Hello and Happy Wednesday! I’m proud to announce that most of Nashville has survived the Snowpocalypse of 2016 largely unscathed, except, you know, that time I fell on the ice right before I entered kickboxing class. Oh well! I have a very exciting special guest this week! We work on the same floor at Belmont and I’ve always been struck by her cheery personality. But after hearing Joyce Searcy speak about her role in helping to cultivate Belmont’s community-oriented ethos for one of my leadership classes, I knew she was a talented leader as well who knew how to handle adversity with humility and grace.
Joyce hails from Yazoo City, Mississippi. She graduated with a degree in English from Fisk University and obtained her masters at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. In addition, she has also pursued further graduate studies at Vanderbilt and Harvard University. She is currently the first Director of Community Relations at Belmont, and I’m excited to share her story with you today!
Who’s one person you credit with helping you become who you are today?
My grandfather and the son of slaves, Thomas Jefferson Huddleston, became educated and founded a fraternal organization in 1924 called Afro-American Sons and Daughters. When people had no access to medical care, he convinced everyone that if each person donated a $1.00 for a brick, they could build their own hospital. Four years later, their dream was realized and the first black hospital in the state of Mississippi was delivering medical care. He also owned dozens of funeral homes in the state and was Mississippi’s largest black landowner at the time. All of his children graduated from college and passed on work and community service ethics to their children and grandchildren. I remember a man with BIG vision who could communicate that vision to others – like the doctors who came from Meharry Medical College and to nurses who taught passed on their skills to others. The funeral homes and the credit union associated with it laid the foundation for my interest in business and non-profits and collaborating with others to empower everyone in a community.
What’s an experience that you’ve had in your position that has made you realize you have made a difference?
As President and CEO of a non-profit that provided child care, youth, family and senior services, I have watched people who had few resources and exposure develop over time into powerful, educated, tax-paying citizens who are married and with children. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina. A youth group that we required to watch and discuss current events wondered why people who lived on St. John’s Island were not getting help. Though these children lived in public housing, they believed they could be the ones to get them helped. They went door-to-door raising money, collecting water and diapers. The agency rented a bus and took a truck load of supplies to the people on St. John’s Island. The children helped to clean up church and schools, and they saw an ocean for the first time. Those children who experienced immeasurable joy from giving to others also went on field trips to Metro Council and the U.S. Congress. Two have become Metro Council members. We made a difference so that these children would know they could make a choice to make a difference.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced and how has it challenged or shaped you?
My father was a brilliant, creative, businessman and strategist. Few knew that when he learned that Emmett Till’s body was in the Tallahatchie, he instructed employees from the family’s Greenwood funeral home to, “Go get him.” My father, who was the son of Alabama sharecroppers and taught by George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute became the first black county agricultural extension agent in Arkansas during World War II. He had come to Mississippi to join the family business and also was responsible for the funeral homes’ hosting secret meetings for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Yazoo City. It was my father who helped me get A’s in math, taught me debits and credits and how to balance credit union books, why I worked hard to become class valedictorian.
When I mentioned that I wanted to run one of the funeral homes after I graduated from college, he said, “You don’t want to do that. You are a girl.” That really hurt, but he was the one who had also taught me to prove someone wrong if they thought you couldn’t do something. My mother later explained that he was shielding me and knew I would have better opportunities out of the state. Nevertheless, his challenge was one of the reasons why I developed a passion to work in and with local, national and international organizations that work to elevate women and help low-income families become their best.
What’s your favorite thing about Belmont’s community? About Nashville as a whole?
My favorite thing about Belmont is knowing that you don’t come or work here unless you know it’s not about you and that you are here to serve somebody. My favorite thing about Nashville is the philanthropic, volunteerism, collaborative culture.
I hope you’re as impressed with Joyce’s story as I am. I love her grandfather’s story of being able to encourage people to give what they had—even a dollar, to make a difference, and her courage and passion to pursue her dreams even if she was faced challenges from them is truly inspiring. I hope you’ll take some of the words she shared today and go on to live boldy and courageously, to defy expectations, and most importantly, to remember that impact of your life is much bigger than yourself.
Thanks for joining me this week!