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Shantae Brownlee Achieves Excellence Against the Odds

By Linda Nelson
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

Shantae Brownlee has accomplished a lot in the 25 years she has been in Toledo.

Brownlee is the Senior Vice President for Operations at the Lucas County Land Bank, and the 2021 YWCA Milestones Awards Social Services recipient- an honor reserved for just seven NW Ohio women each year.

Shantae Brownlee

Her education and experience have steered her into some prominent places in her career, gotten her accolades and earned her a place of trust among her peers, but her focus remains on the differences she makes in the lives of the people behind the paperwork.

“My entire professional career has been working in nonprofit,” said Brownlee. “For me each project is more than the budget. It’s about making connections with people and how I can actually connect those numbers to faces where we had an impact on individuals and families and their quality of life.”

The YWCA Milestones Awards nomination, which is designed to highlight women who are exceptional leaders and mentors in the community, came as a pleasant surprise to Brownlee.

“When I found out that I was nominated I was honored,” she said. “There are many women that I admire who have received the award and this recognition gives energy to the promotion of professional black women.”

While Brownlee is grateful and honored to receive praise for her achievements, her course in nonprofit work manifested her own needs.

“I wanted to be a nurse,” said Brownlee who originally plotted a course in the medical field before life rerouted her.

The Cleveland, Ohio native who calls Akron her home, says that she kind of wandered into nonprofit work when she came to Toledo after a divorce and no clear work prospects.  

“I was a single mom with three kids and I just needed to work,” she said.

Brownlee showed up at Toledo’s Wayman D. Palmer YMCA and took the first job that was available.

That job was a customer service representative and it allowed Brownlee to form her first liaisons in nonprofit and to make personal connections with the clients she served.

“I learned about budgets and program integrity,” said Brownlee. “But I also fell in love with the families and the workers. They were mothers and blended families just like me.”

Soon Brownlee would find herself emersed in nonprofit work. She was promoted to administrative assistant then to branch director working long days and odd hours so that she could juggle her schedule between her four kids, which included a child with a learning disability, and the management of the Y’s $1.7 million budget.

In the midst of it all, Brownlee found time to go back to school, earn dual bachelor degrees, and graduate with honors from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio.

“Because of my professional experience, school was easy for me,” said Brownlee.

With an education added to her resume Brownlee was primed for her next opportunity.

“Some of the board members at the Frederick Douglass Center approached me,” Brownlee recalled. “They needed my help and wanted me to fill an open position for executive director to help with restructure after a shakeup.”

But the move didn’t come easily for her.

“I was afraid,” Brownlee said about making the transition from the YWCA.

“Everybody thought that I was crazy. The Y had people and a lot of supportive structures. The Doug was in crisis and it wasn’t a standalone organization like the Y. These were a lot of things for me to consider.”

The turning point for her came after a respected colleague tried to dissuade her from making the move.

“I just remember him saying ‘If you go over there with those people...’  and I thought to myself, I am those people. I lived in that neighborhood. I prayed in that neighborhood. I raised my children in that neighborhood.”

“That’s when my faith kicked in, and I heard God speak to my heart- ‘Why are you fearful? If you want to serve, now is the opportunity.’”

With the support of her husband and her friends Brownlee worked through her fears, joined the Frederick Douglass Center team, and set about slowly rebuilding the trust that had been shaken.

“It was so hard,” she said. “But it was rewarding. The community was disappointed and felt let down. It took some time to rebuild trust with the community and with partners but we were able to make a lot of changes internally so that outside funders felt confident in us again. By the time I left we had accomplished a lot. We had earned back partnerships with Children’s Services, the YWCA, and we had Head Start in there.”

But just when things were looking up for the Frederick Douglass Center, tragedy struck close to home for Brownlee.

“My brother was murdered,” said Brownlee. “I hadn’t been able to process my grief and I just needed to reassess my life. I resigned with no other job for the purpose of healing. I needed to really figure out what life was really about.”

During that time Brownlee says she continued to help with various nonprofits when they asked but she wasn’t ready to commit to a job, until she received a call from the Lucas County Land Bank.

Today Brownlee is back doing what she has loved to do- helping people, helping families, and making communities better.

The Lucas County Land Bank’s vision encompasses the entire Lucas County area with a focus on restructuring vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties that affect neighborhoods and decrease values.

She says recent conversations with Land Bank CEO David Mann has led to the creation of the Neighborhood Justice Fund. A $1.5 million investment allocated to help grow wealth and foster health in black and brown communities.

“We have a commitment to the community,” said Brownlee. Community and people come first. The building is secondary.”

Somewhere in Brownlee’s five-year plan is earning her MBA and spending more time being a mentor to others.

“I want people to know that you can be who you are unapologetically,” said Brownlee. “Work hard even if you have to start from the bottom and let your will determine your success. Being a single mother at the age of 25 with three children I had to not buy into society’s stereotype of being a single mother. I had a responsibility to my children to change some of the generational cycles that I saw my parents try to change. They embedded in me to do better.”

The 2021 YWCA Milestones Awards will be held virtually on March 26.


For more information about the Lucas County Land Bank visit their website: https://lucascountylandbank.org/about




Copyright © 2021 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/04/21 12:50:01 -0500.

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