In honor of Black History month, we’re featuring Black-led organizations and talking to their leaders about their work, and the importance of African American representation. Today, we talk to Danista E. Hunte, the Executive Director of Child First Authority (CFA) in Baltimore.
About Child First Authority
Established in 1996 in Baltimore, Child First Authority provides support to children and families in three ways:
- Manage 9 community schools, providing a full-time staff person to coordinate strategic partnerships and services for children and families.
- Provide after school and summer programs for students in 15 schools.
- Support parents through parent training and leadership opportunities.
Approximately 1,100 students are enrolled in CFA out-of-school programs. An additional 3,400 students are supported in the nine community schools.
At the age of four, Danista and her parents immigrated to Baltimore from Barbados. Her parents offered her two career options, doctor or lawyer. Loving science, Danista chose doctor and planned to be a pediatrician. During her sophomore year in college, she discovered the Humanities and Social Sciences. When she chose her major, she picked an interdisciplinary major called Science, Technology and Society. This allowed her to focus on both hard sciences and social sciences.
Danista left Baltimore at 18. When she returned in 1999, she was surprised to find how many people she’d gone to elementary school with were now deceased or in jail. Not only that, but old neighborhoods, businesses, and community assets were no longer operating. Danista was saddened by the changes to her community and it helped fuel her desire to do work that would rebuild the community.
After earning a Masters in Public Health, Danista worked in that field for several years before “stumbling” into philanthropy through a job at the community foundation. She expected to stay there for five years. Instead, she was there for 16 years.
At the foundation, Danita’s portfolio included education and youth development. She appreciated the opportunity to get money to communities and programs that didn’t generally have access. CFA was one of Danista’s grantees and despite having always sworn that she’d never be a public school teacher or an Executive Director (two jobs for which she has a great deal of admiration), Danista has been the ED of CFA for over four years. Danista sees it as her job to make sure that her child, and other people’s children have opportunities and access.
The Importance of Having African Americans in Nonprofit Leadership
Danista notes that Maryland and Baltimore have an abundance of nonprofits. Although their work primarily supports African American and Latino communities, the midsized and larger ones are not generally run by People of Color (POC). She feels it’s important that people see themselves in positions of influence and agency and become facilitators of their own change, as opposed to being dependent on outsiders to do the work.
However, Danista cautions that while POC are more likely to share similar lived experiences and sensitivities, simply hiring POC as leaders isn’t the end of the work. Although they are led by POC, CFA still has an equity statement and makes an intentional effort to focus on equity.
As Danista says, “We’ve all drank the same Kool-Aid of institutional and structural racism. We all need to work to overcome racism so that we don’t perpetuate the harm. We have to be conscious and aware of what biases we bring to the work and make sure we’re undoing the racist structures.”
We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with CFA and help Danista and the organization evaluate their programs.