Recently, alumna Erica Merritt ‘99 came to campus to give a talk on her passion: Equity. Merritt recently took the position of associate director of advocacy, inclusion and public policy at the YWCA Greater Cleveland. She has the opportunity to take on developing relationships with the corporate community and building connections with public and grassroots leaders in Northeast Ohio.
How did you get into this profession?
I have always been interested in issues of social justice. As a kid, I deeply admired historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. My parents raised me to be strong and to speak my mind and heart. My career, no matter my title, has always been driven by my belief in equity. My work here at the YWCA Greater Cleveland supports our efforts to eliminate racism and empower women.
For the last two and a half years, I have led our Women’s Leadership and Racial Inclusion Initiatives, recently I have taken on a new role as associate director, advocacy, inclusion and public policy. This will support the organization to give voice to and act on those issues that are important to us, including women’s economic empowerment, youth aging out of foster care, health disparities, racial inclusion and early learning. Needless to say, I’ll be busy!
What’s a typical day like?
There is no such thing as a typical day at the YWCA Greater Cleveland. We are a dynamic organization, so there’s never a dull moment. In one day, I could be facilitating a workshop for an external client, corresponding with a participant from one of our Women’s Leadership programs and tweeting about issues related to youth aging out of foster care or the Voter’s Bill of Rights.
What did you learn at Ursuline that has helped you in your career?
I learned a great many things. I was an officer in the Public Relations Student Society of America and Students United for Black Awareness. Both of those roles afforded me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills. They also provided access to amazing professionals in the community, which taught me the importance of having seasoned mentors. I enjoyed my experience at Ursuline and was well prepared to go on to graduate school a few years later.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love watching people who participate in our programs grow and develop. Whether it’s a participant in our ChangeMakers program who gains an increased understanding of structural racism or a woman in our Momentum program who increases her confidence and ability to speak public, it never gets old.
As a part of my job, I do a lot of group facilitation and coaching. This allows me to use my super power—I am gifted at making people feel safe, which opens them up and supports their learning process.
Did you ever imagine that you would be doing this kind of work?
As a kid, I loved talking and reading. Both of those things are integral parts of my work today. I never would have dreamed that I could spin my gift of gab into a career. I still read voraciously, this helps me stay abreast of the latest gains in leadership development or issues facing the populations we serve. While I can’t say that I imagined doing this kind of work, I am excited everyday about having a positive impact and making a difference in the lives of the people I touch.