This year, Tina Morrow (she/her), Site Director of Public Allies Delaware, celebrated 20 years with Public Allies! We sat down with her to learn more about her leadership journey over the past two decades. Read her Q&A below:
Q: In the time you’ve been with Public Allies, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
A: On an organizational level…. The generations serving initially started with Gen X (Fight the Power) then a whole slew of millennials (Let’s take care of one another) and now being blessed to learn with generation Z (combining both so beautifully). Our logo has changed taglines; New Leadership for New Times to Everyone Leads (there may be one I’m missing). Our mission statement has been edited. We’ve added core values. We had 6 sites when I started then up to 24 and now condensed to 11. Systems, policies and compliance standards have certainly changed. When I look back I almost cringe, and often laugh, about how things have changed in those areas.
But with all of this, the essence and spirit of Public Allies remains exactly the same. With every organizational change or strategic planning process, whenever asked the big question, “what is our secret sauce? our North Star? or secret to success?”, it is always answered with a resounding “our people and relationships.”
Relationships in the form of Allies during their term of service, with the communities where they live and serve. Our alumni, our staff relationships of those who have come and gone, making sure that staff are always considered staff alum, not just “someone I used to work with”. These are people that we’ve done life with. Where we’ve cried, laughed, sometimes we’ve screamed, encouraged and always appreciated.
Q: What has your personal journey with Public Allies been?
A: Immediately before working with Public Allies Delaware, I worked for a bank. I was their Community Relations Manager and we provided grant funding to PADE. I sat on a Presentation of Learning (POL) panel and I was hooked. I asked to come back for the remaining two days of presentations. Quickly thereafter, I joined the PADE Advisory board. When the then Site Director announced a Program Manager opening, I jumped at the opportunity to apply.
My first day as a Program Manager was Valentine’s Day 2003. We were putting “3 for free” bags/condom packets together. Then we dropped them off at local bars and clubs throughout the area. Looking back, it seems so appropriate that my journey started on a day where people confess their love to one another. Public Allies introduced me to the ability to love strangers. Every year on the first day of core training our debrief question is always “what are you looking forward to for this year?”. EVERY YEAR my answer is the same; “I can’t wait to witness you falling in love with one another, becoming family and all of the highs and lows that come with that type of transformation.”
I’ve grown up with Public Allies. I entered this organization as a wide eyed 25-year-old privileged white girl from DC; who was afraid to lead people that were older than her. My first gift seat when I asked the question “what do you think I don’t know about myself”, every single one of my Allies said, “I don’t think you believe that you are as good a Program Manager as you actually are”. That was the first time I realized that I belonged at Public Allies and that I was a part of Public Allies. I learned my worth and gained a sense of belonging in my first year.
Q: When have you “trusted the process”?
A: I’ve trusted the process a million times over.
My last day as a Program Manager was the first day of being Site Director. It was the day where I had to assume the management of a site that was $500,000 in deficit and attempt to craft a strategy that would lighten the very strained relationship with our Operating Partner, while throwing a PADE 15th anniversary celebration with no money and all the while, trying to not go into labor with my son until it was all done. However, those who had come before me, those who founded our organization, those alum who had been changed forever, rose to the occasion. I knew I needed to bring the love back to the site. Every person that I asked to come back (“give me just one year of your time”), they all said yes! I asked each person who signed on to reflect on the first time they fell in love with PADE. We needed to hang on to that feeling many times as we rebuilt. Even though the task was huge, with the right people, the energy propelled each of us. It was an exhausting time but filled with the type of energy that fills your bones. You don’t want to stop the momentum.
In some ways the current state of PA nationally feels similar to my first year as a site director in 2008. The energy is returning. Right now, we have a very odd opportunity to almost time travel. Our network has moved backwards in scale, but we have retained all of the knowledge of what powerful and toxic leadership looks like. We have the ability to unify an entire network of alumni, staff alum, Allies, staff, board members, community members, operating partners, partner organizations, etc; and build the movement that we have dreamed of for the past 31 years.
Q: Why Public Allies, even after 20 years?
A: It has been such an honor to have been a part of more than 600 Ally stories. Generational legacy Allies that were brought by blood and others brought by love. The fact that one of my Allies in the class of 2003 had a baby and he is now serving in the current class of 2023 makes my heart explode with joy. I suppose that is what keeps me working for Public Allies, the pursuit of justice and equity all in the name of love. The joy that comes from witnessing Ally’s journey to greatness and achieving their self-determined course of life.
It has been such an honor to serve with the entire Public Allies network over these past 20 years but specifically the Public Allies Delaware family. The four current team members bring a combined tenure of more than 60 years of Public Allies experience. I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t express just how much love I hold for my current team and PADE staff alum. We laugh together, take care of one another; we build one another up and jump in when one of us has to tap out. Any success achieved at the site level has been because of these folks; usually in spite of me.
Being a part of the Public Allies family has changed the way I interact with the world, the way I raise my children, what I fight for in spaces of influence, what stories and voices I uplift. My PA family has helped me to dismantle my own white supremacist practices and mindsets, helped me sit in discomfort, I’ve learned the necessity of redirecting resources, and try to be mindful to hold myself accountable daily. In 20 years, what I have learned from Public Allies is to lead with your heart and enter every space eager to find love.
Public Allies is a robust ecosystem of nearly 10,000 equity-driven leaders across the country. We are dedicated to disrupting systems that impact marginalized communities, while listening, learning, and working across differences to build the common good. Join us.