Here's why we should be more like Donté Gibbs.
Donté Gibbs is currently a fellow at The George Gund Foundation, a private nonprofit institution that aims to contribute to improving the well being of people and progress society. Before then, Donte worked primarily with youth and helped eighty-nine, to be exact, become published authors. I had the chance to sit down with him to learn about his life, current work, and tips for you to consider.
This is what Donte shared….
1.You’re a Fellow of the George Gund Foundation. That’s a huge accomplishment. Talk about that.
It’s quite different. I’ve spent a great chunk of my career in grassroots community and youth development work. At the Gund, I’m on the other side of the table…where I research policies and initiatives, conduct grant analysis, and site visits. Coming from grassroots leadership to philanthropy provides room for shared and new perspectives on collective impact. The staff is amazing, very supportive and engaging. Philanthropy is often difficult territory to enter and navigate, this opportunity at Gund is affording me time and resources to peek in and work.
2. What do you most enjoy about the work of philanthropy?
Philanthropy allows you to still be connected to the community but in broader ways. It’s more systemic. You become privy to the tangible things that affect everyday folks at the ground level as well as amorphous things within larger systems/policies. This fellowship is providing me with a unique opportunity and perspective on where I might want to go within the next few years career-wise, and that’s exciting. It also doesn’t hurt to have met the Gund family and enjoy a few Cavs games at The Q. Interestingly enough, this fellowship has re-introduced me to one of East Cleveland’s and our region’s assets – RTA. Taking the train to work is quick and convenient.
3. You graduated from Shaw High School, went to Case Western Reserve University to get your B.A. in sociology, and earned a Master’s in Social Science Administration from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Why sociology and become a master of social science administration!?
Why not? Lol. Sociology just happened miraculously. I went to Case with the thought of being pre-med and becoming a pediatrician, but then came Chemistry 105. I was never a deep science person, but I enjoyed elements of it. I enrolled in Sociology 101 and other Sociology courses where things begin to make sense and I was challenged to view human interaction and society differently.
My next course, Urban Sociology allowed me to see my city of East Cleveland in a textbook as I studied the effects of urban sprawl, tax loss, disinvestment, etc. It was then that I thought “I can better address or improve our conditions if I know the 5w’s of it…” I declared my major sophomore year and began looking at career paths. Mandel School was ranked #8 in the nation and I didn’t have to take the GRE to attend so I said: “Let’s get that Master’s Té!” I studied Community and Social Development helping me to realize that community development is much more than ‘bricks and mortar’ physical construction, but its human capital. These degrees propelled my love for building community and building people.
4.Did you depend on a professional network in college?
At that time, I do not know if I referred to it as my professional network. Maybe my circle and that included family, friends, new friends, professors, high school teachers, school staff. All of the above served vital roles in my success during my 6 years at Case Western Reserve University. For my family and friends, we were on this ride together figuring everything out as we went along (It wasn’t just me in school, it was the Gibbs family and East Cleveland in school). Staff at Case became maternal figures when life was proving difficult to navigate (i.e., loans, classes, coursework, relationships, etc.). In my professors, I sought their advice and their office hours to help break down the theory from last class.
5. What do you think are the best skills to have?
Communication skills, clarity goes a long way. I would also say research skills, it adds some independence to you as a person.
6. What do you most enjoy your work? Why is it necessary for today’s workforce?
I enjoy the conversations I have on the field, whether tough or easy. It fosters honesty, innovation, accountability and larger impact. Today’s workforce is always changing and these things are needed to remain successful to tackle the next challenge. This work is action-based. Yes, talk the talk; but, you better be able to walk that walk. My mom always said, “Action speaks louder than words…” And those words ring truer today. That’s what I enjoy most about the work – action.
7. Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn from that experience?
I don’t fail haha. The biggest failure was at Case, I declared my major in Sociology and I had to take Statistics 101 as a prereq for the major. I not only failed the class once but twice. During that same time, I had withdrawn from Chemistry 105 which dropped my credits to 9, I was placed on ‘Academic Probation.’ I thought I was going to get kicked out of school and immediately contemplated what I would tell my family, my friends and my community. I learned that this ‘minor’ setback was setting me up for major ‘comeback.’ Next semester I made straight A’s, landed on Dean’s List and I took 18 credits both of my last semesters to ensure I graduated on time. Failures happen, but it’s what you do after that makes the difference within yourself.
8. I’ve seen your work firsthand and the impact it makes in so many young people’s lives which is really inspiring. Why should anyone be interested in the work that you’ve done thus far?
This work is not easy. It’s passion work. Late nights, early mornings…well just late nights for me, I’m not a morning person haha. But when you are able to see the fruits of your labor in a child’s face or a parent’s. It makes it all worth it. I’ve gone from tutoring after school in 10th grade, to homework assistance in college, to facilitating workshops, to creating programs and producing 89 youth authors, to being big brothers/mentors to some young people, to successful community events. If I wasn’t Donté Gibbs, I’d sure like to meet him haha. But, seriously, I just set out to provide things I wish I had growing up and let God do the rest.
9. What can young people start doing now to launch a successful career like yours?
Pray. Study your craft (Education was my outlet, it may be yours). Social media can help or hurt you…use it for good. Create your ‘circle’ aka your network. Take risks, seek feedback, get better. And have fun.
10. When did you explore the value of networking and building relationships? Has a professional network played an essential part of your life?
I explored the value of networking after college once I wanted to teach young people networking skills. I was trying to figure out what is it exactly, my feelings about it and networking events, and how I have leveraged my relationships. As cliché as it may sound, a good amount of life is navigating relationships (romantic, friend, professional). Professional networks afford you challenges, support, successes, and failures. I am grateful for my network for sure.