper networks to strengthen communities for which she works each day. She is a Second Line success!
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