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Life & Work with Nicole Lynn

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Lynn.

Hi Nicole, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Just give it a year. You have to stay at least one year.

This became my daily mantra on my drive to work, at times accompanied by tears and at others with a lot of prayers. I started my dream job, turned nightmare, on March 1, 2019, and by August 2019, my only goal was to make it one year for the sake of my resume. My new nightmare was a nonprofit agency that provided permanent and supportive housing to the chronically homeless. A social issue of particular sensitivity to me, as I grew up chronically homeless in Los Angeles both as a child and teen.

It all began in the interview when the executive interviewing me said they wanted me to meet with the CEO for the next round of talks. Then in a casual and almost affable tone, they told me: “I just want to let you know that the last person that we hired was also African-American, and he didn’t work out, so that’s what you’re up against.”

Not exactly sure where this interview was going, I asked, “Well do you think that would stop him from hiring me?”

“Oh no,” they replied, then added: “But he is human.” Driving home, I contemplated if I should say something to the CEO or not. I knew that if I told the CEO what the executive had said to me during the interview, it would be my word against the managers, and really, what were the chances that the CEO would believe me? Besides, I really wanted this job and so did my bank account, which said that I needed this job. Rent was due, and I was 1,500.00 in debt to my therapist, working on this same trauma from my childhood. So, I decided to say nothing.

I accepted the job, and I loved everything about the work itself. Fundraising came easy to me, which was made clear when I secured a 100K donation within my first 90 days of employment. What didn’t come easy to me was handling the racism that I experienced at my job. It wasn’t the sort of racism that is par for the course for many Black women like me that come in forms of implicit-bias and microaggressions. I learned that racism is different because the hate is palpable and I simply was not ready.

After one too many insensitive and racially charged comments, I reported the manager to HR. It was pretty much downhill from there. The manager had it out for me, and it was clear. HR became like a revolving door, continually reporting one new instance of retaliation after the next to no avail.

Every time this manager rerouted a donation to another manager to negatively impact my numbers, I filed a complaint. I searched for a mentor to help me navigate this new world because I still wanted to be successful. I was more than disheartened when I learned that I would have better luck finding Tupac than finding another Black woman to mentor me in the workplace, and I searched. I could not find a nonprofit that offered mentoring services specifically for Black women by Black women. It baffled me that no one thought Black women in the workplace could use a mentor.

There was nothing exceptional that one August morning, as I drove to work reciting my morning mantra, weaving my way through Los Angeles traffic, using music as motivation to help me set the tone for the day. Nipsey Hussle’s The Marathon Continues had become a regular in my rotation.

As I made a right turn onto Clinton, one lyric changed my path: “With no collective identity, it’s every man from himself,” and just like that, I created the Collective Identity Mentoring. Fueled by desperation and inspired by Nipsey Hussle, I took my first step towards my purpose and began creating a 501c3 that mentored Black girls. I planned to have a new job lined up by March 2020, but what I didn’t anticipate was that I’d be exhausted from my current job and the hostility I was facing every day. By early February 2020, I’d learned that racism was a full-body experience, made evident by my doctor placing me on stress leave. I’d had enough and found two fantastic attorneys, Sarah Bloom and her mother Lisa, to take my case. (see press conference)

Like most of you, my 2020 did not go as planned. March 2020 was not what I’d expected it to be whatsoever. In March 2020, Los Angeles went into full lockdown because of a global pandemic. I filed a legal claim against my job and was remanded to my home for an indefinite amount of time. I stood in my kitchen and asked God, What am I going to do? And the answer was The Collective Identity. I realized that if I’d made them 100k in the first 90 days, then I could do it for myself.

As 2020 progressed and civil unrest took over our nation, I did not sit idle. I shared my experience of workplace racism at a virtual press conference with my attorney’s Sarah and Lisa Bloom. I searched LinkedIn and found four exceptional Black women who believed and supported the mission of a stranger who sent them a message online. In 2020, our board became official and with the help of founding my board members, we have created The Collective Identity Mentoring.

2020 was a game changer for us all and I’m happy to say that my game changed for the good. I stimulated equality and change by simply using my voice and most importantly, I found my purpose despite it being hidden in racism. And now that I’ve found it – as Public Enemy said, it’s going to take a nation of millions to hold me back. I’ve been so fortunate to have been working.

Since then, we’ve come together, we’ve had some great opportunities: National partnership with Shake Shack, a sizable contribution from Grayson (a women’s apparel line) and The Gochman Family Foundation (a private family foundation). In one year, we were able to raise a total of 55K, which helped us becoming fully compliant in obtaining fundraising permits in all required states. We were also able to ensure that we are registered with the DOJ so that we can run a background check (via livescan) at the federal level. When I first stepped out on faith and created this organization, I wanted to build an organization that was sustainable and had a strong foundation as eventually The Collective Identity Mentoring will be a national organization.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ha! absolutely not. When I began this journey, I set out with a. group of women, one of which was my best friend. When Gavin Newsome issued the stay-at-home order, my board members had families and careers to balance; and they understandably didn’t have the capacity. It didn’t take long for each of them to quit, the first being my best friend. So at the top of the pandemic, I found myself embroiled in a lawsuit for discrimination and retaliation against my employer, trapped alone in the house, starting a nonprofit that didn’t have a Board of Directors. After the last board member stepped back, I gave myself 10 minutes to cry, and then I had to get back up and start all over again.

The biggest challenge was not finding and acquiring a board- that was relatively easy. It was learning how to be a leader when I’d never led before- THAT was the challenge, and I didn’t think I had the goods to do this. Yet, here I was, creating an organization in an industry where I only had one year of experience while leading a group of accomplished and intelligent Black women. The struggle to balance the personalities, communication, and work style of other people while still learning myself was the biggest obstacle. I had to learn how to get over myself and realize that it’s ok not to know….. so long as you’re willing to learn.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
When I was in the 10th grade at Fairfax high school, I took a career test that said I would be a good salesperson. Me, in sales? At that moment, I dismissed it and said never. Out of all my dreams for myself going door to door selling anything was not one of them. But as life would have it, I ended up in sales. I began my career in licensing production music (a sales job in 2004). The impact it had on my life was profound. I had a great mentor who taught me so much about sales and life in general. Being sales did teach me the art of helping people with what they need and not about what they want. I learned that a good salesperson always looks out for what is best for the client- even when the client is not quite sure of it themselves. I was a great salesperson because of my mentor training and advice. But it is my empathetic nature and my ability to make people feel seen, heard and valued. I loved music licensing- until I didn’t. Can’t say for sure if it was burnout or I just didn’t care anymore, but music licensing was no longer for me and I knew I had to make a career change. Afraid and unsure of what I could do first identified my interest, then I found that my skills in sales were transferable to fundraising- and there is where I found my purpose. I love everything about fundraising. I know that my hard work is going to make an impact on someone’s life. In nonprofit, I found my professional home in fundraising.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
My sister once said that I reminded her of the character Akeelah from the movie “Akeelah and the bee”. Looking at the movie from that perspective, I can absolutely see it. I was resourceful and somewhat precocious. While some adults loved that about me, others loathed that about me.

Childhood Fun facts:

Like every kid I loved McDonalds and every day after school would ask to go to McDonalds; and every day my mother would respond with “Do you have McDonalds money?” Well obviously me being in the first grade I didn’t have McDonalds money until one Friday I did, and continued to have McDonalds money for the next two Fridays. My mother assumed that my grandmother was giving me the money, until she received a phone call from the school asking for a meeting. When my mother arrived the principal told her that I had been selling my lunch tickets at school for the past two weeks and that it wasn’t allowed.

I idolized Janet Jackson and everything about her. At the height of her Rhythm Nation album I dressed like Janet, which mean that I was wearing all Black in the summertime. On April 20, 1990 Janet Jackson was getting her star on the walk of fame, I was 12 years old and my mom let skip school that Friday to Janet Jackson get her star. After getting there at 6am and standing for at least 10 hours, Janet arrives to get her star, I see Janet Jackson and immediately burst into tears. It was the best day of my child life.

First Job: I was 16 when I got my first job was in telemarketing at Olan Mills, I called peoples house and sold them picture packages over the phone.

My first concert was TLC and Paper Boy at Magic Mountain. Magic Mountain oversold the event and had to deny people admission to the park. Paper Boy didn’t show, TLC was late and only performed for 30 minutes and riots broke out at Magic Mountain.

My interest: I was very creative as a child, my best friend and I created a magazine, when I was 11. Everything was written by hand and we passed it out in my neighborhood. My childhood best friend, still has a copy.

I also enjoyed reading, listening to music (as I grew older, my love for Janet dwindled), My favorite rapper will always and forever be Tupac (I wrote him a letter when he was in Jail- he never wrote back-lol).

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Picture info: The picture of me in white shirt: my first day in music licensing, at age 25 The picture of me smiling and looking away is me celebrating my first week in nonprofit.

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