Q&A with Berlinda Owens: 'I knew I wanted to be someone who paid it forward'

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When did you first start thinking of yourself as a leader?

The first time I started thinking of myself as a leader was the day I earned my first Girl Scout’s badge. It was through the Girl Scout Promise that I learned, “On my honor, I will try:

To serve God and my country,

To help people at all times,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

Though the Girl Scout Leadership Experience I discovered who I was and to take action, whether it was selling cookies, building a camp fire or interacting with others that did not look like me. That experience pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and to speak up for myself whether with the Cedar Rapids Jaycees, teaching Sunday school, or as a volunteer for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cedar Rapids.

Although I had previously served as a church usher and Sunday school teacher, it wasn’t until I served in the Cedar Rapids Jaycees that I had the opportunity to develop my leadership skills. Through the Jaycees, I served the Cedar Rapids area in a number of diverse projects and programs. From that experience, I knew that I wanted to be someone who paid it forward. The Jaycees encouraged me to participate in endeavors that helped in social and economic development in the community in connections with programs such Toys for Tot and Big Brothers Big Sisters. All of the experiences I had put me into positions to placed me at the front line of racial barriers and encouraged me to encourage others in the community to do the same.

What was one of your biggest challenges in leadership and how did you overcome it?

One of my biggest challenges in leadership was and continues to be is not giving up on my dream. That means that my biggest challenge is myself. I used to get discouraged when someone would challenge my idea, my style of communicating or even my position as a leader. Those rebuttals would make me think that I was not suitable for the role. However, that change came when I became intentional about the tasks and the roles given to me. As a business owner, every day I have to be intentional about what I tell myself, what I read, the places I go, and the people I hang out with. What I tell myself can be good or bad. So when I am having a bad day I tell myself, “I am a victor and not a victim.” Leaders encourage, inspire, and astound those within their midst. People need what I have to give. John Maxwell says it best, “Everything worthwhile is uphill. Your purpose gives you the reason to go up the hill. Your passion is the fuel, and your giftedness determines how high uphill you can climb.” I climb uphill by intentionally living out my dream.

What do you want young women of color to know about leadership?

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is success turned upside down. A leader isn’t born overnight. You will have some wins, but you will have more defeats than wins. You will have pitfalls along the way, but instead of being discouraged or giving up, use those pitfalls as building blocks. Believe in yourself, and when no one is rooting for you root for yourself. Be your own cheerleader. Affirm yourself, your worth, your value. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning, and speak truth to yourself. Tell yourself that you can do this. That you can do anything you put your mind to. That you are more than a conqueror. That you are a victor and not a victim. That your mom and dad’s past don’t define who you are. Speak words that give you strength and hope. And finally, remember that you are uniquely designed to get the result that you get. Be intentional about your task every day. Look for opportunities to showcase your skills, talents and intelligence.

• Berlinda Owens is a 2010 graduate from Mount Mercy Universality with degree in Psychology. She is currently the owner and CEO of Illuminate Life & Grief Coaching. She specializes in grief with an emphasis on life.

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