Mikhiela Sherrod is a senior associate for Keecha Harris and Associates, Inc. In this KHA Q&A, she shares her passion for doing the right thing and living a life that helps others.
KHA: What was your path to KHA?
MS: My path to KHA came through work that Keecha and I did together when I was the director of a nonprofit organization. She helped us develop a five year strategic plan aimed at developing a regional food system. Our goal was to create economic opportunities for small, black-owned farms and women and increase access to healthy, fresh, affordable food for low-income communities.
I eventually moved out of the country for a year and upon my return to the U.S., I started working with Keecha on a project with an organization focused on Native American children’s health. I started as a consultant and eventually moved to employment.
KHA: What’s been the most rewarding part of your work here?
MS: For me, the most rewarding part is being surrounded by a group of women, in particular a lot of women of color — with many different skill sets, competencies, accomplishments, and personalities. We come together in a way that’s respectful and professional around a body of intellectual work that is not always open to people of color.
It’s also rewarding to watch KHA fulfill its mission to open doors for people of color and use its influence to encourage philanthropic organizations to make resources and opportunities available to a broader field of organizations that work in communities that are the most impacted.
KHA: Why should organizations care about racial equity?
MS: To me, it boils down to humanity. We should care about racial equity because any one of us could, if born under the right circumstances, could have been subjected to racial inequity. The need or place for equity shouldn’t have to be about race; our humanity should call and cause us to seek equity - period.
It is right that we should want everyone to have access to the kinds of resources needed to live a quality life and this means ensuring that the playing field is level for everyone. Resources and opportunities should not be unavailable to anyone just because of the color of their skin. No one should have to live in poverty or live without access to healthcare, housing or employment opportunities when everything that they need to be successful is there, right before them.
KHA: Why do you care about racial equity?
MS: It’s important to me personally because I’ve always lived my life with a sense or a need to do things that are fair, equitable, and right. For me, it’s the right thing to do and we are blessed to be a blessing. Nobody should have to suffer and be unable to be successful in life. If people are subject to injustice, then those of us that are able to fight and advocate must do so.
I also know that being poor is tough. Not having insurance is tough. I’ve been there. I’ve been in those situations and the hope for something better is what keeps me going. Knowing that people are kept in that situation, not because of unavoidable life circumstances, but because of a calculated decision or policy that denies them access because of skin color or race is something I can never tolerate or accept. Nobody should be subjected to that.
The truth is that everybody wants their kids to be successful, they want to be in good health, they want to be able to provide for their families. If I’m able to have these things then I am responsible for using what is available to me in the fight for other people to have them. That’s what my life is about. We’re all here to be a blessing, and if your life is not contributing to that, you need to rethink why you are here. We all have the ability to go beyond ourselves and do things that make life better for other people.
KHA: If you could recommend one book, related to your work, what would it be and why?
MS: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It talks about the 10,000 hour rule, that it does not matter how talented or gifted a person is because at some point, the person who works hard and puts in those hours will surpass the talented person. This investment of time in perfecting your craft will get you farther and higher than the person who was more talented and gifted if they are not doing the same thing.
WIth my own kids, that’s sort of my thing I repeatedly emphasize, that without practice and continuing to perfect their craft day after day, they should not expect to get the best results. If they want to get to the top, they have to work on being disciplined.
KHA: What’s something about you people might be surprised to know?
MS: Maybe people wouldn’t be surprised to know this, but it surprises people when they see it, that I am willing to be transparent about my failures and mistakes, and the things I feel like I’ve overcome as a result. I prefer to live my life in a transparent way because other people are going through things as well and need to be encouraged. Until we’re willing to be honest, open and vulnerable, we’re not going to be as effective as we could be in helping people that are hurting. We can help them see that, though times may be tough, on the other end of it is beauty.
Whenever I go through things, no matter how tough they are, I try very hard to make peace with my circumstances — what I have done well and have not done well, because after I do this, I can share my testimony with others. I always know that I have successfully processed and released myself from shame and blame when I feel the need to open up and show others empathy and expose the beauty on the other side.