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Community Action's Black History Month Spotlight: Elesia Fowlin

Updated: Feb 16

This Black History Month, we're proud to highlight the Black leaders who play a pivotal role at Community Action Lehigh Valley. As an anti-poverty nonprofit dedicated to supporting marginalized communities of color, we place a strong focus on racial and ethnic justice. We're committed to dismantling the systemic barriers in the US that perpetuate cycles of poverty among Black and BIPOC communities. Continue reading to discover the significant impact our Black leadership has on both our organization and the broader Lehigh Valley community.

About Elesia: 

Elesia Fowlin is the Associate Executive Director for Human Resources for Community Action Lehigh Valley and been part of our dedicated team for over two and half years. With a wealth of experience spanning over two decades in business administration, Elesia has demonstrated her commitment to fostering positive change within organizations through strategic planning and organizational development. 


Elesia's educational journey includes her undergraduate studies at Cedar Crest College, where she laid the foundation for her career in business administration. Building on her academic achievements, she pursued and successfully earned her master's degree from Moravian University. Throughout her career, Elesia has served in various roles, showcasing her versatility and proficiency in navigating the complexities of business administration. Her strategic mindset, coupled with a passion for creating impactful change, has positioned her as a valuable asset in the realm of human resources. 


Elesia stated, “My journey into the world of anti-poverty nonprofits was sparked by a personal commitment to making a real difference in my community. As a child I experienced the impact of poverty on the community in which I grew up. This experience fueled my desire for a more meaningful life. Initially unsure of how to contribute beyond volunteering and donations, I realized my impact could be maximized by supporting the employees of Community Action as they, in turn, support those in need.” 


Professional Journey: 

What challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them? 

Throughout my career, I've faced various challenges – from navigating systemic barriers to addressing the unique needs of marginalized communities. Resilience and determination have been my allies. Overcoming these challenges involved building a strong professional support team with diverse backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. Networking, mentorship, and a passion for continuous learning opportunities equipped me to turn obstacles into opportunities for growth. 


Impacts & Achievements: 

What are some of the key projects or initiatives you've led or been a part of that you're most proud of? 

The initiatives closest to my heart are centered around education, job training, and economic empowerment. Witnessing individuals break free from the cycle of poverty through education has been the most rewarding aspect of my professional life. These initiatives directly impact the community, aligning with my commitment to creating lasting, positive change. 



Do you have any role models or historical figures who inspire you? 

My grandmother is my role model. I admire her due to her tenacity and determination for a better life for her children. She came to the United States by herself from Jamaica and worked two jobs, all to provide an opportunity for her 7 children and buy a home. She taught me patience and that I as long as I was able to make a commitment to a goal that it would be achievable.   



How do you feel Black History Month contributes to the conversation around poverty and social justice? 

During black history month there is a joint effort to highlight poverty and social justice awareness. In addition, groundbreaking and influential black leaders throughout history are highlighted to inspire and provoke meaningful change in our community.  



What advice would you give to young Black individuals aspiring to leadership roles within the nonprofit sector, or any sector? 

My advice to young Black aspiring leaders is: 

  • Think about where you want to go in your career, then seek mentors who have experienced a similar career path. 

  • Know yourself and stay true to oneself.  

  • Grasp at the opportunities that will allow you to grow in your career.  


Vision & Future Goals: 

What is your vision for the future of anti-poverty work, particularly in communities of color? 

My vision for the future of anti-poverty work in communities of color entails a proactive pathway such as the two-generation approach. Instead of merely reacting to poverty, let's collaboratively take steps to prevent it. This involves investing in resources for quality education, providing educational opportunities on finances and various industries, and establishing a robust mentorship program featuring individuals of color who are community leaders. 


Are there any new initiatives or projects you are looking forward to in the upcoming year or two? 

The agency will be working with our Director of Racial Ethnic Justice to provide a comprehensive training for employees in the near future.

In the upcoming year, the agency plans to collaborate closely with the Director of Racial Ethnic Justice to roll out a comprehensive training program for its employees. This initiative underscores our agency's commitment to addressing and promoting racial and ethnic justice within our workforce. By equipping employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and contribute to a diverse workplace and community, we aim to enhance understanding, foster mutual respect, and ensure that all staff members are aligned with the organization's core values of equity and inclusivity. This training is expected to be a pivotal component in Community Action's broader Color Outside The Lines strategy to create a more equitable workplace and, by extension, more effectively serve the communities impacted by poverty and inequality.


Challenges in the Nonprofit Sector: 

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Black communities in the context of poverty

There are many significant challenges facing Black communities in the context of poverty. I believe one of the biggest challenges is access to comprehensive healthcare. This encompasses not only medical services, but also resources that encourage a healthy lifestyle, such as access to nutritious foods, wellness routines, and information that empowers individuals to become advocates for themselves and their communities. 


What have you learned about yourself through your work in the nonprofit sector? 

My experience in the nonprofit sector has been a profound learning journey, opening my eyes to the pressing needs of those in poverty within our community. This work has illuminated the importance of empathy, understanding, and a commitment to creating meaningful change. 


Advice for the Nonprofit Sector: 

What changes would you like to see in the nonprofit sector to better support Black communities and leaders? 

To better support Black communities, the nonprofit sector should focus on implementing affordable childcare programs that support single mothers and has a strong foundation for education. Additionally, mentorship programs can play a pivotal role in providing guidance and support to individuals throughout their educational and professional journeys. 


How can nonprofits more effectively address issues of diversity and inclusion at the leadership level? 

Effective change in diversity and inclusion at the leadership level can be achieved through collaborative efforts with community partners, schools, and active advocacy. By fostering strong connections and partnerships, nonprofits can ensure that leadership reflects the rich diversity of the communities they serve. 


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