Imani in conversation with Ofronama Biu

Imani Darden ‘14 recently launched her podcast called Forward 40, which highlights the experiences of 40 women of color on the rise in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors. We caught up with her to find out what she’s been doing and how she got into podcasting. 

What have you been doing since you left Milano?

Immediately after Milano I joined the founding staff for the New York team of a college access nonprofit CollegeSpring. In that role, I developed and managed relationships with a variety of education partners including public, charter, community-based organizations, and higher education institutions to embed the program model into their operations. Currently, I work for the largest community development financial intermediary, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, on the Knowledge Management and Strategy team. Capacity-building, sharing internal best-practices, and capturing sector-wide resources for practitioners are key to my role.

How did your time at Milano shape what you’re doing now?

I chose to attend Milano after receiving a strong recommendation from my previous supervisor at the time, Jeannemarie Hendershot, Senior Director of External Affairs Uncommon Schools. I didn’t have any knowledge of Milano prior to her recommendation but she knew it would be a great fit for me and she was spot on. I attended an information session where I met the late, Sharon Greenidge, who was the Assistant Director of Admissions at the time. I saw myself in her. I saw the representation of Black womanhood in leadership at the college. I also felt that Milano was structured with more of community focus in its policy framing and those two factors together contributed to my decision to attend.

While at Milano, the cohort in the Urban Policy program was mostly women. It was a mirror to my undergraduate experience at Smith College. While most of the policy faculty were men, I was intentional about taking classes with women professors. Professor Erica Kohl-Arenas provided my formal introduction into nonprofit management and participatory community engagement. I have been committed to the sector ever since.

There is no light-switch to my intersectionality. I was born in the city, raised by a single mother with the help of my late maternal grandmother and step grandfather in the South Bronx, and currently reside there. The toxic air I breathed as a child that contributed to the asthma I and my peers suffered from, has put a fire in my soul to be a voice for women who look like me, move about this world as I do and need faith for a renewed respiration.

Tell us about your podcast Forward 40 and how you got started as a podcaster.

A former colleague of mine mentioned a particular podcast to me over a year ago, SideHustle Pro. I took note of her recommendation to listen to it but I didn’t see then that she was planting an intentional seed for this platform. To my surprise the host of the show is a fellow Bronxite. At work, I coordinate the podcast content and logistics with our CEO on key issues to the sector. When another colleague asked me “Imani, when are you starting your podcast?” I looked at her like she was off her rocker and laughed it off. It all came full-circle one night when I couldn’t sleep and I kept seeing the number 40 and a community of women. I texted my best friend and started sharing the visions that I was seeing and it birthed, Forward 40 (4tea). The text correspondence started off just like this on the night of February 6th at 9:59pm (I have the screenshots lol)

Me: What does tea make you feel? What does it evoke in your spirit? Just give me words. Sip and….
Best friend: Peace. Reset.intentionality. Slow down.Smith.gather.discuss.balance.Holistic

From there I claimed it. I was starting a podcast highlighting the experiences of 40 (4tea) women of color in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors. In-person community events will be at cafes and teaspots, owned by women and people of color. The genesis of the podcast is reflective of my experience (direct and indirect) in the sector. I wanted to elevate our collective voices because I was tired of that voice being drowned out and overlooked. We aren’t a monolith yet there are shared experiences in our journeys.

We are resilient. We are badass. We are phenomenal.

How does Forward 40 speak to your own experience?

Are we going to sit down for this one? Lol. The birth of Forward 40 speaks to my experience and the experience of other women of color in the sector. We will be candid in the issues we explore, share moments of tribulation and triumph, and shine light on our awesomeness. Most of all, it’s an affirmative platform for our place in the sector and beyond.

You spoke with Public and Urban Policy PhD student Ofronama Biu in your very first episode for Forward 40.  What do you appreciate about the work Ofronama’s been doing?

First, Ofronama, sister, thank you again. Your presence and willingness to help launch this platform is far greater than you can possibly conceive.

Ofronama is using the very agency, we all have within us to move the collective forward. She speaks to a sense of social responsibility in seeing her report on the experiences of women of color in the workplace to the finish line. I know it wasn’t easy to compile the data, travel the country to hear women speak to the data and all the while be one with the research as a woman of color. That requires an audacious and determined spirit. I admire Ofronama for not letting up and being resilient. She raised the lamppost high and now it’s time for us to do the heart-work, that is the hard work, to figure out what’s next.

You close each episode of Forward 40 by asking your guest to share a “tea affirmation,” the type of inspirational message you sometimes find on tea bags. Will you share a tea affirmation with us?

I lean to this verse for inspiration when in doubt: “You were created for such a time as this” *Esther 4:14