Carolyn Love was born and raised in the heart of the Midwest: Gary, Indiana. A city rich in African American culture, it was a place to “love the skin you’re in” and support your neighbors as if they were family. “Gary was a town filled with people who were caring, loving, and community-centered. By the time I was in first or second grade, it became a predominantly Black community. Being raised in an environment where professionals and steel mill workers lived side by side was a great experience,” she recalls.
A Commitment to Leadership and Change
Love’s upbringing helped give her a clear sense of equality, so much so that at the age of 15, she committed to help end racism in her lifetime. “I really didn’t know what type of career path would get me to that goal. I was a junior in college before I declared a major. Even then, I struggled with what I wanted as a major, so on a whim, I landed on social work with a minor in psychology and sociology.” Love received her undergraduate degree from Indiana State University in Terra Haute, Indiana. Times were not easy, she recalls. “When I arrived on campus, we were the largest cohort of African American students ever to attend the University. Needless to say, there was campus unrest. My Idol was Angela Davis, and I wore my hair in an Afro in tribute to her and as part of speaking my racial identity.”
After finishing undergrad, Love tried working in a couple of different fields before finding her true love: nonprofit work. “I worked for a while with special needs children. I also worked for a while with a major retail company, and I spent ten years in the banking industry. I left the banking industry to enter the nonprofit world, and it was there that I found my place and my reason for being,” she says. Love earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management and led three different nonprofit organizations over 13 years before going on to earn her Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. She is currently an independent consultant focusing on leadership and organizational development, as well as an affiliate faculty member at Regis University teaching in the Masters of Nonprofit Management program.
Love treasures the experience of writing her doctoral dissertation, as it prompted her to support women of color in their work. She recalls, “My doctoral dissertation focused on the generational differences in attitudes about race among Black women. It was through that experience that I have actively supported the work of Black women from different generational groups in their efforts to bring about social change. It is important because every generation has a gift to give to the world. When we combine our wisdom, our insights, and our gifts, we can make meaningful and relevant change.”
She continues the work of bringing intergenerational groups together today. “Currently, I am working on a project to bring Black women from different generations together to think together and talk about how we make change happen and celebrate each other in the process.” Emphasizing the importance of embracing people of all ages, she adds, “It will take everyone bringing their gifts to make the lasting change we want to see. It will take everyone to imagine a multiethnic, multicultural democracy—one where all people can experience their dreams.”
The Love of Family
Carolyn Love is devoted to her family, often involving her granddaughters in her work by inviting them to her presentations on equity, diversity, and inclusion. “That allows them to listen to not only me but other people in the audience. I invite them to be part of the conversation. As a result, they have a keen sense of their identity.”
She appreciates all the generations before and after her, sharing a beautiful story about her grandfather. “When I was young, my mother told me a story about my maternal grandfather, Lester Staples. Every New Year’s Eve, my grandfather would walk through the community in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, knocking on everyone’s door to wish them a Happy New Year. It was believed that if a wise man knocked on your door first on New Year’s Day, you would have a year of good luck. People paid my grandfather to knock on their door.”
Love Your Story
When asked about advice for others who may want to follow in her footsteps, Love reflected on the journey of obtaining her Ph.D. “I began my Ph.D. program when I was 55 years old. Six months into the program, my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and four years later, he died. I worked on my doctoral program through his illness and subsequent death. It took me two additional years to complete my program. I was at the seven-year mark when I finished.” Through this difficult experience, Love learned that “if you have a vision for yourself and a burning desire, your age becomes irrelevant.” She believes that “the universe will let you know what you need to know in due time,” and encourages everyone to “get excited about writing their personal story.”
Angelle Fouther and Daryn Fouther