This is the final interview in my We Are the Possible blog anniversary series, so named after my favorite Maya Angelou poem, “A Brave and Startling Truth.” I’ve been profiling several young nonprofit leaders I admire not only for their professional work, but for the values they live out for themselves.
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
Samuel Isaac Richard was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, by two public school teachers. Community service has always been a large part of his life, even before he knew what “community service” was. His family was always involved in church inadvertently learning what it meant to care for thy neighbor. They traveled the country camping in National Parks during the summer unintentionally learning about responsibly caring for the earth and those dependent upon its resources, and as a Boy Scout he coincidentally learned the foundations of leadership, civic engagement, and group dynamics. Sam is engaged to be married in October of this year, and lives in Downtown Phoenix.
I met Sam last year at the 2008 Nonprofit Congress after a speech I gave there. He came up to me with this ball of energy he seemed to be carrying around with him in his jacket pocket. We exchanged cards, and I started following his writing on his blog, Deserted After Dark. Sam is a deep thinker on community issues, who will surely be shaking up this nonprofit world soon and very soon. I’m excited to introduce him to all of you!
Lives in: Phoenix, Arizona
How did you end up doing the work of social change?
Sort of funny, but I’ve never really analyzed this question until now. Thinking back, though, I think it has a lot to do with Midwest Sentiment. I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and my parents brought the prairie attitude down to Phoenix with them. What do I mean by “Midwest Sentiment?” Radio host Garrison Keillor puts it this way in his book, “Homegrown Democrat.”
“We don’t let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying. Here on the frozen tundra of Minnesota, if your neighbor’s car won’t start, you put on your parka and get the jumper cables out and deliver the Sacred Spark that starts their car. Everybody knows this. The logical extension of this spirit is social welfare.”
Why did you decide to pursue a degree in nonprofit leadership and management?
My college experience is… interesting. After graduating high school, I drove down to Tucson to pursue a degree in Architecture at the University of Arizona. I had (and still don’t, by the way) absolutely no artistic ability - but thought that my love and appreciation for good design would carry me. It didn’t. I floated through a couple more majors, but soon realized that I probably wasn’t ready for college. I headed back up to Phoenix and landed a job at Starbucks. Two years slinging coffee was enough for me, and I transitioned back into school - taking a couple of classes at a local community college while working part-time at an organization in the development office. I helped coordinate a golf tournament and researched donor prospects. I had volunteered with the organization before, but working “behind the scenes” was really eye opening - in a good way - for me. A woman at the organization was pursuing the American Humanics certificate and in the Nonprofit Leadership & Managment degree program at the time and talked to me a little about it. As they say, the rest is history.
I’ll be done with my classes this December, and can’t wait to have the freedom to put my knowledge to work full-time.
What do you do in your job at Arizona State University?
My official title is “Student Ambassador for Recruitment” (StAR). I do all the regular recruiting stuff: provide information about the majors offered at the College of Public Programs, give campus tours to potential students, and connect them with all the right resources. But in all seriousness, I see what I do as college access. Our majors have public service at their core, but they don’t really roll off the tongue. Because of that, many potential students aren’t aware that they can have a full, four-year degree in Nonprofit Leadership & Management - and it’s my job to provide opportunities to learn more about those possibilities.
Tell me about your volunteer work with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) of Phoenix and other organizations.
Being an American Humanics student, I value the camaraderie of like-minded folk. But AH stops after graduation (for the most part), and there really wasn’t much for early career professionals working in the sector here in Phoenix. So a couple of years ago, four Master’s of Nonprofit Studies (MNpS) students created a YNPN chapter here in Phoenix. They had a great year growing the programming and dreaming up plans for the future. At the beginning of this year I had the honor of being invited to served on the Board of Directors of YNPNphx and I’m loving it. We are having a great year so far, and we’re looking forward to big things happening in the near future.
I also serve of the Board of Trustees for the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, which is a blast. I am the youngest voice on the board by at least 20 years, and it’s definitely been a learning experience for all involved!
You’ve been writing about nonprofit issues for a while now on your blog, Deserted After Dark. How has blogging impacted your career?
I think more than anything, writing about my thoughts and feelings concerning the sector has helped me frame my thoughts and feelings concerning the sector in a more coherent way. I am definitely an external processor, and writing provides an outlet to test my opinions in front a (mostly) friendly audience.
I’m still in school full-time, so I haven’t really seen much impact on my career from blogging, per se, but it has opened doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been available to me - so maybe blogging will lead to a great job someday soon. Anybody out there hiring?
On a side note, this semester has been a little taxing on my schedule - as the next question alludes to - so I haven’t written much lately. But look for a resurgence over the summer!
Congratulations on your recent engagement! Much of the research, however, says that our generation cares more about our careers than getting married. Could you share some insight to how Gen Y can balance both of those priorities?
Let me start by saying that my answer to this question might not be applicable to anybody else. I am one lucky dude that is quite obviously marrying above my pay grade on so many levels. That being said, though, I do have some thoughts…
For me, it’s hard to separate my passion for social justice and a stronger sector from my love for Kim. I know that sounds cheesy, but I say it because I don’t believe that the priorities have to be “balanced.” Maybe some see romantic relationships and marriage as barriers to success in a career, but my relationship with Kim has done nothing but aided and abetted my addiction to social change - and that won’t change anytime soon. She is my biggest fan and extremely supportive, but questions my crazy theories and challenges my assumptions. She is honest about my faults, but only because she believes that I can be better. And I’d like to think that I offer the same support and challenge for her. We work really well together, mainly because we understand that we’re in this together - whatever “this” happens to be at the moment.
I’m looking forward to our next chapter, and trust that our story will not be unique among those that value their partner as an accomplice in the pursuit of their dreams.
So you’re a rockstar blogger, full-time employee, nonprofit volunteer, editor at Downtown Phoenix Journal, and you just got engaged. How do you hold it all? Are there any daily rituals or spiritual practices that help you stay centered?
First off, thanks. As for daily rituals, I don’t have many. I try to take at least 20 minutes a night to read something not related to school or work. I’m currently re-reading “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, which is a trip. It’s amazing how relevant things can be almost 80 years after they were written. I also love to unwind with something in my Hulu queue - I’m a big fan of “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “The Daily Show,” and “House.”
In addition to that, about twice a year I travel to a Catholic Abbey about three hours away from Phoenix nestled in the high desert mountains about 30 miles from the US-Mexico border. The sisters there operate a small retreat house, and it’s a great way to step back an take a look at a where I’ve been, where I am, and where I need to go spiritually, relationally, and professionally. I think it’ll be about time for a trip after finals are over in a few weeks….
How would you like to see our generation change the world?
What a great question. I would like to think that history will look back on our generation as the group of people who served as the tipping point to an holistically inclusive society. Many great people are doing wonderful things to see that come about (i.e. this blog), and I firmly believe that our generation as a whole can see that dream finally become reality. I’m honored to be a part of such a group of people, and thankful for the opportunity to share a little of my story here. Thanks!
You can follow Sam on Twitter @samuelisaac
Rosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color working and living in the Washington, D.C. area. She holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and blogs about nonprofit leadership and management issues at Perspectives From the Pipeline.