This month we sit down with Donna Odom as she recalls the path and passion leading to her present post as Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society.
Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)
There were many shifts that led me to where I am today, but the primary shift was leaving Chicago and relocating to Kalamazoo. In Chicago I began my career as a French and English teacher. From there I transitioned to positions in career services and cooperative education. My last position before leaving Chicago was teaching college English Composition and Research Writing.
After coming to Kalamazoo, I began part-time at Kalamazoo Valley Museum and remained there for 12 years in the Education and Programs area, where I coordinated science and history programs. That was where my interest in regional African American history was sparked. In 2003 I founded the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society, along with Dr. and Mrs. Romeo Phillips, Harold Bulger, and Horace Bulger. I served as president of the Society through 2010. After retiring from the Museum, I later transitioned to serving as Executive Director of the Society.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I love the openness and friendliness of the people in the community and their spirit of service.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
I like to maintain focus, to complete what I start, and to stay true to my word.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
I can’t identify any one mentor. I learn from everyone with whom I interact and let their best qualities serve as a guide to my own behavior.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
My biggest learning moment was realizing that I do my best work when I’m following my passion.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
Because I’m primarily a volunteer at what I do and I don’t have set hours, my days are always different, which is the thing I like most. However, almost all of them involve at least one meeting.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
When we are planning a specific project or program, I find myself getting my best ideas in the wee hours of the morning.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I serve on several boards of history-based organizations.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
Make sure you are making the decision to enter the field because what you are going to do enables you to follow your passion or your life purpose, not because you think it will make you rich.
What do you geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interest do you really like)?
Believe it or not, I geek my work which allows me to do the things I enjoy most - expressing myself through speaking and writing, planning and organizing, researching history, interacting with others. The only other thing I do as much is read. I also enjoy classical music, theater, dancing, and interior decorating.