Program Officer, Mass Humanities
This Writer, Coach, Mentor, Educator, and Motivator is a True Renaissance Woman
When asked about her day job, Latoya Bosworth said she actually has quite a few of them.
She’s the program officer for Mass Humanities’ Reading Frederick Douglass Together program. She’s also an adjunct professor at Springfield College’s School of Professional & Continuing Studies. She coaches professionals and especially women. She mentors young people. She’s a writer. She’s a mother and a grandmother. She motivates others to get a mammogram to protect their breast health.
Ok, that last one’s not a day job, but it’s something she takes very seriously, having seen the disease take lives in her family and making a decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy.
Summing up all that and much, much more, Bosworth likes to say that she “helps others transcend limits and transform lives.”
And she does this in many ways, but especially by setting a tone, leading by example, helping individuals discover who they are, and inspiring others to set a higher bar for themselves and then clear that bar.
Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director for Public Services for the Springfield City Library and one of BusinessWest’s first Women of Impact back in 2018, who nominated Bosworth for this award, has come to know her through some of her many initiatives, including an open-mic poetry series for young teen girls at the library. Those experiences made an impression.
“I think of Latoya as a Renaissance woman,” said Canosa Albano, noting that the many accolades, avocations, and interests on Bosworth’s résumé reflect a wide range of interests and expertise. “That phrase also evokes for me that period of history when writing, ideas, discovery, and exploration flourished, centering on humans and humanity.
“Latoya has a tremendous impact on people, especially women and girls in so many ways,” she went on. “Through writing, spoken word, and coaching, she shares her journey. She has motivated many people to get a mammogram to protect their breast health. She has inspired at least five women to go to college, heading to Bay Path University for master’s degrees.”
As she goes about her coaching, mentoring, and even her teaching, Bosworth focuses on an acronym she created: HERS — short for health, empowerment, resilience, and self-worth. These are the qualities she preaches and that she helps others find. Her efforts over the years have earned her a number of honors, from BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty award in 2016 to inclusion in the 2015 100 Women of Color cohort, to the 2014 Eyes of Courage Award for empowering women and girls.
Bosworth spends considerable time and energy helping others, especially younger women and women of color, create and build confidence, with the accent on ‘helping others’ because this is something they ultimately have to do themselves.
“Latoya has a tremendous impact on people, especially women and girls in so many ways.”
“It starts with learning who you are, because you can’t show up and be who you are if you don’t know who you are,” she explained. “And learning how to be authentic — when we show up to our authentic selves, we give people the freedom to do that, and with that freedom comes that confidence.”
When mentoring young women and girls, Bosworth tells them to essentially follow her lead and “pour into themselves.”
“By that, I mean taking time with yourself to figure out who you are, because there are so many outside influences and people telling you what you should be doing, people telling you what it means to be successful, what it means to be beautiful, all of these things,” she explained. “You have to pour into yourself and figure out what’s important to you, what your values are, and how to turn off the noise.”
‘Renaissance woman.’ That’s an apt description of Latoya Bosworth. As we’ll discover, so too is ‘Woman of Impact.’
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
That’s the name attached to an iconic Independence Day speech delivered by the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, during which he answers that question by saying ‘…a day that reveals to him, more than all the other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
As program officer for this Mass Humanities initiative, Bosworth schedules public readings of that speech at gatherings of all sizes and many different places.
“And they’re followed by discussions on equity and race and what that speech means today, as an American,” she told BusinessWest. “Sometimes, it’s just children; other times, it’s multi-generational, multi-racial … and it’s all over the state of Massachusetts, so it’s looks different in different communities. Sometimes it’s a small organization; other times, it’s a larger event with hundreds of people at a public square.”
Arranging such readings is just one of many assignments that add up to a very full plate for Bosworth, who also goes by ‘Doc Boz’ to some — a nod to her doctorate in human services she earned at Capella University and the nickname given her grandfather (Bozzie) — and also ‘Brenda’s Child,’ a pen name, if that’s even the right term, she uses to honor her mother, Brenda Kay Swinton, who died from breast cancer at age 23 when Latoya was only 4.
By whatever name she goes by, she keeps her days full. As noted, she’s an adjunct professor at Springfield College, teaching courses ranging from “Race, Culture & Religion” to “Contemporary Issues in Education” to “Communication Skills.”
She also has her own business as a workshop facilitator and ‘speaker/life coach.’ She told BusinessWest that she specializes in “confidence, purpose, and joy,” and facilitates writing and empowerment and educational workshops for women, youth, and youth workers for organizations, schools, and professionals. She also creates and hosts empowerment events under that acronym HERS.
Much of what Bosworth does when coaching is focused on that intangible — and precious commodity — known as confidence. And when asked how she helps individuals, and especially women, find it and build more of it, she said she does this in several ways.
“What I find is that, when people have issues with goal setting or trying to change their lives, a lot of it comes down to some of the things they’ve internalized — from society, from family — that they need to unlearn and reprogram so they can develop that confidence that they need to take the risk,” she explained, “and know that, if they take the risk, it’s going to be OK, no matter what; even if doesn’t work out, there’s going to be something they can learn from and grow from.”
Elaborating, she said she tries to help individuals and groups understand that trying and failing — if that’s what happens — should always be preferable to simply not trying at all.
“What happens if you fail? What does that look like? What does success look like to you? What does failure look like to you? And if you fail, what will happen? These are the questions I want people to think about,” she said. “Sometimes, we get caught up in these thoughts — I call it worst-case-scenario thinking. I want people to tell me what would happen if they fail, and then I ask them, ‘is that really a big deal, or are you overthinking?’
“Most of the time, people come to find out that it’s not that big a deal if something doesn’t work out the way they want it to,” she went on, adding that this helps in that process of transcending limits and helping people transform their own lives.
Another focal point of Bosworth’s life and work to help others is breast cancer, and here, she tells her own story to inspire others do to what they can to understand this disease and protect their own health.
That story involves tragedy and overcoming adversity on many levels. Her mother, as noted, died from breast cancer. Her father, a veteran, was injured in a training exercise and left paralyzed from the waist down. She and her siblings were raised by her maternal grandmother, who died of ovarian cancer.
These tragedies led to a profound awareness of cancer and its ability to take lives and impact many others while doing so, she said, adding that this awareness led to a proactive approach to caring for her health and encouraging others to follow that lead.
“As I grew up, I learned how to do breast self-exams when I was 12 or 13 — it’s something we pay attention to in our family,” she said, adding that, over the years, she has seen multiple family members, on both sides, die from breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
“So I did some genetic testing; I was negative, but there was some sort of variant there,” she went on, adding that she made the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2015, and also to have her ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer.
“I share that experience with other people because I want them to know that, while this wasn’t easy, there are options,” she said. “I tell people that they need to understand about genetic testing, and also the health disparities and the fact that African-American women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer because it’s more aggressive in us than it is in other people, even though we are less likely to be diagnosed.”
“What I find is that, when people have issues with goal setting or trying to change their lives, a lot of it comes down to some of the things they’ve internalized — from society, from family — that they need to unlearn and reprogram so they can develop that confidence that they need to take the risk.”
Health is the ‘H’ in HERS. The ‘E,’ ‘R,’ and ‘S’ — empowerment, resilience, and self-worth — are just some of other qualities she helps others discover, and build, through her coaching, mentoring, and a nonprofit youth program she created called Keep Youth Dreaming and Striving Inc.
The mentoring started when she taught in the Springfield Public Schools earlier this decade, and has continued ever since, with Bosworth staying in touch with those she first counseled years ago.
“As a teacher, I was just getting involved in my students’ lives and showing up outside of school for things,” she said. “And as they graduated, I would stay in contact with them, attending baby showers, unfortunately some funerals … but really just showing up for them. And on the side, I started an after-school mentoring program, primarily with girls.”
Keep Youth Dreaming & Striving, which caught the attention of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty judges and made Bosworth part of the class of 2016, featured a number of initiatives, including a Gifted Diva Showcase, what she calls a “self-esteem exhibition” that followed eight weeks of intensive workshops, trainings, and a discovery process.
“It was an anti-beauty pageant, because it wasn’t about looks,” she explained. “It was all about owning who you are, being who you are, doing some community service, sharing whatever talent you have … they didn’t have to show up and look a certain way.”
Leading by Example
Returning to that phrase ‘Renaissance woman,’ in her nomination of Bosworth, Canosa Albano noted that word comes from the French for ‘rebirth.’
“Her journey epitomizes someone who has faced trauma, great loss, and illness, and has reframed those challenges, learned, and grown from them, ‘rebirthing’ herself as Brenda’s Child and Doc Boz.
Reframing challenges and learning and growing from them — this is what Bosworth helps others do as she enables them to transcend limits and transform their lives.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]