History has proven that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for becoming a successful leader. As a Black woman (and self-described “nerd”) with unique interests, Natalie Ferguson discovered that while her interests may not align with common perceptions of Black womanhood, they are the character traits that have made her the solid leader she is today.
Ferguson is president of the board of directors for Grace Place, a local nonprofit that supports and empowers youth of all sexualities and gender identities experiencing homelessness. Answering the call of service while remaining authentically herself has led her to career success and even love.
“I am a marketing and communications manager for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, which is a local and international funder and convener for Jewish life and interests here in the city and abroad in Israel,” Ferguson explains.
Prior to beginning her full-time work at the Federation, Ferguson was feeling consumed by a grueling schedule and took a step back. “Back in 2014, I was working up to 70-plus hours a week as a freelancer. Most of my work has always been in the nonprofit sector, and I’ve done a lot of nonprofit work that has been close to my heart, but I was really jonesing for some volunteer work—something that I could get into that was less focused on myself and more focused on other people.”
A serendipitous encounter at a bus stop ultimately set Ferguson on the trajectory she’s on today. “I went on a drive to go grocery shopping and happened to see a home-insecure young woman with several bags. In Houston, you’re used to seeing a lot of home-insecure individuals on the streets, but what really made me focus on her was the fact that she was really young and she had a German shepherd with her, which is the breed of dog that I grew up with,” Ferguson recalls.
She returned from the grocery store with some essentials to give the young woman, and struck up a conversation with her while she waited for her bus. “It was a really interesting conversation, and something that I still mostly remember. The irony was that, later on, I got on Facebook and a friend of mine posted about this organization called Montrose Grace Place. They were looking for [volunteers] to help mentor mostly Black and brown youth experiencing homelessness. It was just too timely for me to ignore.”
Ferguson volunteered with Grace Place for a few years before joining the board of directors. “As president, I lead our board of directors, which is largely a working board, meaning that we actively support Grace Place,” she explains. “The board is very much a fundraising, advocacy, outreach, stewardship, and marketing arm of the organization. As the president, I lead all of those initiatives and really help our board uplift the mission of Grace Place to be evangelists of our organization and what we do.”
Despite always being told that her interest in anime and video games, among other interests, is a contradiction to her Black womanhood, Ferguson is proud of her self-described nerdiness. It was this perseverance to remain authentically herself that ultimately led Ferguson to love. “Carrie’s my partner, and we actually met through a video game called World of Warcraft,” she recalls. “There was a forum for people to tell queer stories in the context of the game. This fan community was mostly queer people wanting to see more queer stories in this world that they loved.”
After years of long-distance friendship, Carrie ultimately made the move to H-Town. “We were always super-close friends, to the point where people would always ask if we were dating. We were very much the stereotypical lesbian couple that started out as just very good friends,” she says with laughter. “We made it official in 2020, and have been together ever since.”
Ferguson stands strong in her Black womanhood, using her perspective and experience to boldly lead Grace Place to the next level. Having created an annual Black Hair Care Drive for the organization, for example, she now encourages members of the community to donate hair products specifically for youth of color. And she constantly pushes to provide more opportunities for the youth at Grace Place, many of whom are Black.
“I love to embrace and emphasize the fact that Blackness is not a monolith, and the experiences of Black people within the Black community are very different. That’s why I shied away from the idea of what I needed to be as a Black person. What it meant for me to be Black, what the parameters of that were, and concluding that no matter what I enjoy—or what I do, or how I dress, or who I love—I’m still Black.”
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