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7 Questions – Tamara Wilds Lawson (Posse Foundation)

We’re psyched to introduce … Tamara Wilds Lawson, director of Posse DC. The Posse Foundation, which has grown to eight sites across the country, identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential and send them to college in supportive teams (or” posses”) that act as traveling support systems.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are currently in the final push for our annual Power of 10 fundraising event taking place on October 5, 2011, at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre here in downtown DC. The event will highlight our Posse Scholars and our programs, which both prepare them for and help sustain them through their collegiate experiences. We will also honor Barbara Harman, The Catalogue for Philanthropy’s dynamic president and editor.

2. What else are you up to?

This is a busy time of year for Posse DC because we have started our Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP), which is the unique way we identify the talented young leaders from area high schools we will send to top colleges and universities across the country on four-year full tuition scholarships. This fall, we have already interviewed over 1,000 potential Posse Scholars.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

Most recently, my exposure to the talented young people participating in programs at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center motivated me to seek fulfilling work that would highlight the kind of intellect and capacity for excellence they consistently exhibit. I am thrilled that The Posse Foundation, which has been providing opportunities for incredible young leaders like them to go to college for over 20 years, through the vision of its president and founder Debbie Bial, is the perfect place for me to do just that.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

Reggie Van Lee, who is an Executive Vice President with Booz Allen Hamilton where he leads the firm’s not-for-profit and public health businesses, is a phenomenal leader in the philanthropic world! Although he has a national profile, which he developed over the course of a 25 year career in which he has helped transform public and private organizations, he is personally involved with several local projects in New York City and Washington, DC. He is beloved in DC because of his unique ability to see the intrinsic value of productive non-profit organizations, regardless of their size, and support them unconditionally. I am inspired by the breadth of organizations and lives he has transformed on a national and local level.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

One of the biggest challenges we face as an organization is that there is an overreliance on standardized test scores by many institutions of higher learning — which leads to countless capable, dynamic students being overlooked. As a result, we find that the demand for our Posse leadership and merit scholarships far outweighs our capacity to provide opportunities for all of the great young people we encounter to get a college education.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

Chose an organization doing work you are passionate about because that passion will help sustain you when the work becomes intense and your responsibilities seem daunting. My advice for future directors is don’t underestimate the importance of hiring a strong team of professionals who are a good fit for the organization and consistently supporting them once they’re on board!

7. What’s next?

As the new Posse DC director and a native Washingtonian, I am looking forward to building new partnerships with local organizations and strengthening our existing relationships with key supporters.

EXTRA:?If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

Ella Jo Baker, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Frederick Douglass.

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