Many of the young individuals who have participated in the Young Leaders Council training program over the years have gone on to make a tremendous impact as nonprofit board leaders in the Middle Tennessee community. A select few have taken that knowledge, identified a specific need to address in our community, and used the training as a catalyst to build their own nonprofit organizations. As a graduate of the YLC Nashville Class 59, Charlane Oliver felt an urgent pull to create a more inclusive, informed, and stronger democracy for communities of color. Together with fellow activist and friend, Tequila Johnson, Charlane set on a path to create The Equity Alliance, an organization advocating for equitable opportunities and systems to improve the quality of life for Black people. YLC is proud of the impact and contributions that Charlane and The Equity Alliance have made to advance the cause of equity and social justice for the marginalized.
How are things at The Equity Alliance?
Things are going great! It’s always changing. Working in TN can be challenging in terms of getting people civically engaged especially in this political climate. People tend to push everything towards race, and you’re trying to find ways to fight back when all the tools in the toolbox seem to be ineffective. We’re trying to find new opportunities to engage people in new and innovative ways, and with that thing are going great.
When we started, we didn’t have any staff and it felt like we were doing a passion project. Now we have a staff of 12 and we’re doing well. Over the years we have built a brand that is unapologetic in how we represent ourselves. We show up as our full selves in the office and in the community. Our culture is supportive and inclusive, and our team enjoys working in an environment where they don’t have to hide who they are at work. At The Equity Alliance we champion their authenticity. If we are going to fight for equity, we also have to care for ourselves and show self-love in order to fully be able to do the same for the community. We work to create a better environment than some of the ones we experienced in previous positions.
As one of the founders of The Equity Alliance, would you say that there was one pivotal moment in your life where you knew for certain that you wanted to build this hugely successful organization?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific situation, but the catalyst really was when Trayvon Martin was murdered. I was moved to get off the sidelines and take action. It impacted me because I saw my son in Trayvon. He’s now 10 and was born a few days before Trayvon was killed. I realized I’m raising my black son in a society that can sometimes see him as a threat. I started to think of opportunities for us to navigate these challenges and do something to change things.
You’ve held several significant professional positions throughout your career. Of those roles, which one(s) would you say uniquely prepared you for the work that you do both in the community and as a leader for The Equity Alliance?
When I look at the trajectory of my life and my career, it truly was God ordering my steps. My entire career has centered within nonprofit and/or government. From the start of my career, I’ve always seen people in crisis and worked to help them at their worse. All of the jobs I’ve held as a culmination and seeing how society tends to treat the symptoms instead of providing solutions to the internal challenges that cause the struggles. I wanted to use social justice to push toward solutions. From my own personal background being raised by a single mom and seeing how I had to really help myself succeed.
As African Americans, we are often shut out of politics. When you drill down to how change is created, every significant decision made comes down to who is placed in those positions of power.
You’re a graduate of the Young Leaders Council Nashville Class 59 Cohort. How did your YLC training influence or support your community advocacy and engagement work?
I started in the nonprofit space and had that unique perspective, but I believe the training provided by YLC and the level of engagement it provided with instructors like Attorney Trace Blankenship (Spencer Fane Bone McAllester) set a foundation that gave me the tools and confidence to start a nonprofit organization. YLC prepares individuals to successfully serve on a nonprofit board, which was invaluable as we worked to set the foundation that helped to create The Equity Alliance.
We are so proud of the work you’re doing as a YLC alumna, and I am specifically excited to see you thrive as an African American woman and executive leader in the Nashville nonprofit community. What advice would you give to other future leaders looking to elevate their impact in a similar fashion?
Don’t overthink the level of impact that you as an individual can have on the world. We can’t solve every specific problem. Don’t overthink it to where you never stop. If I had never sent that text to my friends and thought too much about it, I would have never done it. Find a cause that you are really passionate about – that you wouldn’t mind doing it for free. If you could wake up every day and would do that work for free, then that’s your path.