Interview with County Board Speaker Denise Winfrey
A historical moment is about to happen soon at NACo. A Black woman is about to become the second vice president, which has not happened since 1976. We want to congratulate County Board Speaker, Denise Winfrey, from Will County, Illinois. To commemorate this moment, NOBCO interviewed Speaker Winfrey to gain more insight on who she is and her why.
What did you do before becoming a county official for NACo?
I retired from the corporate world, and got into township governments. Not long after I moved into county government. I have been a county official and a member for NACo for 11 years now. I joined because I wanted to be able to be more involved in giving back to my community.
What has been your favorite project you've worked on?
I belong to my local chapter of National Hook-Up of Black Women (NHBW, Inc.), a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1974 during the Fourth Congressional Black Caucus Legislative weekend to address the needs of Black women and children. I wrote a program called, “Passport for Success” about 12 or 13 years ago. This program allows us to bring together Black women and children a couple of times a month and expose them to successful career-oriented women. This is a wonderful way we’ve been able to get them involved in the workplace and help them be successful now and in the future. It has expanded into a much bigger initiative than conceived. Today it includes a free, after-school STEM program, which is led by a young Black entrepreneur. I'm really excited about the way it has rippled out into more.
What was it about NACo that made you want to join the organization?
A seat mate of mine recommended that I join NACo because of how they impact counties across the country. I attended my first NACo annual conference in July of 2009, and from there it’s history.
You have been a county official for 11 years, what made you run to be the second vice president?
It seemed like a natural progression. I have served in a lot of capacities during my time at NACo. I’ve served as Vice Chair of Community, Economic, and Workforce Development Steering Committee along with Vice Chair of the Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC). Being an active member of Women of NACo (WON) and the National Association of Black County Officials (NABCO) has also helped me navigate leadership opportunities within NACo. I’ve not ever served on NACo’s Board of Directors, however I will in a short while. The fact that no woman of color has served as NACo second vice president since 1976, I thought it was time.
What challenges have you encountered along the way in your campaign to become NACo’s second vice president?
The biggest hurdle I faced was convincing people that we did not have to wait three years to have another person of color run for NACo’s executive committee. I don’t believe in that model. I believe that if a person is willing and qualified then they should run, regardless of race or ethnicity. Once, I got people on my side, it was smooth sailing from there.
How does it feel to be the second Black woman in NACo's history, since 1935, to be in position for the presidency?
I am just over the moon. Even though I know it is real, it still seems unbelievable. I wish my parents were here to see it. They would have wanted to see what I have done and what I want to to do. The work I am doing would have been important to them.
How are you hoping to expand the organization with new ideas?
My platform is inclusion, and that is not to say that NACo doesn’t work on it. However, I want inclusion to be from the mindset of who I am as a woman of color and not who NACo is. I want to be able to bring all the minority groups to the table and work with them to get their needs addressed. I prefer not to rely on what I feel they need or want. If we can do this, then we’ll know we have put forth our best effort.
Written by Kaitlyn "Charlie" Gullet, NOBCO Intern