Kimeka Campbell: Creating spaces for young professionals of color

Kimeka Cambpell - (Photo / Submitted)

Brooklyn, New York native Kimeka Campbell thinks that if she can move to the Harrisburg area and grow to love it as much as she has, then anyone else should be able to do the same. Especially Harrisburg natives, Campbell said.

Campbell, 37, moved to State College for graduate school at Penn State 11 years ago and settled in Central Pennsylvania with her husband, Basir, around 2013. She has been a principal IT trainer with UPMC Pinnacle for over three years. 

When she’s not working (or sometimes when she is, but luckily her employer is supportive, Campbell said), she is the operations chair for Greater Harrisburg Young Professionals of Color, or YPOC for short.

Campbell’s involvement in the organization goes beyond event planning as operations chair, though. She and Basir, YPOC’s president, are two of the leaders who have sustained the organization’s growth since its revival about three years ago. 

Local young-professionals groups for people of color have existed in various iterations over the past couple decades, but they died off after their leaders moved away from Harrisburg for other career opportunities, Campbell said.

Now, Campbell, her husband and the rest of the YPOC board are working to ensure the success and sustainability of the organization. The group, which used to be called Harrisburg Young Black Professionals, officially changed its name is early 2017 and is a registered nonprofit in the state. YPOC is working on obtaining 501(c)(3) status, Campbell said.


YPOC held its first-ever leadership workshop on Nov. 10, which Campbell organized to bring together community and business leaders to discuss ways people of color are marginalized and how to better include them. Campbell said the two biggest takeaways from the discussion were plans for an interactive community calendar highlighting a wide range of events for POC and plans for a gala to bring together and raise funds for local black charities. 

The workshop, attended by over 40 people, “exceeded my expectations,” Campbell said. “Everyone loved it. Our evaluations [from attendees] were through the roof.”

Other efforts include drafting a sustainability plan and recruiting members in a variety of ways.

Prior to the Nov. 10 event, the Business Journal sat down with Campbell in October to learn more about what YPOC does in the community.

CPBJ: Have you been involved since the formation of this most recent iteration of the group?

Campbell: Yes. I always like to give credence to the history of everything that happened before us, the black young-professionals groups before us. In 2015 or ’16, a woman in Texas I met through LinkedIn [who used to live here] was happy to see there was still a young black professionals group, which had just gotten back off the ground. I really came on board in 2016, and we started adding programming. The young man who was the president at the time got an opportunity away from Harrisburg, and he wanted to pass the mantle on to me and Basir. I saw that one of the needs for us was to create a better sustainability plan for the group, whether we’re made up of transplants or Harrisburg natives.

So how are you doing that? What are the core values?

Our main value is to create community for the black and brown professional collective, making sure people feel welcome here and that they fit in. And also to develop leaders. We’re also making sure we have programming that people want. We have about 35 paid members and about 100 community members – people who come to events but don’t pay dues yet. We have to have our thumb on the pulse of what’s happening in our community so that we can be doing what people want.

What events does YPOC do?

Consistency is big for us. We have regular board meetings, of course, but one of our big things is “Board Games and Brunch.” We bring board games and just spread out and have a good time. We get so many different people coming through … so that’s been one of our bedrock events.

We added regular happy hours this year. We also started this leadership series for people who want to be better leaders in the community, be better negotiators, be collaborators. Those have been going well. It’s discouraging because when you first start something, nobody comes, but we’ve doing them every other month, and they’ve been slightly growing each time.

What do you get out of YPOC that’s unique from other YP organziations?

I’m a member of Harrisburg Young Professionals, too. But with YPOC, I get out of it a sense of community. That’s the number one, I think, for a lot of us. One of the things we hear a lot is that there’s nothing to do here. It’s not true. I think having things to do with people is what people mean when they say there’s nothing to do here. I think we’re trying to provide that link. We have people who were close to leaving just because they didn’t like it here.

Having people who you can talk about POC [people of color] issues with is important for us. A lot of folks here in Central Pennsylvania don’t understand some of the challenges that young professionals of color are having here. We’re really trying to come up with a way to communicate them to businesses and other community organizations. The diversity issue at a company is not just at your company, it’s in the surrounding community, too. Anything about race is so charged, especially in this political and social climate, so we have been really trying to get into spaces and have people listen to us from there.

How has that been going?

It’s hard. But we’ve made a lot of allies. I think one thing that’s connecting us to people is our YPOC adopt-a-classroom program. We’ve adopted 10 classrooms in the Harrisburg School District, and we solicited funds from businesses and individuals in the community to do that. We’ve gotten a lot of partners through that.

It’s hard to approach people and companies first and tell them, “This is what POC are experiencing.” I sat on an employee retention panel for Leadership Harrisburg Area recently, and I talked about how to retain young professionals of color. And I said you should seriously look at what your diversity offerings are and how your company is structured, and they kind of bristled at that. And I understand, no one wants to hear that. And that’s why I say it’s hard, those uncomfortable conversations. It’s emotional.

What is the sustainability plan for YPOC?

We’re finalizing our sustainability plan for 2019. We want to secure capital funding for $50,000. We spent about $27,000 this year. We want to form a community advisory council consisting of leaders to give us oversight and help us be accountable to the city and the people we say we want to serve. We want to redesign our leadership structure. We‘re constantly thinking about succession plans because this kind of group in Harrisburg has died down several times before. And I don’t want that to happen on my watch. I don’t want it to be dead because we might decide to move. Or because I’m just tired! We all tend to want to do it all, and it’s very difficult.

We also want to to purchase property in the city and get overhead expenses funded … We want to hire two part-time employees to run our Facebook page and website and answer emails – all the stuff I can’t do when I’m at work! We want to continue development of our board members through our leadership series. We also want to grow our membership.

What incentives are there for people to become paid members?

We host members-only events. At our brunches, members get free birthday drinks if it’s their birthday month. We’re working with Richard Utley, who does the Central Pennsylvania black business directory, to get a discount structure with those businesses. We have life membership, which is around $150, and yearly memberships are $40. There’s no age limit. As young as you feel is what we always say.

We have a lot of people across different social structures and incomes hang out with us so far. We have to find a way to reach out to working moms, people who have night jobs, non-traditional working hours and people whose incomes don’t allow them to do some of the things that we do.

Do you work with students in the Harrisburg area to get them involved?

We’re starting to. We started the gaming club at SciTech, and that’s Basir’s baby. We want to do a youth membership where we sponsor some youth to come to meetings and learn about the organization. My big goal is to create a GHYPOC internship structure. A lot of youth don’t even get exposed to the companies that are right here in Harrisburg, and that’s a shame. And then they go, “There’s nothing here.” Well of course they feel that way! Nobody’s told you. And it’s a whole workforce. If we’re really talking about sustainability and this city and what it should look like in 10 years, you have kids that are leaving here in droves to go to every other place. This is their city.

How do you fit in with some of the other regional young professionals organizations?

We want to be partners. I think we’re still trying to find ourselves as YPOC. We need to do a better job of partnering because we have a lot of the same goals. We went to a young professionals mixer spearheaded by Lancaster Young Professionals. Everybody loved it. I’m going to follow up with the organizations that were there and try to do it again. How can we all collaborate better for the next one?

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at btatum@cpbj.com.

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