As Accelerate Institute celebrates our 30th anniversary of igniting academic achievement this year, we are also very excited to have recently welcomed Alexis Hardy as our new Director of Partnerships.
A product of the Chicago Public Schools system, Alexis grew up in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on the city’s West Side. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Roosevelt University and brings over 15 years of nonprofit leadership experience to Accelerate Institute.
“The organization’s been doing great work for 30 years, now I’m just hoping that I can add on to that,” Alexis says. “Whether it be identifying new phenomenal leaders or facilitating other new developments in the pipeline, I’m excited to use my experience and skill set to help catapult us into the next 30 years.”
Keep reading for lightly edited excerpts from a conversation in which she discusses her lifelong passion for supporting underserved populations, the power of education, and her life outside of work.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience growing up on the West Side of Chicago?
AH: Growing up in West Garfield Park, I had access to resources outside of the community that my peers didn’t. I’m literally the only college graduate from my block. A lot of my childhood friends—I lost some to gun violence, I lost others to the prison system. Others may only have a high school degree; they may have just gotten their GED. We grew up in the same community, but we all had different paths.
I grew up in a single parent home, and my mother, grandfather, and grandmother were very intentional about making sure I had access to resources outside of the community—they enrolled me into swimming classes in the suburbs, they enrolled me into music classes. That wasn’t something that my childhood friends had access to, so as I grew older, I always wanted to give young people access to the same resources I had that helped make me as successful as I am today.
What made you excited about the prospect of taking on this new role with Accelerate Institute?
AH: The Director of Partnerships role definitely aligned with where I’m at right now career-wise, so I was immediately drawn to the position. Accelerate Institute really stood out to me because they’re doing the work with a population that I have a heart for, in terms of advocating for equity in education and working with underserved communities—all of that aligned with where I’m at in my career and my belief system when it comes to this work.
But even more importantly for me, what really stood out was the equity stance. It really resonated with me because, the way it was written was kind of like, “OK, we acknowledge our privilege, we acknowledge our—you know—even our implicit biases to some extent, and this is how we’re working to use what we do have to impact and help underserved populations.” I’ve never seen an organization take a stance like that, so I was like, “I have to be a part of this movement—I won’t stop until I am.”
How do you hope expanding access to an equitable education can help empower young people to better their lives?
AH: Education is the key that unlocks the door to success for American children. Education doesn’t always have to look the same, though. It may not always be the traditional route of elementary, to high school, to college, to post-secondary—all of that. Maybe for some people it’s a certification in some type of trade—it’s still so important because it’s really the foundation of what’s needed to move forward and accomplish the things in life that one’s heart desires.
And so while every youth has their own trajectory when it comes to their education, my hope is that I’ll be able to use my influence, my resources, and my gifts to be able to give all students access to an equitable education. I plan to do that by working diligently in this space as Director of Partnerships to connect with school leaders and help them to understand the importance of the work Accelerate Institute does for ensuring that young people do have that access to the equitable education that they need in life.
What is the philosophy behind your leadership style? Have you had any experiences along the way in your career thus far that have helped shape your approach?
AH: Yes, there have been many [laughs]. Mostly, I’ve learned that it’s very important to be an effective communicator and to be a person of your word. A lot of what we experience in any area of our life—whether it be in our relationships, career, whatever—can be greatly improved upon through strong communication and follow-through. You have to meet people where they’re at; there isn’t a blanket approach when leading people, and I believe that understanding that has helped me to become as successful as I have as a leader and in working with others.
What do you like to do with your time outside of work?
AH: I really enjoy just spending time with family and friends. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how important it is to value our time with loved ones and spend as much time as possible with them. That’s been my focus: spending time with my loved ones and enjoying life.