Sharvonne Williams, a Harlem native, is both professionally and personally committed to providing communities a voice for advocacy. She relocated to Indy in 2011 to complete a graduate degree in nonprofit management and a certificate in public management at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
During her studies at IUPUI, a service learning-minded institution, Sharvonne was very active in a number of service organizations such as AmeriCorps (member for The Julian Center); board member for the Neal-Marshall Alumni Association-Indianapolis Chapter (advocate for global and domestic poverty issues with RESULTS Indianapolis Chapter); executive board member for The Exchange at The Indianapolis Urban League; and recipient of three RESULTS scholarships to support advocacy education and efforts on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. As a result of these and other efforts, Sharvonne received the prestigious Medal for Service Learning, the first-year medal awarded to a graduate student at IUPUI.
Prior to joining the Martin Luther King Center as director of operations, Sharvonne was a program director and communications liaison at Serve Indiana, a service organization to advance volunteerism in Indiana. Sharvonne earned a bachelor of arts in journalism/creative studies from Buffalo State College in Buffalo, NY.
How long have you lived in Indy?
So, about this journey to Indianapolis! On Aug. 17, 2011, I packed my two red suitcases and filled them with almost everything I could possibly bring and left New York City - yes, THE New York City. On that day I departed from LaGuardia Airport on US Airways Flight 2177 with $600 in my pocket and said goodbye. Tears filled my eyes when I said that to my loved ones. I left behind a mother who has been diagnosed with kidney disease since 2009 and a brother who was 8-years-old at that time. Leaving them behind broke my heart but I had to start a new journey to better myself, specifically at Indiana University-Purdue University. I was determined to make a new life and face whatever rigors it had to offer. It has been a long seven years but Indianapolis has opened my eyes to a better future, education and endless opportunities for growth. Becoming an active participant of my newfound community, I have been developing and learning the necessary tools to become a leader in our growing sector.
Coming to Indiana was a fresh start for me when I left New York City. I left on a day when I learned that all my academic expenses were not covered but I came to IUPUI anyway. Even though I came here without, I worked really hard to find scholarship opportunities and employment to cover my room and board and my other educational expenses. This experience gave me the ability to show my loyalty at IUPUI to become a productive citizen and give me the independence, determination and motivation to conquer a community that was unknown to me.
And one lesson I learned: never live so far west when you rely on IndyGo! My first two years I lived off Rockville Road and only one - I mean one! - bus took me home. Yes, I took IndyGo for three years because a Sista didn’t know how to drive. Yes, I know that’s shocking but in NYC who drives?
Why have you focused on using your skills in the nonprofit sector?
This is what I came all the way to Indiana for, to obtain a degree that focused on nonprofit management. This sector is so important and those that serve in the nonprofit sector are truly passionate about that work they do and can truly believe in the mission of the organization. My skills are important, and any organization that I’ve worked for or volunteered for, I have provided my best skills and talents to see the organization thrive.
How did you find your current position?
You know when you get that particular tap on the shoulder from a few different people about a particular position that aligns with your passion? You must listen to it!
I worked in government for almost two years overseeing AmeriCorps Sub-Grantees and managing the communications, day of service grants and the volunteerism awards at Serve Indiana. During my time there, I had the opportunity to award CNCS AmeriCorps funds to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to recruit AmeriCorps members to serve in the community dealing with poverty issues all the way to education issues. I, too, served as an AmeriCorps member for two years with Circles Indianapolis helping individuals become self-sufficient and be lifted out of poverty. My goal was to be back in the community where I can literally roll up my sleeves. So, applying for the director of operations position at the MLK Center was truly ideal for me.
Also, as a child I, too, grew up in a community center, and the Harlem Children’s Zone was a place that I called home for many reasons. And in my current role I can do the same for my community by managing our grants and staff and evaluating our programming to best suit the needs of our community. All and all, the operations position at the Martin Luther King Center seemed perfect because it aligned my personal career vision.
My strongest gift is the ability to serve others. My calling is to reach out to people across the country, one person or community at a time. I am educating myself in order to educate others about the best ways to help their communities. I have learned that making a significant change can seem impossible and at the very least takes a lot of work.
What would you say to another young professional considering a nonprofit job?
I have three quick questions to ask:
- Who are the Board of Directors of your life?
- Why is the work your considering important to that nonprofit organization?
- How does this role fit into your professional goals for the next five years?
If you could learn a brand new skill, what would it be?
A brand-new skill would be having a beautiful garden, like the gardens you see in a magazine. Okay, I am kidding. But I imagine myself being this old, tall lady one day and having the most beautiful garden in the world. Downside is that I am allergic to pollen, so this brand-new skill will be short-lived if I don’t hire someone to do it for me. But I am serious, I really want a garden that is truly amazing.
If you were an inanimate object, what would you be and why?
So promise you wont laugh, like seriously, don’t laugh. If I were an inanimate object, I would be pair of glasses. Go figure, right? I've been wearing glasses all my life, like when Sophia from The Color Purple said all her life she had to fight. Yup, all my life I had to wear glasses - well, OK, more like since the 4th grade. My glasses are a part of me and I take it very serious when purchasing a pair of glasses and I am super hype when they are ready for pick up. My glasses are like lipstick shades for people who wear lipstick every day. (Wait, does that even make sense?) Glasses are unique and can share a story or illustrate the personality of someone. All in all, not everyone can say they have four eyes! Ha ha ha!
What do you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Being a homeowner, but I will accomplish this by summer 2018 and I am so excited, you don’t even understand. I have never lived in a house before, but clearly I have visited and I am ready for this next step. (Did I just commit myself to three decades to Indianapolis?)
Share a little-known treasure of Indianapolis with us.
Let me tell you about this little blue house right on West 38th Street. When I say it’s the best Mexican food in the area, whew! The line - lord, the line. I have learned to call ahead and my food is always ready! Taqueria El Maguey is the name and their steak tacos supreme with extra cilantro and a squeeze of lime ... whew! I am set!
Another little-known treasure is E-Z Market. So, as you know I am from Harlem, which is the Upper Westside of Manhattan, and on every block you have about one to three bodegas where you can buy chips, candy, food, drinks. You name it, they have it. Pretty much what Indy has in a gas station. (Side note: I never went to a gas station for chips or an Arizona ice tea until I came here because I was use to just walking a few steps from my stoop to the bodegas/corner store to buy something.) Okay, so long story short, I have a corner-like store in my neighborhood and I am so hype. E-Z Market is now my little bodega, but they charge tax though. That's something I need to get used to. But I am excited! The Mayor was just there for their grand opening, too.
Most important question: Everyone’s starting to get into the holiday mood about now. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we want to know: what are you thankful for this year, and what are you responsible for preparing for Thanksgiving dinner?
I am truly thankful for my brother, whom I’ve been raising since he was 11 years old. Now he’s 15 and my best friend. So, my mom is visiting from New York City for Thanksgiving and its our first holiday together in Indianapolis. This means she’s not planning to cook, but I am going to make her cook some Cornish hens! I am in charge of the string beans, dressing, mac and cheese, cabbage, corn bread and potato salad. And my little brother is in charge of eating. And dessert… a Patti Pie will be just fine, because I can’t bake, and I am not going to try. I think I should order my Patti Sweet Potato Pie now, because last Thanksgiving they sold out… and I didn’t want Sarah Lee either!
Want to support Sharvonne's work?
Join Sharvonne at the Founder’s Breakfast for the Martin Luther King Center on Friday, Jan. 12., at Meridian Street United Methodist Church, 5500 N. Illinois St. When the Center relaunched in 2015 and there were four murders in eight weeks in the neighborhood, some of the original founders reached out and asked how could they help. And so the breakfast was born, to acknowledge the founders and history and recommit to quality programming and connection to the neighborhood. It’s a chance to recommit to the mission, thank partners and highlight successful programming. Contact them at 317-923-4581 or info@MLKCenterIndy.org for more information.