Advancing Equity: The Journey of a Black Woman Leader in a Black-Led Organization

Written by Sherri Allen-Reeves, Executive Director of Phoenix Foundation, and member of the Alliance’s BIPOC Collective

Reflecting on my first year as the inaugural Executive Director of the Phoenix Foundation, a Black-led non-profit organization dedicated to serving our Chicago community, I’m deeply entrenched in the complex dynamics of systemic change and the enduring struggle for equity. Stepping into this role as a Black woman leader within a Black-led organization, I’ve grappled with the inherited values and entrenched structures that can make meaningful progress toward equity a daunting endeavor.

Making Progress Isn’t Always Easy

From the outset, I recognized the profound impact of representation and inclusivity on our mission to end homelessness. Yet, our organization’s journey toward systemic change has been met with unique challenges. Inherited values and long-standing traditions can often hinder progress, making it difficult to enact the transformative change needed to advance equity truly.

Imposter syndrome initially plagued me, fueled by the weight of expectations and the fear of not measuring up to the legacy of those who came before me. However, I soon realized that my identity as a Black woman leader within a Black-led organization was not a limitation but a source of strength—a reminder of the resilience and tenacity ingrained within our community.

Setting my intentions as a leader became synonymous with challenging the status quo and dismantling systems of oppression. I envisioned a future where our organization not only reflects the diversity of our community but also embodies the values of equity and justice in all we do. This commitment to change has sometimes been met with resistance, as ingrained values and structures can be difficult to overcome. However, through perseverance and unwavering determination, we’ve begun to chip away at the barriers that stand in the way of progress.

Embracing Equity

As we strive to end homelessness and restore hope, our organization must embrace the principles of equity and inclusion at every level. This means acknowledging the inherited values that may perpetuate inequities and actively working to dismantle them. By centering on the voices and experiences of those most impacted by homelessness, we can develop truly transformative and equitable solutions.

Moreover, the importance of representation extends beyond leadership roles to every aspect of our organization. Those providing services must represent their communities, as this fosters trust, understanding, and cultural competence. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our work, we can create spaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.

As I look ahead, I’m committed to continuing our journey toward equity and justice. While the road may be long and challenging, I’m confident that by embracing our identity as a Black-led organization and actively working to dismantle systems of oppression, we can create lasting change and build a future where everyone has access to safe, stable housing and the opportunity to thrive.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a Black woman leader within the Phoenix Foundation and to contribute to our collective mission of creating a more just and equitable society. Together, we can build a future where everyone has the opportunity to flourish, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.


Thank you for recognizing the importance of equity and justice in our work and for your commitment to advancing these principles within our organization and beyond: Phoenix Foundation, NFP; National Alliance to End Homelessness; Illinois Office to Prevent and End Homelessness; Chicago Continuum of Care.