Monday, July 11, 2011

The Insider: DeAnna M. McLeary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the True Star Foundation

By Sandra C. Davis
Guest Contributor,

I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way -- Whitney Houston (Greatest Love Of All)

DeAnna M. McLeary’s life is a testament to these words. As the co-founder and co-executive director of True Star Foundation, True Star Magazine and G. Next, DeAnna uses multi/social media platforms to empower and increase the literacy of urban youth in Chicago. In only seven years with her shrewd business acumen and passion for youth mentorship, DeAnna has inspired hundreds of at-risk teens to seek careers in business, media and design. All insiders know that they cannot achieve great success alone. This is why Ms. McLeary has partnered with After School Matters (ASM), Black United Fund of Illinois, and Chicago Public Schools as well as several other organizations, whose missions address youth issues.

Read on to discover how DeAnna transitioned out of corporate America to founding and leading a youth organization.

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; MBA, Marketing and Finance, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
Previous positions held: Artist Management, DeAnna Deals Management; Account Executive, Suede Magazine; Consultant, Accenture
Board affiliations: Chicago Youth Voices Network
Civic or professional groups: National Black MBA Association
Honors/Awards: Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues Unsung Heroine Award

Who were some of the teacher(s) and/or mentor(s) who made a positive impact on you as a youth? How did their positive impact help lead to your success?

I had many wonderful teachers and was blessed to go to great schools, i.e. Beasley Academic Center, Whitney Young High School and Florida A&M University. I would have to choose my mother, who was my first teacher. She taught me how to read before entering school and constantly told me how smart and beautiful I was. She gave me the self-esteem and confidence that has made me fearless, and able to go after whatever dream I had. I could tell my mother admired me from an early age; her admiration set me on the course of my life now.

As the co-founder and co-executive director of the True Star Foundation, how have you defined your role in the organization? How do you collaborate to effectively solve problems within the organization?

Na-Tae' (Na-Tae' Thompson, the co-founder and co-executive director of True Star Foundation) and I have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. We have confidence in each other’s skill sets and allow each other to make decisions based on their own knowledge and instinct. We support each other in our successes and our failures. We are not judgmental, critical or waste time delegating work, we do the work! We both have cooperative spirits and collaborative natures. We see out the same lenses. We play to our strengths but understand in a small organization you have to do everything, no one is too big to sweep the floor or too small to meet with the President.

Are there any tips you would give leaders of nonprofits who work with youth? Would you give any special tips to organizations who work with youth of color?

When working with youth please leave adultism at the door, adultism is thinking you know better because you are an adult. Empower youth to make decisions, trust their judgment and take their lead. Don't be afraid to just listen without judgment or even offer advice. Hire staff that have a mutual respect for young people and their ideas. Be compassionate and empathetic to the unique needs of youth of color, who may just need attention or someone to care, about their grades or their whereabouts. Meet them where they are, e.g. make texting a part of your everyday life.

You were successful in your chosen field before True Star was founded, what about facilitating youth media and after-school programs led you to transition from corporate America to running a nonprofit?

Many times you have to work for a successful business to build a successful business. Working in corporate America taught me the importance of process, procedures and efficiency. Corporate taught me there are only two ways to increase the bottom line, increase revenues or decrease expenses. Many times it is so much easier to decrease expenses, so being lean and nimble was always how I envisioned any business I would start. Also, being in advertising sales taught me the importance of sales, setting sales goals, and closing the deal. In our youth media organization, we teach young people how to sell advertising and sponsorship, this has proven to be a tremendous strategy in building our organization. In corporate, they want the job done; there are no excuses. Working in consulting for Accenture, I couldn't tell a partner on a project I didn't know how to do it, I had to find out how; contact colleagues, do research on my own, whatever it took. That is the same attitude we have in our own organization, don't know how to write grants, get it done; don't know how to do vouchers for a city contract, get it done; don't know how to build a blog; get it done.

Can you please share with BlackGivesBack any stand-out student success stories? Do these successful True Star alumni mentor current students in the program?

Michael started in our sales and marketing program and also worked as a writer in the editorial program. With his own words he reveals how being a part of the True Star program changed his life: “True Star has really broadened my horizons and I can't help but think it has helped tons of other teens even more than it has helped me. It's a great magazine, a great program, and a great opportunity for teenagers to get a different perspective. I can honestly say that I have changed, and I don’t have a clue how I would have done it without True Star.” Michael has completed his second year at Jackson State University.

About the Guest Contributor: Sandra C. Davis is an award-winning marketing communications professional and passionate arts/ community advocate. Ms. Davis has successfully pitched national media outlets and created integrated marketing communications plans for the South Shore Drill Team, African Festival of the Arts, Dream for Kids, and the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League. Sandra is also a graduate of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago On Board nonprofit board governance training program, and now serves as a New Arts Forum Member (Junior Board Member) for Urban Gateways. Ms. Davis also serves as the Organizer (Chief Design Enthusiast) for the Chicago Design Meetup.

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