Page 52 - BusinessWest May 12, 2021
P. 52

 Vonetta Lightfoot
Operations Manager, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Springfield Technical Community College; Age 39
    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to
get better. It’s not.”
That’s a framed quotation in Vonetta
Lightfoot’s office at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Spoken by the Lorax, a Dr. Seuss character, it’s a guiding principle in her life.
“I keep that quote in my mind to make sure I do my part to inspire people, engage students, and help them be global citizens,” she said.
Last year, as the world reacted to the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matters protests gained momentum, Lightfoot wondered aloud to her husband, “how does it feel to be a man of color in the country right now?”
She processed that thought further, discussed it with colleagues, and eventually turned the idea into “Heart of a Man,” a discussion series designed to explore issues that affect men of color.
Lightfoot has expertise in organizing events and bringing people together, but COVID-19 restrictions forced her to quickly learn Zoom and reimagine the series as a virtual discussion.
“The sessions are centered on a main topic with three or four men and a
moderator, then we open it to the audience for questions,” she explained. Topics have ranged from healthy masculinity and being a father to police violence.
“Heart of a Man” has received a great response on campus and with community partners. By recording and posting each discussion on YouTube, the series has been viewed more than 4,200 times. Its success has led to a second season of discussions, presentations at other local colleges, and a focus group on campus.
The virtual format turned out more positive — and impactful — than Lightfoot could have imagined. “It’s easier to participate virtually than coming to campus, and with YouTube, we reach more people than we could have with an in-person event.”
An initiative like this is just one reason Lightfoot loves her job at STCC, because it gives her the chance to “dream things up and then make them happen.” After creating “Heart of a Man” in that spirit, she almost echoed the Lorax as she explained why she pursued the idea.
“I feel like, if I don’t care, how will things get done? How is it going to get better?”
—Mark Morris
       Crystal Maldonado
Author; Associate News Editor for Digital Content, UMass Amherst; Age 32
    When Crystal Maldonado was a child, she dreamed of someday writing a book. “As I got older, I didn’t know if that was possible,” she said. But, even as she began
a journalism career, she never let go of that dream. Then, around 2016, “I had this idea for a story that was loosely based on how my husband and I met when we were in high school.”
That idea became her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, a coming-of-age story
— and a heavily fictionalized version of her own teen years — published earlier this year by Holiday House Publishing.
“I had never read a story for young adults that featured a fat, Puerto Rican character,” she said. “I wanted, selfishly, to make someone who looks like me the heroine of the story. And I’m really glad I did.”
Recalling her own youth, Maldonado said she faced criticism, shame, and ridicule from her peers and in the media and constantly struggled with her self-image. Over time, however, she learned to come to terms with who she was and to celebrate what makes her ... well, her.
“I wrote this story for teens who don’t often see themselves reflected in a lot of media
— not just books, but TV and movies, too,”
she said. “I want to keep writing stories that often get overlooked by mainstream media, to create stories for teens that are truly relatable and highlight their experience in a way they don’t often see. That’s my big goal — to make people feel seen and heard.”
Meanwhile, in her day job at UMass Amherst, Maldonado manages and executes content, including photography and video,
for university accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Spotify, Giphy, and more, dramatically increasing engagement with
the university on these channels. She also mentors students, helping them develop their own portfolios and offering guidance on jobs, writing, and photography.
“Honestly, it’s great fun — I get to be really creative, and I love having the chance to talk to the students,” she said. “They’re so intriguing
— they all have incredible stories about how they ended up at UMass. And they’re so busy; they’re launching businesses, doing this and that — they do so much more than I did when I was a student. It’s incredible.”
Young people with big goals — Maldonado can relate to that.
—Joseph Bednar
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