Sherece West-Scantlebury: Asking ‘Why?'

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

Sherece West-Scantlebury (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

West-Scantlebury has found herself in nonprofit leadership in Arkansas due to most of a lifetime of fighting poverty.

“I just set out to use my time, talent and skill to really ask the question: How do you decrease poverty and increase prosperity among the disadvantaged? My career has pretty well been a quest for that question,” she said.

Born to a 16-year-old mother who raised her in public housing in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Baltimore, West-Scantlebury said she spent her whole life thinking of blighted communities and asking, “Why is this community the way it is?”

Many people from her old neighborhoods stayed stuck in their situations, even though they wanted to get out, she said. She, then, can empathize with people who want help — such as many of those served by Rockefeller Foundation funding — but struggle to change, she said.

Excelling in school was part of what propelled West-Scantlebury from the depression, drugs and violence of her childhood world.

“I made up my mind I wasn’t going to do it,” she said. “The unhappiness and lack of hope and being down day in and day out. I just didn’t want to do that.”

West-Scantlebury earned a bachelor’s degree from Bowie State University in Maryland, a master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan and a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland.

“I don’t think of myself as a person of influence,” West-Scantlebury said. I think of myself more as a person in a team, in a communal effort, to improve Arkansas.”

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