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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 62: Kelsey Perdue

Kelsey Perdue
Kelsey Perdue
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Kelsey Perdue

Today’s Powerful Woman is Kelsey Perdue

Kelsey Perdue is the Kids Count in Michigan Project Director and part of the senior Leadership Team at the Michigan League for Public Policy. She oversees data analysis and advocacy as part of a national effort to improve children’s well-being. She’s also been named a 40 Under 40 Business Leader by the Grand Rapids Business Journal among other achievements. Meet Kelsey Perdue.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


Full Transcript:

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>> Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.

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Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone, time for Powerful Women, Let's Talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss. It is a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Kelsey Purdue. Kelsey is the Kids Count in Michigan project director and part of the senior leadership team at the Michigan League for Public Policy. She oversees data analysis and advocacy as part of a national effort to improve children's well-being as well as set and execute strategy for the organization. A powerful woman, I might add making a difference as one of our younger powerful women having been named a 40 under 40 business leader by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. Kelsey, we’re very happy to have you here on Powerful Women, Let's Talk.

Kelsey Purdue: Thank you so much for having me.

Jennifer Moss: It's a pleasure. So a little more about Kelsey before we dive into all the specifics. She began her career as an educator and has worked in the education, health and technology sectors in Michigan, Washington D.C., and internationally. She's a small business owner following in her late father's footsteps as a real estate investor in the Grand Rapids area, also serves as chair of the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission and was appointed last fall by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the Black Leadership Advisory Council. A couple other noteworthy tidbits, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from City High and Howard University, proud member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority incorporated and of course dedicated to public service and again, Kelsey, we welcome you. You are super super busy being that powerful woman in Grand Rapids. So let's talk. To start, are you enjoying the journey?

Kelsey Purdue: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. The journey has been fun but, you know what, about two years ago I had an “ahh ha” moment and I realized my journey was fun, it was fruitful, it was meaningful, and purpose driven but, there wasn’t enough balance between serving others and serving myself and so what helped me re-orient and find a better balance between those two things was having a job with a work culture that really values folks as human beings first and their work and life balance and just making different decisions. I'm being very intentional where I spent my time, where I choose to volunteer and then picking up new hobbies. You know, when we’re in middle school or high school we have hobbies, we have sports camps and then I think sometimes when we’re adults, we forget about that, right.

Jennifer Moss: We let a lot of things go.

Kelsey Purdue: We do and so I said you know, I am going to be an adult with hobbies, I want to try new things and so this year I took improv classes.

Jennifer Moss: Oh, that’s fun.

Kelsey Purdue: I did stand-up comedy for the first time and then I'm hoping to get back into martial arts next year or so once covid like fully settles down. The journey has been wonderful, it has been purpose driven but, joy in the journey is so important too, and I think that really comes from friendships, relationships and then spending time doing things that we enjoy that are strictly for us and are not meant to build our career, build our resume but, are just ours to keep and to hold.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely, and it's important to do that because you can get burnout syndrome. Also, you don't want a call in the middle of the martial arts class about some business thing that's going on, you want to be able to enjoy and have peace living. That's life. So, you know that as we look at this, the work that you do Kids Count in Michigan. It's critical for our youth and again, you have a servant's heart. So tell us a bit about what you do there.

Kelsey Purdue: Yes. So we are part of a national initiative to measure the well-being of children and then to use that information to do something about it. So, the measurement comes from, we are data clearinghouse. We keep track of over a 100 indicators of child well-being and we often break that down by age, geographic location, race and ethnicity so that we can really get an understanding of how children and their families are doing in Michigan and then to create solutions to help them to improve their well-being and so for the latter we do research and we do advocacy work. So we advocate for policies that protect children and families and invest in children and families in the state and we work on multiple issues, education, health and safety, family and community and economic security, which is a big one and so we look at data and advocacy throughout the state. We have community partners throughout the state who are allies in pushing for a really good policy that invests in children and families

Jennifer Moss: And that is at the heart of it, the children and the family's.

Kelsey Purdue: Absolutely. absolutely. I say, you know, children are a third of our population, but they are 100% of our future. I mean, it's like literally and seriously and we don't invest in them every day, every school year, every legislative cycle that goes by and they're not getting their needs met. That is going to impact their development and that is going to impact how well we can do as a society as a whole and so it really is a time sensitive endeavor and we need hands on deck. And I'm just so happy to be doing the work and I personally really enjoy kind of this cross-sector building relationships with community, listening to community, bringing in research and kind of getting people excited about advocating for resolutions that we really think and really know will move the needle based on what the data is telling us.

Jennifer Moss: What you’re telling us means something and the time is now.

Kelsey Purdue: Yes.

Jennifer Moss: We really need to make differences now. So, as you, as we talk about being a powerful woman, have there been any barriers that you have encountered as you’ve traveled along your careers path?

Kelsey Purdue: You know, I'm still getting comfortable with some of the titles like that, labels like that and I'm reaching the point in my career where younger women are reaching out to me for mentorship and to ask questions and that still feels a little surreal to me. You know, I've been blessed to have a really supportive family, to have really quality educational opportunities, to have a great community of friends and people in this world that have supported me personally and professionally. I think along the line, probably one of the biggest barriers was my transition back to Grand Rapids. So, I lived in Washington D.C., for a number of years, did really well there. I worked and lived internationally and I loved it but, I said you know, it's time to go home and I came back to Grand Rapids almost as a transition point but, as I was looking for employment and I was looking for my next opportunities even though I had management experience, international experience, graduated top of my class, no one really wanted to hire me and any job opportunity I got, no one wanted to hire me for more than $12 an hour like I remember. And a part of that was that I didn’t have a network here in Grand Rapids, I didn’t have connections and it felt like I was a newcomer to the city because I hadn't met anybody.

Jennifer Moss: Exactly.

Kelsey Purdue: And so, it almost was like I had to start over. I did. Even after pursuing an education, doing really well, working, and doing really good things elsewhere, that did not meet the requirements here and I felt like I had to take so many steps back. I did. I had to take so many steps back. I started working part-time and then really quickly, they saw my talent and they promoted me and within maybe a year I became a director of that program, which is where I should have started. Right? So, that was a huge step back and I felt like it took

several years to get back to the salary range that should I have been in and the types of roles that I should have been in. It was a really, really hard transition back as a young professional

with experience elsewhere and with roots and ties here who wanted to come back.

So that was a huge, huge barrier and I hope that we can think about how to do better by our young professionals and helping them, particularly those who go away for school and come back, get plugged in earlier. So, you asked me about my journey and part of the reason why I was so exhausted is that I really needed to recalibrate and say how can I bring in more fun in some situations because I worked so hard to not be in that situation again, followed by my genuine curiosity in terms of things I was interested in so, outside of non-profit, I've done things in tech, I've done things in real estate and by doing that and just really hitting the ground and just being hungry, I’ve naturally developed relationships. Right, and so now folks are approaching me about jobs very regularly and it’s such a better position to be in.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely.

Kelsey Purdue: So, that was a huge barrier and it was a lot of work to kind of I think just re-ground myself where, you know, really should have been because I took a few steps back to take it a few steps forward but, I'm really glad where I am. I’m really thankful.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely and it’s a blessing and it just continues to progress and you see the progress that you're making. Perhaps it should have happened earlier, of course we know that but, now you can enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

Kelsey Purdue: Yeah. So, I would say to people that I think, you know, there are different barriers and different things that might put you one or two steps back. I lost my father earlier this year and that knocked me down for a few months. Luckily kind of things feel stable again, just in terms of some of my things out that I'm involved in but, there are always going to be those things and I would just encourage people just keep going. Just do your best. In whatever season you're in do your best work. It might not look the same in every season. It’s forward movement, nonetheless.

Jennifer Moss: So, as we talk about the journey again, the road in life we face, those obstacles and challenges you just discussed. What has it taken for you then as you move forward

and have seen as you've progressed your quest in finding your voice? That inner strength to know “I got this”.

Kelsey Purdue: Yeah, oh goodness. So I’ve always been quite opinionated as a young person but, it's I think, you know, when you're young, I'm thinking like high-school to college, there's a sense of pride to be opinionated. You know, adults look at you like you're using your voice but, there's a transition into the workplace when you are the youngest person there. For me, I was usually the only woman of color, certainly the only black woman there. I got management positions pretty early and so I was usually by far the youngest person in management. That's still true today. I shouldn’t say by far. So, there was kind of a nervousness that comes along sometimes with being unsure if people want to hear your voice and so I have to remind myself that I have really good things to say. There's this question that one of the *inaudible* asks, what is your superpower? At a lot of those events and I have to ask what is my superpower? My super power is getting things done, my super power is finding opportunities to make things better, to innovate and to not just see the big vision but, also to break that all down into steps and how to operationalize that and so telling myself out loud what my strengths are and what my talent is really pushes me to say not only should you use your voice, but you need to use your voice and especially in doing such important non-profit-type people work that I do it’s imperative that I use my voice .

Jennifer Moss: And advocate for others.

Kelsey Purdue: Absolutely. If I don't, it's not just about me this work might suffer, or this work might not be the best it could be in this moment. whether it's our team culture or kind of the external work that we're doing so kind of getting out of my own away and saying my voice is not needed. It’s more than needed as it is necessary. That’s been really important.

Jennifer Moss: So, you work in numerous areas, Kids Count, of course but, you also helped start and lead a political action committee. The first PAC in the nation organized around equity.

So, as you do this work, what leadership traits do you like to see in those who work with and perhaps even those you mentor?

Kelsey Purdue: Absolutely. So, I think one of the most important leadership traits is initiative and getting things done because we can talk. I think no matter your sector, you can begin to talk in circles about what shoulda, coulda or woulda, happened. Right, but it’s translating conversations into concrete next steps. I think is so critical. If you're leading anything and truly, especially when you're starting a new thing and you're building a new model. There's nothing else to really base it off, right. You're having a lot of conversations. You are dreaming, but then you have to take those dreams and those ideas and translate that into an actual plan of action and so that was definitely a gift that brought to that PAC in my involvement with it over the course of five years and I think in all of my work in community and then at different organizations, the investment work I do personally that sense of initiative is so important and so critical to getting anything done.

Jennifer Moss: You've done some amazing work and we're very proud of what you're doing and so how are you balancing? You addressed this a bit when we talked about your journey but, how are you now balancing your work life and personal life?

Kelsey Purdue: Absolutely and I am having so much fun doing it. Let me tell you I am smiling from ear to ear. So, I have to tell myself because I mentioned I didn't have the great work life balance especially pre-covid. You know, I'm out 4 nights a week at different events or different things that I really enjoyed but, there was not enough time for me and my hobbies, and the books I wanted to read like working out cooking any book, you name it right but, at some point I had to say, Kelsey some of this is self-inflicted, your manager did not make use of work until 7:00pm, your manager did not ask you to go out to all those nights and it's great that you decided that's what you want to do but, now let's decide that what you want to do is find a better balance and quite honestly, going slower due to covid really helped me with that.

Jennifer Moss: As I just say, just say no. Yet, sometimes you open the door and everyone's at the door and you’re stuck saying “yes I'll do that”. Sometimes just say no. That's part of the change and that balance.

Kelsey Purdue: It’s so hard because those things are so fun and I genuinely enjoy being out and about and I'm usually one of the last people to leave those events because I just get to talking and I just love it but yeah, just say no and then what have I been interested in that I haven't done and so I tried improv, improv comedy, I tried stand-up, which was so fun and I want to do more of that. So, finding a better life balance was just about kind of saying yes to myself first. You know when you hear about finances and budgeting one of the best tips is to pay yourself first, right. When you get your paycheck, put some in your savings, put some in your investments before you pay your bills. Well, some might disagree, with that advice but, I agree with it for the most part but, I started to look at my time and in the same way, how can I invest in my time and use my time for things I want so, in addition to taking those classes, I've been traveling a lot more, even if it's just a short weekend trip. Being more intentional about spending time with my family, having Sunday dinners things like that that happened but, might not have had a lot of intentionality behind them. I’ve deepened my relationships with some my friends and some of my sorority sisters and just spending time together.

Jennifer Moss: And that's how you do it.

Kelsey Purdue: That’s how you do it.

Jennifer Moss: Everything is related to time.

Kelsey Purdue: And that time is something that you can't buy and you can't get back.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. So, spend it wisely.

Kelsey Purdue: Spend it wisely.

Jennifer Moss: So, my must ask question. I kind of asked it a little bit, so life being what it is in all and we always look for a lighter side least, I know I do. What makes you laugh?

Kelsey Purdue: Ooh, so much. I do really serious work, right? When we talk about advocacy, I have to take myself seriously so, I try to find humor all the time and people often describe me as goofy and silly. So, just life. I try to find those moments of just fun and

funnies I mean even as we were preparing for today, I kind of said a joke to one of your folks.

I just I love the banter, I love the back and forth so that and then I love a good Netflix comedy special.

Jennifer Moss: Good for you. So, so, much is happening in the world we live in today and people as we've talked are often looking for a word of encouragement do you by chance have any favorite sayings, maybe a motto or a process that you used to encourage yourself and perhaps others?

Kelsey Purdue: I recognize I give other people a lot more grace and credit than sometimes I give myself. I think a lot of us are guilty of that, right. We look at other folks and we can quickly name off their strengths and their accomplishments, and why they’re so awesome, and why they shouldn’t doubt themselves, and why they should just go for it and then we don’t have that sort of self-talk with ourselves our self-talk is filled with doubts and what-ifs and things like that and so sometimes I remind myself and kind of picture myself being outside of my body and looking at myself as if I was a friend to myself.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely.

Kelsey Purdue: And that in like a weird way helps me shift that perspective and see myself a little bit differently. You know, when you're inside your body, you know everything about you, you know the stuff you might not be so proud of, you know, the stuff that you are proud of but, when you're outside looking in, you see the best in people and so sometimes that exercise really helps remind me of the best in me. So I would encourage other folks to do that and to watch yourself talk to make sure the vast majority yourself talk is positive and that you're not giving other folks more credit and more recognition than you're giving yourself. You have to have that solid foundation and I'm a lover of words of affirmation and at some point I said you know, I can also give a boost to myself, I don't have to rely on was affirmations from other people whether it’s my partner, my manager, my mom, I can give those to myself.

So between those 2 things that really has helped me and I hope an exercise like that could help people. I really resonate with doing really cool interesting things and doing them well

and at the same time being riddled with imposter syndrome along the way. You know we've

had a lot of public conversations about that. So, I think for folks who struggle with that as well for women for whom that resonates with is try to be a friend to yourself and even if it's physically looking at yourself as if you are outside person and seeing the strengths in yourself first and just watching that self-talk. Watch it.

Jennifer Moss: Kind of step outside yourself.

Kelsey Purdue: Yeah.

Jennifer Moss: Look back.

Kelsey Purdue: Yeah.

Jennifer Moss: Okay, Kelsey Purdue. I really enjoyed this conversation. So nice chatting with you.

Kelsey Purdue: This was fun. Thanks so much for having me.

Jennifer Moss: And we want to thank all of you for joining us today for another edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss, do enjoy your day.

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>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.

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Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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