Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Brown, Asian American Center of Frederick
Lisa Brown is a Project Manager at the Asian American Center of Frederick (AACF), a nonprofit that helps equip immigrants with the necessary resources and support systems to help them become independent and self-sufficient contributors to their communities and society. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Lisa about her experience as the leading spokesperson and advocate for the “Lifting All Voices to Improve Health Literacy” project, in addition to her experience in the Center’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.
CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast, with many important causes to champion; what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?
Brown: As an African American female that was raised by parents that worked multiple menial jobs to keep food on our table and put me through college, positive outcomes in underserved and underrepresented communities are my motivator and passion. High performing and robust nonprofit organizations are critical to underserved and underrepresented communities achieving positive outcomes. I am a STEM graduate. I possess a B.S. in Computer Science with a Minor in Mathematics. My career in the private sector required me to have excellent organizational skills, be highly detail oriented and implement projects in a data driven manner. I also possess a Master of Divinity degree from Missio Seminary where I learned techniques in servant and empathetic leadership. I love utilizing these skills to help others succeed and thrive.
Determining strategy and creating data driven processes that drive the strategy are crucial. When you operate in a data-driven manner, you can better evaluate your successes and areas of improvement and then adjust quickly. The “right” people and resources are moved to communities where they are utilized most effectively. I currently utilize this agile model at the Asian American Center of Frederick with effective distribution of health information and services, but it can be used for any project or program.
CPNL: Please tell us about the unique partnership between the City of Frederick, the University of Maryland, the Asian American Center of Frederick (AACF), and local community-based organizations. What are the goals of the partnership, and what or who brought all of these entities together to collaborate?
Brown: This partnership’s focus is for all Frederick community members to be healthy and thriving. What brought these particular partners together was the grant awarded by the Office of Minority Health. AACF is the grassroots community outreach piece of this project. We serve a diverse group of communities that include community members that are fluent in Burmese, Chinese, French, Gujarati, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese and speak little to no English. We also service community members experiencing homelessness. I lead a diverse team of Community Health Workers that speak the languages referenced and that are members of the communities we serve. Inclusiveness and belonging are key components of our service model. The City of Frederick provides municipal oversight while the University of Maryland, Baltimore is our evaluation partner. Content for our written materials are created and developed in partnership with University of Maryland’s Horowitz Center for Health Literacy.
CPNL: After two years of working as the spokesperson and advocate for the “Lifting All Voices to Improve Health Literacy” project, what are some of the critical successes or challenges you’ve experienced as the project reaches an end in June 2023?
Brown: The project’s success is reaching over 12,000 community members with accessible, actionable, and accurate health information on navigating the Covid Pandemic (where to get free vaccines, when is a test kit no longer to be used, what to do if you test positive, etc.). When community members recognize the “Lifting All Voices” logo on the Community Health Workers t-shirts and engage because they know we can help, that in itself is a major success. Demonstrating inclusive practices like representation matters and delivering messages in a culturally competent manner is also key to the program’s success. When we engage communities, we practice cultural humility and take into consideration the unique and personalized culture of each community. For example, if a community has negative experiences with over surveillance or policing, we are careful to engage and gather information using non-invasive methods. Currently, we use a “Town Hall” format. Once we have built trust and established relationships with the community, we engage community members in settings where they are comfortable (churches after worship service, community centers over a meal, etc.). Individuals raise their hand amongst the crowd to respond to health-related questions and do not feel like they are under surveillance or singled out. We want to make sure people feel valued and treated like human beings, not statistics.
CPNL: As AACF continues to expand its resources to surrounding areas in Frederick, how have you been able to center the complex identities of those you serve in your work?
Lisa Brown: We genuinely listen to and get to know the communities and community members we serve. My staff consists of Community Health Workers who are rooted in the communities that they serve. They are passionate about their communities and seeing them thrive. We also collaborate with community leaders. A community leader is not necessarily an individual with economic or political power in the community, rather it is an individual that is a true pillar of their community and passionate about seeing that community thrive. This is someone who understands and values the community’s history and its cultural richness. For example, it could be someone in the Latino community that sells lunches out of their home, but everyone knows them, including the local pastors. It is about recognizing different leadership aspects and how that manifests differently across communities. At the end of the day, we want to listen to what underrepresented communities have to say. By employing the communication protocols and tools that we have developed, we are able to capture the authentic story as well as the data and then evaluate how to best engage and support that community.
CPNL: What is one significant challenge you have faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?
Lisa Brown: As a nonprofit leader, you must be passionate, steadfast, and tenacious about driving the mission and vision forward. Some days it is hard when you know the concepts and vision you are attempting to communicate, and drive are not understood. Being conscious of cultural differences that make communication challenging is essential. Patience and understanding is key to building communication bridges. While this can be challenging, it is also incredibly rewarding once the message “gets across” and the vision is being implemented.
Another challenge many nonprofit leaders, including myself, face is looking at issues through a micro lens and focusing on an individual group or problem. It is essential to also see the bigger picture of systemic racism and its impact on communities and the social determinants of health.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Lisa Brown: One of the certificate program’s biggest benefits was diving deeply into the components of nonprofits and their operating models. The classes take you through all the different aspects of the nonprofit sector. I also had the opportunity to learn from my peers concerning the challenges they face within their positions at their respective organizations, and that was very rewarding. I loved connecting with such extraordinary leaders. While we are all leaders in the nonprofit space, we come from very diverse backgrounds. For example, I met leaders ranging from those focusing on social justice work by helping women formerly incarcerated to a restaurant chef. It allowed me to indulge my curiosity and engage my peers on how they manage within their own organizations and within their specialty fields. From hearing their stories and personal experiences, I learned how leadership looks and functions in different organizational settings.
CPNL: What advice would you give to professionals considering participating in the certificate program?
Lisa Brown: Be clear about what you want to gain from the program and what assets you bring to the program. Also, don’t be intimidated if you have little to no experience working in the nonprofit sector. I had only been in the nonprofit sector for a year when I joined the certificate program. At the same time, others had worked in the nonprofit sector their entire careers. I brought a lot to the table concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion and how “Lifting All Voices” had incorporated DEI into our program. I engaged in several listening sessions and then personally reflected on what strategies and techniques to use to improve my organization. I also recommend networking and connecting with the individuals in your cohort. Do not look at this program as something you will only use for a few months; instead, look at it as an investment in your future in the nonprofit space.