The T.D. Jakes Foundation (TDJF) is a proud sponsor of the Texas Women’s Foundation Women Leadership Forum & Awards Celebration, which honors female leaders and trailblazers making a difference in their communities through the Maura Women Helping Women and Young Leader Awards. TDJF president and CEO Hattie Hill will serve as a co-chair of the virtual event, hosted on April 29, 2021. In advance of the program, we asked honorees to share their experiences as female leaders in the business and nonprofit worlds and highlight steps we can all take to further advance gender equity in the workplace.
2021 Maura Women Helping Women Award Recipient:
Jin-Ya Huang, Artist & Innovator for Immigrant Women
1. When did you first become interested in giving back/social justice and how did your formative experiences influence your charitable work?
We grew up in poverty in Taiwan. In the south, farming villages did not always afford girls access to education. My mom was not free to study in East Asia. Whereas in the States, my mother had the opportunity to establish herself as a restaurateur. Mei-Ying Huang became a chef and a community leader. She transformed lives everyday by training immigrants, refugees, and migrants with job skills, and sent them onto bigger and better opportunities. I saw at a young age the inequitable treatment of women and girls and decided to become a social practice artist to speak up against these injustices of the world. Then, when my mom passed away from cancer, I turned grief into action, and founded Break Bread, Break Borders to help women from marginalized communities to honor my mother’s legacy.
2. How has your business leadership experience impacted/informed your work building nonprofits and supporting communities?
Servant leadership is our style of leadership. For us, in business, it is no different than in life. Treat people how you want to be treated – that is the key. As a social practice artist, we make art that makes a social impact. So, when the community asks for fire, we don’t bring them water. We often don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re really good at showing up. Sometimes, showing up is all that matters. I may not be as well-versed in culinary skills as the BBBB Community Cooks from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Chechnya, Bangladesh, and the Congo, but I’m really good at taking out the trash, so that’s what I roll up my sleeves to contribute. And that’s how we show up. It’s wherever we’re needed the most, to serve our communities in need. We wouldn’t be here without our community’s support, so we’re grateful for our partners who have been there every step of the way to show up for us as neighbors do.
3. We know how important exposure and role models are to women and underrepresented communities. Who was one of your most important early role models and why?
Our mom is a huge influence on us. While we couldn’t afford to give money, we gave time, which is so much more valuable than just dropping off a check. She modeled this philanthropic behavior all throughout her life. We used to volunteer cooking for church fundraisers, sing for elders in nursing homes, and sew blankets for homeless shelters. You name the disaster relief efforts, she made sure we were there. That’s why, at BBBB, we make sure that the women we serve, get to see women of color in successful places. The mentors we introduce to the community cooks are women from the BIPOC, Interfaith and LGBTQIA+ communities. They’re professional chefs, catering business owners, restaurateurs, culinary consultants, and other female role models of our communities. You can’t be what you can’t see. We were fortunate enough to grow up with mom as our NorthStar – if there’s an opportunity we can be that light for the ladies and help them shine, we will amplify their voices every chance we get.
4. To create diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels, businesses need to lead by example. How do you lead by example and how can we advocate for women and ensure we are represented in leadership positions and on corporate boards?
This is not about me; this is about our sisterhood. At Break Bread, Break Borders, we foster a human-centered design feedback system. We are not just cooking; we’re starting a revolution. At BBBB, we lift as we climb, the cooks who have acquired their food manager license certification stay on to train the next class of cohorts, that’s just the beginning of how we create diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels. At BBBB, we practice kindness and compassion every day. With the training program, the Community Cooks get to leverage culinary and business skills to become competitive entrepreneurs. Alumnae earn independent incomes improving their families’ lives, strengthening community by accelerating assimilation while honoring their culture and traditions. BBBB instills confidence in refugee women who learn to manage businesses in a financially viable manner. BBBB’s artistic and storytelling activities raise awareness of racism and gender equity, plus building compassion towards refugees and immigrants. Children and youth are a focus of BBBB’s activities increasing empathy, recognizing their importance in fostering next-generation cross-cultural, racial, and religious peace and understanding. By sharing these as best practices, we lead by example. Our leadership team is 90% women, 60% people of color/refugees/immigrants. Our board is 80% women and 80% POC. We aim to shift the narrative and advance the conversation on leadership positions and board representation.
5. How should companies think about charitable giving? How can they ensure that they’re directing their dollars to organizations that will remain accountable?
Companies should take a chance, to not just talk, but do the walk. It’s simply the right thing to do. Social innovation is ahead of the curve, so invest in new ideas and create policy changes that make lasting social impact. As the author Adrienne Maree Brown writes in her book, “Emergent Strategy,” we are practicing science fiction here with social justice work. To build this futurist vision, it requires the ability to re-imagine a new world for us to live in. Social enterprises like Break Bread, Break Borders are giving organizations exactly the opportunity to put their dollars to work and to be accountable. It will take willingness to not just raise capital, but to make active charitable giving happen. Because we believe human capital + social capital = financial capital. This may sound counter intuitive to the risk averse side in all of us, but this is exactly the creative problem-solving, bridge builder, entrepreneurial global citizen side that is often uncomfortable and difficult for us to embrace, but in Heather McGee’s wise words, it’s the investment we must make as a human race, in order to actualize the concept that we can all Prosper Together, and profit from Solidarity Dividends TOGETHER.
Visit the Texas Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Forum & Awards Celebration website to learn about the Maura Women Helping Women and Young Leader award winners, register for the event and support the cause.
Next up: Diana Mao
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