Leadership spotlight: Charleita Richardson, Partnership for the Future
In honor of Black History Month, this February we will be featuring conversations with African-American leaders and changemakers in the Richmond community.
Charleita Richardson is President & CEO of Partnership for the Future (PFF), which works with high-potential high school students from challenging circumstances to prepare them for college and the workforce. Charleita started her career working in the for-profit finance world, but frequently volunteered with youth organizations in her spare time. From these experiences, she realized her true passion for working with young people, helping them develop the skills they need to succeed.
What drew you to Partnership for the Future?
As a first-generation college student, I recognize the challenges that I faced, and that my mom faced, when we were trying to navigate the process of going to college. There’s so much that you will not know if you’ve never gone through the journey. Even if you have, it changes all the time! I recognize too that having the opportunity to earn my degree did change the shape of my career and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I want to make sure that other students have the same opportunity.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
It’s when a student calls and tells me that they now have their degree, and they have a wonderful job — a career. Hearing the excitement in their voices about accomplishing something they never thought they could do, something they’ve never really seen anyone in their families do, that is the biggest thing for me.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
We are growing as an organization. With such a small staff, our challenge is balancing that growth with ensuring that we can continue producing quality programs with great results.
To overcome this challenge, we are leading the organization in a way where the team has more of a voice. I have a quote on my wall that I live by: “People with a spirit of excellence are easily ignored by incompetence.” You can be a leader of the organization, but it requires the input of your full team to make things a success. Their creative minds mixed in with my creative mind leads us to be able to do what we need to do and accomplish and handle the growth.
In your eyes, what makes a good leader, and how do you strategize to meet that mark?
It’s a cliché, but a good leader is a servant first. It’s important that I’m out there with my team as well, helping and serving and getting to know my students as much as I can. A good leader also listens and processes and is forward-thinking. It’s incumbent upon me to think about what’s the next trend that’s going to happen. We can’t be stagnant, so embracing change is so critical in that process.
Who has inspired you along your career journey?
My mother — she was a single mother and she was the one who had to teach me the ropes, and honestly, I still call my mom for career advice.
Also, our founder Alan Kirshner is a visionary. I protect what he has started, and I have a desire to make sure that his vision is carried out.
Ken Newsome, the first board chair that I worked with, was a real inspiration as well. Alan is the visionary, and Ken is the action man. Having that balance between the two of them is how I’ve been able to decide where my niche is in leading this organization.
Of course, I also stand on the shoulders of all of my teachers and educators as well.
How have you seen people showing their leadership through philanthropy?
I’ve seen countless individuals and groups decide that philanthropy is about making a difference with their time, their talent, and their treasure. People leading in these three areas are important because organizations like Partnership for the Future can benefit not only from the financial capital but also the intellectual capital gained. When one gives of their time, talent, and treasure, they are helping to advance the mission of our organizations so that we can continue to provide the support and resources to those we work with on a daily basis.