In our next feature of everyday leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Wanda Allen-Abraha, JD. Mrs. Allen-Abraha serves as Director of Human Relations for the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has served in this role for 19 years and works in legal areas such as Fair Housing Law, Landlord/Tenant Mediation, and Title VI (Limited English Proficiency compliance), in addition to the program areas of Building Integrative Communities (BIC), Youth Advisory Council, College Advisory Board, African-American Heritage Initiative, and more. Our conversation revolved around her career, interests, and what leadership means to her. So let’s get to it!
I’m always interested to know, how did you get into your line of work? What drew you to Human Relations?
Human Relations is a civil rights department within city government, which is a perfect blend of law, cultural inclusion, and social equity. I always had an interest in both government and law (ever since my Civics class in the 9th grade). I also have a great adviser in law school who supported and affirmed my career interest. I went to law school with a focus on government. I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to have a work-life balance. I wanted to go to work, come home at a decent time, have a marriage, and have time for myself. I wanted it all. We heard the work-life balance challenges of certain areas of law and I didn’t want that. When I told my adviser this, he supported and recommended working for the government, which was consistent with my interests. Later on, I also learned that many human relations departments, particularly in larger cities, were led and staffed by JDs (Juris Doctors).
Leadership of “self” is about staying true to your core values and moving forward with your goals, even if no one’s encouraging you or guiding you. When thinking about values, how does your current work (this can include any community service or family service) align with your core values?
Both my current work and community service interests align with my core values. I am a proponent for the fair and equal treatment of all people, despite their status in life. No one should be treated differently or deprived of access or rights to legally protected characteristics such as race, socio-economic status, national origin, physical or mental ability, gender, or religion.
I often talk to people, especially women, about the importance of making time for yourself. Taking care of your own needs is not a selfish act, but a selfless one. How do you make time for yourself and your other interests/hobbies?
I take care of myself by building in time to meditate by reading, enjoying aromatherapy, and traveling. I believe it is critical to allow myself time to balance all aspects in my life and focus on the present, as opposed to lamenting over the past or fretting over the future.
What does “leadership” mean to you?
To me, leadership means having a willingness to make the time and effort to learn and practice foundational skills that will propel you to the professional position being sought. In other words, a real leader does not expect to begin “at the top,” due to impatience or entitlement. Instead, the goal should be to understand the work and challenges of those who support you.
What is one trait that you believe leaders (in any capacity) should have and why?
One trait leaders should have is empathy. Sometimes, it is easy for leaders to forget what it is like to be in supportive roles. It is important that a leader has a service-oriented mindset to ensure that everyone on his or her team feels valued, heard, and appreciated.
Thinking 15 + years from now, where do you see yourself or what do you see yourself doing?
By that time, I hope to be retired, but in a role where I’m still educating or teaching in some capacity. I want to be imparting knowledge to adults in some setting.
As I spoke more with Mrs. Allen-Abraha, I learned that she loves to travel. So, she divulged some of her favorite places to visit, domestically and internationally.
My three favorite places to travel domestically are San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. For a few years, my husband and I lived in California and I fell in love with the Bay Area. Internationally, I loved Paris, Rome and Venice, and Ethiopia, especially the northern province of Tigray. In Paris, I was excited to fulfill my lifelong dream to dust off my bilingual skills to speak and translate French. In Ethiopia, the culture is friendly and warm; the food is organic; and there are many ancient churches there to explore, some of which were built underground in the 10th and 11th centuries.
Of course, as a native of Fayetteville, NC, Mrs. Allen-Abraha gave special credence to her home state of North Carolina.
I do have to say that often people travel outside of the state to see great oceans and beautiful beaches, but North Carolina has some of the most beautiful natural resources. I love the Outer Banks and Wrightsville Beach!
Mrs. Allen-Abraha, we can’t wait to gain more knowledge from you. Thank you for the work that you are doing in making the city better!
Keep leading and be safe,