Strong City Baltimore helps people and organizations to be more effective and efficient – through human development at the Adult Learning Center, skill sharing at Neighborhood Institute, fiscal sponsorship of more than 100 community-based projects, and in many other ways.
But how does Strong City itself operate more effectively and efficiently?
Enter Reggie Davis. Reggie, who joined Strong City in November in the newly created position of Chief of Staff, brings a wealth of experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. Reggie has been involved in Baltimore at the community level even before he moved to the city three years ago, thanks to his work with the local chapter of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, where he leads its political engagement and public policy advocacy efforts. In addition, he led his chapter’s community service initiatives across Baltimore City. He is also a board member of Baltimore-based Child First Authority, and a board member of the Hollins Roundhouse Community Association.
Reggie, who turns 37 in March, grew up in Chicago. He holds a degree in political science and a certification in nonprofit leadership and management from the University of the District of Columbia, and is an M.A. candidate in Public Management at the Johns Hopkins University. As policy director for the National Human Services Assembly, he oversaw the policy research and advocacy efforts on the federal level. At the National Minority AIDS Council, Reggie managed a national capacity building program meeting the organizational and leadership development needs of government and nonprofits on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
As Strong City’s Chief of Staff, Reggie is the top deputy to CEO Karen D. Stokes and oversees the organization’s day-to-day operations. We caught up with Reggie recently – not easy to do, given his wide range of responsibilities – to chat about his role, his vision for Strong City, and what inspires him.
Strong City: This is the first time Strong City has had a “Chief of Staff.” What does the position entail?
Reggie Davis: In the nonprofit sector, you don’t often see the title “Chief of Staff” except in some of your larger nonprofits. I largely see the Chief of Staff position as being the cheerleader for our people and our processes. It’s looking across the organization, the systems, the operations – really focusing inward to answer the question: How do we support the mission?
SC: What’s an example of that?
RD: One example – I’ve been thinking about our work with the fiscally sponsored projects to ask: Is there a system in place that helps us meet the internal needs of finance and development, that also supports our projects and addresses many of their needs? Can we better use technology to provide more support to people? Another piece I’m working on is: Do we have the right policies in place, and are our practices aligned with our policies?
SC: You were formerly the Director of Public Policy for a national association of human services nonprofits, and you’ve managed contracts with the U.S. Department of Labor for a minority-owned small business. Chief of Staff at Strong City seems pretty different from either of those. What made you want to work here?
RD: I moved to Baltimore three years ago but was connected here for more than five years because of my fraternity. As a homeowner in Baltimore, I wanted to be part of the solution in my community and city. I was familiar with Strong City’s work around community development and fiscal sponsorship – in fact, I recommended to other organizations Strong City’s fiscal sponsorship – as well as Neighborhood Institute. For me, the mission, the purpose, matters. I see this position as a great chance to support the wonderful work this staff is doing under Karen Stokes’ leadership – to get to stop and say that the work you’re doing on a daily basis is connected to building better neighborhoods and people across Baltimore
SC: You arrived at Strong City at a pivot point in the organization’s history – just weeks before the move to the Hoen Building in East Baltimore. How does it feel to be helping to lead the organization at such a momentous time?
RD: We’re at a point where we’re turning the page. We need to spend time doing “inside work” to strengthen some systems, build the capacity of staff, and be able to tell the story internally and externally of what we’re doing, so that funders, partners, and projects all know our vision for the future. It’s a process I’m still getting my head around.
SC: What does the near-term future hold for Strong City – where will we be a year or two from now?
RD: A year from now, I want people to see in Strong City a demonstrated commitment to getting back to the basics – delivering a set of products and services with excellence and commitment. Success, for me, means this is a great place to work, we’re responsive to stakeholders, and we are moving the needle – as complicated and challenging as it is, making stronger neighborhoods and people. This cannot be accomplished by one person, but requires a group effort. We’re going to need the whole community to help us get there. From staff to community leaders.
SC: What’s the best thing about working here?
RD: I’ve had lots of conversations, and one thing folks have told me about the staff here – they say the great thing about Strong City is its people are passionate and dedicated to the work. Strong City has not lost its community development focus even as it has strengthened other parts of its work, like fiscal sponsorship. We’re able to support the full range of our mission, and that’s because of the great people here bolstered by our partners across the city.
SC: You have a super busy job, so I have to ask: What do you do for down time?
RD: Balance is important! I spend time listening to music, visiting friends and family members – traveling back to Chicago to see my mom, father, and brother. Working out is a great stress reliever, so is music. What I listen to varies – sometimes jazz, other times classical or neo-soul. This past week I was listening to jazz, then gospel. And the other kind of music for me is silence: just to be still sometimes.