011: Christina Arnold

Aug 24, 2020

Christina Arnold

Throughout her life, Christina Arnold has been one who has a servant’s heart.  She learned from her grandparents and mother how to make an impact, a positive impact on her community and those around her.  She works hard in areas of diversity and inclusion.  And she has been highlighted as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Grand Rapids, not once but twice.  Meet this week’s Powerful Woman, Christina Arnold.  Let’s Talk!

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:

>> Produced by women about women, powerful women, let's talk is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.

>>Hi there I’m Jennifer Moss, excited to welcome you to this edition of powerful women, let's talk and today's powerful woman is Christina Arnold  recently featured  not too long ago in the West Michigan woman's magazine, she's currently working at Steelcase with the social innovation team, however, Chris has an extensive history here in West Michigan and I first met you in connection with the Giants banquet held every year to honor African Americans who have a major impact in the community and your involvement there is just part of what you do or have done as it relates to diversity in the Grand Rapids community

I’ll get to some of that in a moment first I want to highlight a couple other things. Chris is sitting here patiently waiting as I go through her long list of things you're currently on the Latina network of West Michigan leadership team, the Grand Rapids schools Foundation along with the Mary free bed Guild among other things and you of course received many awards as well including being recognized in the Grand Rapids business Journal's 50 most influential women in West Michigan that selection both in 2018 and 2016 so everyone  I'm very happy to welcome Chris to powerful women, let's talk thanks so much for joining us.

>>Thank you for having me.

>>So we have a lot to talk about and you're a busy woman and I'm going to start with the cover of that West Michigan woman's magazine and it says “I'm not done”.

And so, you are still moving along and working you currently work at Steelcase tell me a little bit about your work there.

>>So I'm part of the Steelcase social innovation team and that includes community partnerships and so some of the work that I do is obviously community engagement and the work that we're doing around social innovation is really connecting our employees with community but also connecting our community partnerships with Steelcase where really the goal is to go from transactional to transformational

so how can we continue to have an impact with our community partners but not just transactional really getting them engaged in the work that we do but also engaging in the work that they do and the long-term goal is really to help our partners become sustainable so its maybe not just sponsoring a gala but how can we help an organization with some of the resources that we have, perhaps it's a small nonprofit that might need some work and their Web page and how can we engage our employees to  help organizations as well.

>>Ok so that's what you're doing currently. But as we look back you were most recently the interim executive director at the lakeshore ethnic diversity alliance, which again follows your retirement from GRCC where you were the founding director of the Bob and Alicia Woodrick Center for equity and inclusion and again I go back to that headline “your not done yet”, so you have a lot of work that you've done and you're still very busy. Lifelong resident Grand Rapids?

>>Yes, born and raised here.

>>You’ve attended Ottawa Hills High School and in fact, your family, your grandparents were among the first family's from Mexico to settle here -tell me about growing up and did your family experience perhaps guide you in some of the paths that you've taken?

>>Yeah I think growing up in West Michigan was challenging when I was growing up- the Latino population was not, you  know, the population was not as it is today, so the numbers we were growing up we were 2 Mexican families in our elementary school and in our neighborhood and so yes, it was very challenging at times also growing up in a single parent home, there are 7 of us growing up and my mom raised us a single parent.

So our grandparents were very significant in our lives.

My grandfather was very much involved in social justice issues, working with migrant communities.

I remember people lined up outside his house over on Buchanan and he would translate to take people to get their driver's license, so I think that you know growing up with my grandparents and so forth that instilled that passion for social justice and what's right and what's not, at a very early age.

So I think that when we're young we don't appreciate those stories and some of some of those interactions as I got older and began to realize you know the many injustices and so forth just really stayed with me and in his work and then my aunt was one of the founders of that Clinton Santa Maria over in Grandville and also I think that there's just been a strong advocacy for justice in the community.

>Are you happy from growing up and seeing your grandparents and their leadership and what they've done where we're at today, 2020 you’ve seen a lot of strides made since you were born here and raised you came through that time period.

>> I wouldn't say that I'm happy with the current state of what's happening not just in West Michigan but you know on a national global scale that you know the many injustices and the racial tensions.

I think that we have made a lot of progress but I do think that we have a lot of work to do I think that you know in some instances, you know we take one step forward and then too many steps back but I think that we have to continue is tiring and  fatigued as we get it especially as people of color.

It it can be fatiguing but I think that we have to keep going because nothing is going to change unless we do.

>>Absolutely I read in one of the articles, you mentioned, sometimes you might have been invited to a particular board, particular meeting or event to be there but not necessarily be heard, tell me about that feeling that you described there.

>>Yes, I'll go back to that fatigue.

I have served on many boards in different committees throughout my career and continue to do so, but I often felt that often and I was called because we need a woman of color.

So we also get a woman and I'm Latina woman.

So that's like a 2 plus.

>>A bonus.

>>Right right, but I’d often be the only one at the table and then different conversations would come up and I would voice my opinion and often the room would go silenct and I always felt like wow do they really want to hear me, but then when I bring up something that might be a challenging issue or something that we really need to take a look at I felt like I often felt like okay here she goes again so I’d leave often being frustrated but at the same time it's like if I don't speak up and you know nothing's ever going to change and sometimes I would get someone who would call me later and say you know, I'm really glad that you spoke out then I would be like but then why didn't you too,

you know, and I'm not saying they were always negative experiences, but because I do know that often when I did speak up others would obviously learn from that so again.

>>Then you’d get that call later that kind of reaffirmed what you're saying, but they didn't say it in public.

>>Right.

>>They’d  call you back to say it which that has its meanings too where you’d love for them to support you right then and there.

>>Right right because I think its important when especially at board levels and that you speak up because often people making decisions are making decisions that are impacting communities that they really

may not be is engaged and so it's important to speak up because it could be as simple as well, I don't want I want to say simple but maybe you're making the choice to go you know even now with everything that's happening online will have you consider that not everyone has Internet service or the resources to have it so or if you're publicize in something ensuring that you know various languages as well, so there's are always things to consider when you're working with various communities.

>>Absolutely and so we did some generalities there, but what are some of the point blank kind of barriers that you may have encountered as your career has kind of moved upward and onward and you've come through the different levels and different places that you've worked what any of the barriers and how would you deal with that to maybe talk to our young people as to how to stay with the game and keep moving forward.

>>Why I think my career was a little bit non-traditional as I advance throughout my career versus the way some younger professionals are progressing through their career.

I stayed in an organization for 36 years at Grand Rapids Community College and I started out as a secretary and worked  my way up so I think some of the some of the challenges that I had because I was at the organization for so long was that some people didn't see me as I progressed to coordinator to  the assistant director, the director that some people may not have seen me at that level

and not that the position may have changed but I didn't change you know as as a person and and so I think that was sometimes challenging as well as being the only female Latina at that time at the  director level and doing the work around diversity equity and inclusion isn't always appreciated by all so to me that was challenging because I always say it's not only hard work but heart work so it takes a lot of emotion and energy and I certainly have that passion for the work, but again, some of those challenges with those not always appreciating in and on valuing the work around equity and inclusion.

>>And so we look at that aspect of many women deal with this, but as we continue to make positive strides, make things change or are part of the change what has it taken for you Chris- to find your own voice and kind of own that? Because as you said people might see us certainly in  an organization for a very long time but to become comfortable in your own skin, so no matter how they might have been viewing you-you are able to stand strong with your own voice.

>> Yeah, I think too that some of that comes just with as you progress through your career and you become more comfortable, I know that as I've gotten older that I definitely feel more comfortable not only speaking up but speaking out and I've of course I had to do that around social justice issues throughout my career but even more so now I feel much more comfortable where before obviously when you're in the role you have to be very diplomatic as well, but I think that I have become definitely more comfortable speaking up and speaking out to encourage others to do so, especially again in light of what's happening in our communities around any racial injustices.

>> Do you also feel that with age though comes this wisdom, but also kind of a strength where you kind of don't care as much as when you were younger and speak up about this because you know you kind of just feel like I'm not going to remain silent and you're age just gives you that feeling of you know you won’t fret about it like- you perhaps did in your youth.

>>Yeah, you're absolutely right because I remember some of the mentors I've had in my life that were older than me that would say that and it's so absolutely true and I'm not even sure when that kind when that when that light bulb went off to me, but I definitely feel much more confident and comfortable in some instances so you're absolutely right and so I encourage others too, others younger and including my daughter to have that confidence to speak up and to speak out and to also to take chances, to risk to take some chances, I don't regret that I stayed with one organization, I love GRCC and the work that that we did.

But also to take chances and risk if there's something that you feel or a movement that you think is right for you to take that chance and I I do think that the younger generations are doing that you don't see many young professionals staying at organizations or they're moving to different places.

I was born and raised in Grand Rapids never left Grand Rapids.

So that's one thing that I wished I maybe would have done, but I encourage my daughter to go for those opportunities and you want that in the next generation.

>>Absolutely, spread those wings and fly.

>>Absolutely.

>> So you've been involved in so much that seeks to increase diversity and exploration there where you you get to know more about others with different backgrounds and I know you take the lead in many circumstances so what leadership traits do you like to see if perhaps in those that you mentor of perhaps work with?

>> I think my leadership style has always been servant leadership regardless of what role youre in, I think if you have to make copies at the copy machine or you’re getting ready for a lecture whatever you’re at it's all hands on deck, you know, everybody chips in and makes it happen.

So, I think that you know on being a good listener is really important just kind of meeting people where they're at working as a team.

Gosh just again going back to the servant leadership model was as far as I think that trust is one of the most important things that you can have as it as a team, yeah, just really being part of the team in that hierarchy, sometimes is challenging for some I just think that it's best to communicate, have open honest engaging conversations and to really appreciate the people that you work with.

So, a lot of folks will want to know how you do it all, how do you balance your work life with your personal and family life? You've raised a beautiful daughter, you know you've had a lot going on over the years, how do you make that that balance work for you?

>>Well I have to be honest in saying throughout my career it has been challenging  and I think that I did make some sacrifices, but I also you know there are times, many times that I may not have been there, now I get emotional. Many times there may have I may  not have been there for my daughter, you know or my family at certain times, but I think ultimately that they understood the how important that the work was so I encourage others to step away sometimes and the work is always going to be there.

I should’ve taken that advice younger in my career, the work will always be there and if you can't take care of yourself you can't take care of others and you can't really be a 100% of you know energized if you're not taking good care of yourself so we all need that time to step away and to refresh and energize so I definitely encourage that in younger professionals is that to you do have to step away and take care of yourself emotionally and physically.

You know, in the throes of things sometimes it's hard to really realize that when you're going through.

Because there's work on all ends family life and then but also your job and melding those 2 it could be difficult for anyone.

>>Yeah.

>>To really come up with that you know that moment where you go- OK this can go to the side and I've got to do this at home or vice versa.

Yeah, it is really hard and again I didn't take, I feel like I know I didn't take very good care of myself for many years as I was working, you know, working late hours and attending a lot of events and you know just didn't step away to take care of myself but at the same time I think that a lot of the work that I have always done has just been part of who I am so.

>>Part of your legacy.

>>Yeah, yeah, it’s  just I've always been so immersed in the community

around you know social justice issues so it's just kind of, it's always has been part of who I am as well, but again as far as the work life balance goes and when you're when you're living that work working it you do have to make sure that you kinda step away because as I said it's not just hard work- it’s heart work so emotionally it can be very fatiguing as well so you do have to know when it's time to kind of take a break.

Absolutely. So, we look at that kind of on the flip side of that one of the little more light-hearted things where you what do you do for fun, what do you like to do for fun?

And my kind of compounded question there is also what makes you laugh because to me they go hand in hand kind of.

>> Oh yeah.

Well I think for fun too and it's been fun, heavy Ally home now for a few days where she has to head back to New York, but we um..

>>Ally is your daughter by the way.

>>Yes, yes, uh we sing in the car very loudly and we were doing and last night as we're heading home from up north and that just always like makes me laugh, just yeah, just singing in the car.

>>At the top of your lungs probably.

>>Yeah, you definitely don’t want to hear me sing right now so I feel safe when I can sing in the car, so that it always kind of makes me laugh, you know, we're very fortunate to have a place up on

In northern Michigan and I love going up there and relaxing and just love water any time I can be around water, you know, Michigan is such a beautiful state I love all the Great Lakes and the history around them and I love being involved with a Latina network leadership team, we have such great conversations we laugh, we eat, you know that sisterhood is just really important. I love people in general, you know I I do love people and hearing their stories and my Ally always teases me she's like mom just talks to everybody and but to me it's just a you never know what that what then what that word or conversation can mean to someone so I do , I love people.

>>Very true.  So with all going on so many things going on to looking for the positives to have a favorite saying or a perhaps a model that you use to encourage or talk to leave with people as you talk with them.

>> I think again just going back to our younger generation and so forth is just encouraging people to take risks to take care of yourselves to find your passion because I think that I was very fortunate to find mine in the work just to find your passion because often times I know for many years it was just like I just always enjoyed my work and the people and working with so many young people the students when I was at GRCC  and watching them grow and you know again finding your passion, do what you love and I think that some advice I give to my daughter too as she's just starting her career is that you know you sometimes you have to start somewhere might not always be exactly what you want.

But you have to start somewhere and don't be afraid to ask people for help for to connect to networks they're so valuable and people want to help and don't feel like you're putting a burden on others to help you along the way because we all need each other.

>>And I like what you said, “it’s heart work, not hard work.”

>>Yeah, yeah definitely.

>> Thank you, Chris Arnold and thank you so much for joining us for this edition of powerful women, let's talk, I’m Jennifer Moss.

>>Thank you.

>> Produced by women about women these powerful podcast 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 the at the Miejer 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 Grand Valley State University.