5 Young Black Leaders: CapNY Influencers

For these five up and coming black leaders, leadership is more than just leading a group or organization.

Each of them shows their love for the community in the work they do. Their stories showcase the beauty and outcomes that strong leadership provides.

Adaviah Ward: Guiding youth of a future to success!

Adaviah Ward:

Adaviah Ward, 26, is one of our young black leaders as a teacher at KIPP/ Albany Community Charter School. A native of the South End of Albany, she observed community problems like gun violence and drug use. These became powerful influences on her approach to leadership. She says, “These things made me want to impact change and do what I can for the young people in my area. I think Albany has endless good opportunities to offer.”

Adaviah’s love for young people led her to be a strong community leader. As a teacher she gets opportunities to impact her students. “My greatest accomplishment as a leader is being able to work with my students and watch them grow. I definitely pride myself in this each day,” she says.

She believes strong leadership starts with who you are as a person, because it’s important for people to be comfortable with you. Adaviah feels it’s important to show responsibility, accountability, and the ability to remain open minded to growth and guidance. Adaviah knows she exhibits these qualities when she leads, saying, “I am personal with my story. I am receptive and open to guidance. And I am consistently working to get better. I have the heart of a leader.”

Ignorance as an Opportunity for Growth
Adaviah Ward

As a young black leader, Adaviah notices the assumptions that are made about the black community by people not of color. She says, “People who don’t look like us already having thoughts about us. They can be ignorant of our gifts and authentic selves.” But this doesn’t stop Adaviah; instead, it fuels her want to be better. She says, “When someone tells me I can’t, my goal is to prove them wrong. It becomes an opportunity for both of us. It teaches them not to label others and it helps me grow more into the leader I aspire to be.”

Adaviah’s inspirations comes from the community that she serves. She speaks on her family and how each of them play a huge role in her life: her mother’s strength, her father’s determination, her siblings’ encouragement, and her grandparents’/godmother’s religious support all helped shape her qualities as a leader. In addition to her family, Adaviah’s friends and coworkers keep her focused on her goal of continually making change in her community.

Deontae Guy is committing to positive leadership opportunities!

Deontae Guy

The next young black leader in this series is 19-year old Deontae Guy. A full-time student at Ithaca College, Deontae is involved with the school’s student government, and he will be running for student body president. He also is a member of the public safety department and the information technology department.  In addition to his involvement at school, Deontae is a licensed youth and young adult minister, preaching sermons to inspire congregations to live a Christian life.

Deontae genuinely loves to lead. The qualities that he believes are necessary are being vocal, staying true to yourself, and being committed to your goal. He says, “Commitment is key because as leaders we stand for something greater than ourselves.” His three brothers/mentors, Michael Poindexter, Randy Stith, and Liam Staley, all offer him their support, giving him advice in his spiritual leadership as a minister, and how to balance Christianity in daily life outside of church. It was with their help Deontae was able to grow into a stronger leader.

Learning To Be a Young Black Man in a Predominently White Society
Deontae Guy

Deontae’s environment also encouraged him to develop strong leadership skills. He was born in Albany but lives in the Clifton Park area. He says, “There [Clifton Park] I had to learn to be a young black man in a predominantly white society.” He faced some racial discrimination, especially by administration at the all-white high school he attended. But Deontae wasn’t letting those difficulties hold him back. He says, “While I couldn’t do things the way I wanted then, I could take the experience of people using my blackness against me and pour it into my leadership. I could help bring solutions to those problems.”

Deontae receives his motivation through God. “I’ve tried hanging in the back, but I don’t think I can get away from [leadership]. I think being a leader is just who I am. When God gives you the talent, you can’t run from it. Leading is what I’ve been called to do!”

Theresa Ford is creating safe places for everyone to heal!

Theresa Ford

Theresa Ford, 26 is a licensed master social worker located in the Capital Region. Additionally, she is working on becoming a doula, and is a healing jeweler. Born in Harlem, NY, and living in NYC most of her life, Theresa noticed a big difference between her hometown and the Capital Region. But her ability to lead is something she can do anywhere, and she has chosen to do so in the Albany area.

To Theresa, leadership is all about honoring safety in yourself and your community, being responsible and sustainable, and valuing what your community looks like. “I do that every day. Encouraging other people to share by creating those safe spaces,” she says.

Healing Herself And Others
Theresa Ford

Through her leadership, Theresa is able to heal not only herself but others, and that motivates her to keep going. In addition to healing, she encourages others to unite and lead in their own lives.  She takes an active role in many young people’s lives. “I am supporting them while they heal. And this is changing the dynamics of their lives and their household. Their world is becoming more positive because of my work.”

Theresa gets a large amount of motivation from her family including her late grandmother. “Even though she isn’t physically here with me, I have a strong connection with my grandmother. I think it is important to connect with your elders especially when leading,” she says. Theresa also receives support and strength from her mother and coworkers. Theresa’s biggest leadership achievement was continuing to work and inspire through 2020 despite all the challenges that it presented. She says, “I worked the whole year as a therapist and a jeweler. I kept true to myself in a moment of adversity. I’m proud of myself for that.”

Ozymandias Mercy Morris Jr. is inspiring through his connections!

Ozymandias Mercy Morris Jr.

Ozymandias Mercy Morris Jr., 27, is a direct support member for the company Lexington Arc, where he supports people with disabilities. He also has a successful art platform on Instagram where he shares his music and love for positive mental wellness. All of these roles in Ozymandias’ life demand strong leadership skills. And Ozymandias definitely possess them!

Using Connections As Community

As a young black leader, Ozymandias builds connections with the people around him. “I’ve lived in Albany my whole life. I lived uptown and downtown; I’ve had friends from different hoods and suburbs. All of these environments gave me new perspectives as I navigated different communities and social systems. That is important to leadership.” He emphasizes learning from people around you, which can only happen when you’re actively seeking connections. “Being there for each other is necessary. Especially for the younger generation, because they need that guidance,” he says.

Ozymandias’ greatest accomplishment is the development of a music program for kids at the Albany Public Library. Impacting young lives for the better is extremely rewarding for him. He says, “Leadership is being able to produce, connect and inspire. I was able to inspire and connect with the kids over my music program. I am happy I was able to do that for them.”

Arielle V. King is prioritizing healthy communities for all!

Arielle V. King

Having integrity. Using really good listening skills. Knowing how to problem solve in a group effectively. Being confident in yourself and your team. Staying loyal to the groups you lead. These are some of the qualities that make good leadership in the eyes of 22-year old Arielle V. King.

Arielle is a law student located in the DMV area in Washington DC. Her main focus is her environmental justice career path, which will help her advocate for cleaner and healthier communities. She also pushes herself to make other impacts, too. She owns her own small business, Writing Wrongs LLC, that focuses on helping organizations foster communities of anti-racism and safe spaces for students. Additionally, she helped found the club E.L.E.V.A.T.E 518, an all-female club in the Capital Region that is designed to bring women together and bring more visibility to political issues that concern them.

Strong Role Models in the South End

Arielle V. King

Growing up in the South End of Albany, Arielle always had strong leaders to look up to. She says, “I felt so loved and supported growing up because of the networks I’ve made. Seeing people that look like you in roles that you want is so empowering.” Among the people she admired growing up is her mother, who continues to inspiration Arielle in how she leads today. She also receives support from other black leaders in Albany as well as black women in her career field. She says, “There have been so many men and women who have supported me. They know who they are, and I am grateful for each of them.”

Though Arielle is doing various forms of leadership in her life right now, she believes the biggest accomplishment she made was during elementary school. She says, “In the winter during fourth grade I noticed other kids walking to school without a hat or scarfs. I knew that wasn’t right, and I went to my mom to figure out how I could help.” Arielle began raising awareness of the issue and asking her community to donate winter gear so that she could distribute it to schools for kids who need them. Her initiative provided hundreds of children with coats and winter gear. This coat drive is something that the Capital Region is still doing today. She says, “I think my greatest achievement is still yet to come, but being able to make an impact at such a young age was really amazing!”

*Update as of February 2022, Arielle has graduated law school and works at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington DC. She is no longer affiliated with Writing Wrongs.

This is just a peek into the lives of these young black leaders as they continue their work to making the world a better place. I cannot wait to see what they achieve in 2021 and beyond.

Written by: Naava Dae

Naava Dae is a writer and content creator from the Capital Region. She created her self-titled brand, The Naava Dae in 2017 and uses it to inspire people who encounter her work on multiple platforms. For more content by Naava Dae, visit www.thenaavadae.com and check her out on Instagram @realnaavadae.