Dear Friend,

This year I celebrate my 15th anniversary at VCU, and it has been my pleasure to lead The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute (GEHLI) since I arrived in the fall of 2007. Working at GEHLI has been an extraordinary opportunity, both personally and professionally. Serving as Director has provided me with many rewarding experiences and invaluable connections. My relationship with Dr. Harris was amazing - she was a kind mentor and a wonderful friend. I was fortunate to work alongside her and to share her legacy. Importantly, I am grateful that she entrusted me to shepherd GEHLI through the next phase of its existence.

This year marks my last at GEHLI. In January, I will transition full-time into my role as the inaugural director of the Wilder School's Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE). While I am moving on, the values that were so important to Grace will continue to reside within the halls of our Institute, our staff, and each of you. 

I can't tell you how much I value the relationships I have built over the years at GEHLI. My work has afforded me many opportunities to meet many wonderful people who have challenged me and helped me grow personally and professionally. Indeed, many of your lessons will continue to stay with me:

  • Leadership is an action word.
  • Do the job you are in bigger than it is.
  • You will prove yourself best in the most significant challenges.
  • Leadership will happen to you.
  • Be firmly grounded in 'what you want.' The 'how' will reveal itself from a sense of shared commitment.
  • Care for people and use your experiences to help others.  

In turn, my goal has always been to impart as much knowledge as I have learned from each of you. I will always treasure our time together: 

  • We have shared our hopes and dreams for the future and visions for the possibility of what our respective organizations could be. 
  • We have shared our troubles, worries, and sorrows and devised a plan to overcome and conquer it all-- together.
  • We supported our colleagues and friends as they stepped up, stepped back, or stepped away. 
  • We DISCOVERED how high we could climb together and CHALLENGED ourselves to jump fearlessly into the future. 
  • We RETREATED together only to ascend to the next day with newfound perspectives and friendships that would carry us into the next phase of our journey. 

Over the past decade, GEHLI has continued to grow, demonstrating a commitment to working with campus and community partners to promote leadership based on three core theories of practice: transformational leadership, systems theory, and social equity. Our programs have stood the test of time because they are curated experiences that speak to the humanity of people. Our model for exemplary leadership practice:

  • Building collaborative partnerships
  • Creating a learning environment
  • Envisioning a brighter future
  • Strengthening a commitment to results

adds to traditional methods of leadership education the distinctive features of Dr. Harris's leadership to create space for connection, reflection, and opportunities to establish and build relationships. And when the time came when we could no longer lead with GRACE, we learned we could still lead with grace. For GEHLI, leadership isn't just about what you do or where you sit in an organization. Leadership is about who you are in and to the world.

A heartfelt appreciation goes out to every presenter, coach, and Institute staff member, past and present, for your unwavering commitment to helping us continue this journey. I appreciate you sharing your time, talent, and treasures as alumni, mentors, sponsors, and speakers.

GEHLI has had an incredible team of support. Thank you to our program participants, supporters, and all of the humans and hearts who have made it possible to continue the legacy of Dr. Harris. As GEHLI moves into its 24th year, I hope you will join me in continuing to support and champion the Institute under its new leadership and witnessing its transformation in the coming years.

In service and with grace, Nakeina

P.S. Be sure to check out our upcoming Annual Women's Leadership Conference, and our 2023 leadership program recruitment announcements!

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An Institute In the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

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