Kimberly R. Daniel is senior director of communications at the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). She also co-founded and directs DO GOOD X, an accelerator for diverse Christian social entrepreneurs and an innovation of FTE. Kimberly has over a decade of experience developing and leading communications strategies and efforts at non-profit organizations, is a certified life coach, and has helped to catalyze entrepreneurs to do good. She is driven to inspire people to align with their purpose and to make magic happen with their gifts. In 2021, Kimberly co-authored A Way Out of No Way: An Approach to Christian Innovation.
Patrick: Hey, what's going on! It's Pat here and today's episode is someone I've been working with for almost a decade now, whose been with this organization, the Forum for Theological Exploration when it was still the Fund for Theological Education. Today we have our senior director of communications and co-founder of Do Good X, Kimberly Daniel, who is my homie of homies.
When I tell you this is the person I go to in the organization when my stuff just isn't together. She is not only a great work colleague but also my friend. So welcome Kimberly Daniel to the Sound of the Genuine.
All right Kimberly, I'm so grateful that you've joined us here on the Sound of the Genuine, on this podcast. I've had the privilege of working alongside you for six years now. And it's been just fantastic to get to know you as a person, as a friend, as a colleague. Grateful that you said yes. And how are you doing?
Kimberly: Thank you so much for the invitation to be here and speak and share a bit of my story. It's an honor to do that.
Patrick: I mean, I know what you do. You're a co-founder of an accelerator program focused on BIPOC entrepreneurs, you're senior director of communications at FTE and all the cool work that we do to support the next generation of young adults and doctoral students of color in the theological academy and the church.
But that's not where you started. And I imagine when you were little, that's not what you dreamed you would do when you grew up. So why don't you take me back to your beginnings - who are your people? Where'd you grow up and what sort of dreams did you have as you thought about life and adulthood?
Kimberly: So I am the daughter of a musician turned pastor. The daughter of a teacher, a second grade teacher, so I have roots in Lawrenceville, Virginia, which is a small, small town. And there is land there that has been in my family for over 150 years, which is an amazing thing to have when you're talking about being in the south…when you're talking about black families.
And so this land has been there that long, passed down through generations and generations; farmers and steel workers and entrepreneurs in their own sense, out of a sense of survival. And so that is part of my roots. My ancestors are buried on that land, so that land is very sacred and the road is even named after my family.
And so that is one aspect of where I come from. On my father's side, my grandparents were immigrants. My grandfather, he came from Guyana. They moved to Brooklyn. My dad grew up in Brooklyn, in the projects and my grandmother, his mom, her roots are in South Carolina.
So I have a little bit of a mix. Both of my mom's parents come from Virginia and I have South Carolina also on my dad's side, I have Guyanese in my blood, in my veins. And I recently did African ancestry on both sides of the family and it goes back to Ghana, it goes back to Sierra Leone and some other countries on the continent.
So that's a new thing that I've learned. I say that cause I want to honor my ancestors on that land, my ancestors, who migrated to this country. And my parents, they spent all their time before I was born up north, in New York, New Jersey, Maryland. But I was born in Conway, South Carolina. I say Myrtle Beach to a lot of people because people know Myrtle Beach because it's a tourist town, but I was born at Conway hospital and I lived in Longs, South Carolina. It was just a dirt road. My childhood home is still there.
And so that's where I grew up. Growing up, honestly, I did not have any grand dreams of who or what I wanted to be, or who or what I was called to be until probably around high school. At that time I was very shy. I didn't speak very much, but what opened my shell - it was theater. Theater opened me up and I thought this is my thing. I get to try on different characters. I get to step outside of myself. Some of it was very uncomfortable, in certain roles that I played, but it was an opportunity to really empathize with other people.
Especially when you're doing character development. It gave me the opportunity to really learn how to ground myself, center myself, and to be present in the moment because you really have to be present in the moment. And to also be flexible because if you lose your line on stage, you got to find a way to keep it going.
You have to have a great scene partner, but you just can't stand there looking at everybody like ‘what's happening next?’ So from that moment, I thought that maybe I would want to pursue acting as a career. So I went to Coastal Carolina University, it's also there in Conway. But I went there and I focused on theater and I found I loved it. I also realized I didn't have the drive and the passion to pursue it as a sole career.
From there I began exploring again. I literally took out the sheet that said all of the majors - I kept dramatic arts, but I was like, okay, what can I actually see myself doing? What am I called to do?
Honestly, I just went down the list. I was like, oh, I thought I wanted to be a mathematician. And then knocked that off. Thought that maybe I wanted to pursue criminal justice and I could find some major that was tied to that - knocked that down. And then I wound up in communications.
That was the opportunity for me to not only focus on the way that I communicate personally publicly, but also how do I tell stories, tell other people's stories and tell my own stories in different ways. I wanted to still have a connection to the arts. I had a love for writing and a love for storytelling and a love for just being in the midst of both of those fields in some type of way.
Kimberly: And so I decided to go to Savannah College of Art and Design after receiving my bachelor's in communications and dramatic arts. And I focused on a master's degree in arts administration. It's a degree program that allows you to build your tools and knowledge around management in the arts or administration or business, the business aspect of the arts. I worked with some local theater companies here doing some development, doing some marketing, doing some grant writing.
And I thoroughly enjoyed that. But here's the thing, when I thought that was what I wanted to do and continue to pursue and I was looking for a full-time job, it was in 2010 when we were having a recession. The theater companies that I had worked with, they wanted to hire me on full-time, but they didn't have the budget. I literally sat in staff meetings where they couldn't pay their full-time employees. I interviewed at several other theater companies and the pay was not enough to sustain me and pay my bills at a minimum.
I'd have to get another job. And so I took this as an opportunity to just do a little pause. So I was like, hey I'm just going to ride this out for a little while. I've finished working on my thesis and just let it go and just asked for spirit to lead me wherever it is I needed to be next.
Two weeks later, I get a call and it's some recruiter. I don't know where they found my resume. But here it is, FTE this organization I had never heard of, they were like I saw your resume. I thought you might be a good fit for this job. Would you be interested in interviewing?
Patrick: We'll get to the FTE story…I want to get there. I want to ask the follow up question around the whole theater and arts trajectory and narrative and tie it to the family story that you lead in with that you have a strong sense of space, but also entrepreneurial spirit, survival spirit, of both immigration and place in the south.
And so I'm wondering as you started to discern in high school, theater or the arts really is where your passions were, as you get into college, like who's around you supporting your call? Who's nay-saying, any of that, like what is that look like in your own narrative arc? Who's supporting you in that?
Kimberly: So during that time, I leaned on my friends who were my community and on their own discernment path. And also my mom. I've had a great relationship with my mom my entire life, and she's been my sounding board for a lot of different things. And my mom has always created the space where she'd be open, even if it was something she didn't agree with, or she didn't fully understand, my mom left space open for me to really explore what it was that I wanted to do. Between that, as well as knowing that I had access to my siblings. I have nine siblings, most of whom are older than me and have had more life experiences than me. So having that community of people, having my parents, my grandparents, I've been blessed to have experiences with both sets of my grandparents.
And I've been blessed to know several of my great-grandparents. So for me, at that time, it was the ability to have access to and community with, not just my friends who were discerning at the same level as me, not just my mom and my parents, my dad, in my same household, but also my elders who are beyond that household who have had decades and decades of experience and a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that I could lean on.
Patrick: I mean, that sounds pretty incredible to have, one - that many siblings. I'm the oldest of five, I always think I've got a big family and nine…that's a lot. That's a lot of wisdom coming your way from the elders, from grandparents, from great-grandparents, from the space that you grew up and the experiences you have.
So now I'm curious, you get this call from FTE, this recruiter saying we want you to come and do what? What does that first job at the Forum for Theological Exploration actually look like? What did we pretend that we were asking you to come and do?
Kimberly: So the job was communication associate. It would be me working on our marketing, written content, working with designers. At the time I thought it was an opportunity for me to do a little bit of blending, working with artists - these graphic designers, videographers, animators, an opportunity for me to tell the story of an organization. FTE was a different type of organization than the type of organization I thought I might be telling the story of but the thing that pulled me in about FTE was because I was so unclear about my call, and because it wasn't a conversation that I saw, even in the faith spaces that I was in growing up, that inspired me about FTE's work.
The fact that FTE helps young adults like myself, who had no idea, or may have some inkling of an idea of where I might be called to be or called to do in the world, that really pulled me in. And I wanted to support and be involved in an organization that blended the arts, communications and helping young people specifically to discern where they're called.
Patrick: And as you think about this role that you first got recruited in to and meld and all this experience telling the story, helping others. So you came in at the organization at a time of transition, presidential transition, organizational transition, so you were helping literally retell the story of an organization.
If you can tell us a little bit about what that was like to have to brand, to come not only along your own story, but how do you help an organization figure out its vocation and tell its story in a way that communicates and inspires the world that we're here to help folks find their vocation, their call?
Kimberly: So when I came on to FTE, just a few months in, the former president transitioned out. And so I come into this organization that feels like very solid. You know, FTE I've been around has been around since 1954 and things started to shift.
It eventually became to the point within a year and a half or so, where it was just me and a colleague on the communications team. A three person team went down to two person and then within another six months it was just me. That, in addition to all of the organizational changes did make it challenging to tell a story of an organization that is solid and unshakable. And so I had to really pull on some crisis communications at times. What is the impact that FTE is making through our programs and what we are doing and how do we tell that story?
What is the vision and direction of our leadership for the organization that I can pull into to telling the story so that people know that FTE is grounded. FTE is not going anywhere. FTE is still supporting its people and its community because there were several times where that was a question that had come up.
Is FTE still going to be awarding fellowships? I had to be really intentional alongside the executives that have been present at each stage of the organization around how we tell the story of how we need to consistently engage with our constituents. And how we set precedent for the vision that we want to walk into in the coming years, while also honoring our past.
Patrick: I'm also hearing that this is a story that you are living in to, you didn't just stay a communications associate. As transitions happen, you were very quickly promoted into senior leadership, and not just writing crisis management. This wasn't just copy press releases, you're coming up with a strategy. How do we communicate the vision and mission of this organization to the many publics that we have? Tell us a little bit about what does that mean to be in this space, to be in theological education or the church that is predominately much older than most of the organizations that may…we're a pretty young organization in terms of our leadership compared to others.
It's mostly male driven. So being a young woman in this role and leading in such a powerful way - tell us a little bit about that transition in this. Just a couple of years going from I don't know if this is the right job, now it's like you're leading this thing. Tell me a little about that.
Kimberly: It was a growth period for sure of leaning into my own leadership, trusting myself, being willing to say I don't know, and also honoring the work that I do. As a black woman, I recognized coming into the organization and even outside of FTE, I've used my credentials, my degrees, and other things to really prove myself.
Because to your point, most organizations are very male driven and dominated, and that is no different in the theological world. For so long as I moved up, initially I used those things to lean on. Especially because I was young, coming into the organization in these roles and I did not want anybody to know how old I was.
I did not want anybody to know! And fortunately, my initial boss, when I came into FTE, she thought I was 10 years older than what I was. it was initially a challenge And it did happen fairly fast because here I was as a team of one, by that time I may have been communications manager, but maybe I was still communications associate.
And then I became the director and then senior director and it's just really been an experience of being grounded in my own skills, my own expertise, not wavering in my own voice, speaking up, not allowing other people to speak for me, which has happened, not allowing other people to run over me, which has also happened.
Not allowing other people to throw me under the bus, which has also happened. But always having a high level of professionalism, respect, empathy for other people, and also being direct, which has been something that I've had to grow into very much.
Patrick: Your role has changed. You've grown your team from that one to a team of three now that are telling stories. You're working across the seams to help us all do our work better at FTE. And you're now in several years of Do Good X, which is social entrepreneurship for new entrepreneurs, an accelerator program, which doesn't even really exist in the broader field, let alone our little field/sub-field that we've been working in in theological education and the church. In the broader field of accelerator programs and the VC world, Do Good X is pretty unique. Can you tell us a little about the genesis? How did you get involved? Where were the curiosities? Where were your passions? What got you like, okay. I think we can do this Do Good X thing?
Kimberly: So I was involved in the early development stages of Do Good X, particularly focusing on the brand and developing that out. Do Good X provides a 10 week accelerator program for underrepresented social entrepreneurs who are really driven by their faith to develop social impact ventures. They want to make a positive impact on people, their environments, and their communities, while making a profit, which sometimes is an issue for people of faith, but that's a whole nother story.
With the development of that idea Stephen initially had it wasn't necessarily fully fleshed out as a 10-week accelerator. But we knew that we wanted to have this space for people of color and women in general, who experienced the disparity of access to funds, access to resources, access to mentorship, access to models of social entrepreneurs, where they can see themselves in that. And so we wanted to provide a space where they can connect with a community of people who look like them, who are pursuing ventures and developing ventures that are doing good in communities. And they are grounded in principles of their faith; like generosity, like purpose and passion and justice. That right there, I love that. I just love that because my family is full of entrepreneurs.
My ancestors did it out of survival and it may not have been called entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship at the time, but they damn well were making a positive impact on people in their communities, from growing food in the farm, or even a candy shop, bringing smiles to kids' faces. They were doing good, but it may not have been called that. But my family is still full of entrepreneurs, but here's the thing - just as many black entrepreneurs and black women who have businesses, they haven't gotten to the space where they necessarily have hired on a whole bunch of employees.
Kimberly: That's not the same for social ventures who are started by white men. And so the family of entrepreneurs that I have is a reflection of what is happening throughout the country. And part of the work at Do Good X is to help to equip people, provide community, so that they have access to money. They know what their invisible assets are and physical capital is and they can develop these ventures that do good.
I was pulled in from the concept from Stephen, the creator. And like I said, I was initially focusing on the brand. I have helped several people to start their businesses prior to Do Good X and I've helped them around the communications work. So between my family and my own experience, even if I wasn't an entrepreneur myself, was very drawn to this.
We hired on a consultant to really be like the project director in moving the work forward. That shifted very fast. When we got to the point where we were about to launch Do Good X with this consultant the consultant called us and told us that she found a full-time job. And that was her calling. You know, I'm happy for her but here's the thing - we were launching Do Good X and Stephen was going on sabbatical in a week. So what we were supposed to do?
So I kind of fell into this, not pushed into it, I fell into it and I wanted to do it. And so that began my journey with Do Good X and I have loved it ever since.
Patrick: Knowing that you fell into it though? I mean, you're a co-founder! It is not what that first iteration was. I remember those first set of fellows coming through our office. I mean y'all are like a full-on accelerator! Tell us a little bit about some of the people you've supported, the businesses you've supported and what does an accelerator program look like now and how you got there? All this development work that you've been doing for this accelerator.
Kimberly: So yes, to your point as co-founder I did not just fall into it but I have worked very closely with Stephen to develop the curriculum and the program, that we have continued to refine based on the feedback of those who are involved in our program and based on the feedback of mentors and other entrepreneurs.
And so I've been very hands-on with this content, with facilitation, with also coaching some of our fellows as they're developing out their businesses. I'm also a life coach, so that has been very helpful for me to provide that skill and gift to the community as well.
So It has changed quite a bit. We are not doing anything that we did in 2017 when we launched, other than our pitch event. That is the only thing that has stayed similar, not even the same. I would say we've probably stayed consistent with the statistic [that] 9 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail. We want to disrupt that statistic. We've always had some success stories come out but I define success very differently than other people do, but we can get to that later. So in developing the content in my experience with each cohort, we have had some amazing people to come out.
People who have come into the program, who did not have the confidence or the motivation or the energy because of not having access to a community or resources. And so participating in the accelerator gave them fuel. It gave them fuel to keep it going. It also equipped a lot of people with knowledge that they didn't consider.
Oh, you're launching a business with a product. How are you going to take care of manufacturing and packaging? What's going to be your price point? Do you have a budget? You know, All of these questions are very important and these are things that even if they did think about it, it was very surface level.
We've had the opportunity to see people really grow as an entrepreneur. Some success stories from our very first cohort is Kit. Kit who is the founder of Argrow's House of Healing and Hope. Kit came into the program with this business idea to launch an organization that produces bath and body healing products made by survivors of domestic violence and abuse.
In addition to that, she wanted this business to offer space, a community with services for survivors, women survivors of domestic violence and abuse. So that might have been chiropractor services, massage therapy, spiritual direction, all of those things. And at the time she was a full-time professor. She is a mom of two. She is a pastor's wife. So Kit was on the grind. She took every piece of the accelerator seriously. It's ideal for people to have something physical and tangible to be able to show people, to be able to gain support. She has this deep level of grit. So while she was a professor by day, at night she would be in her kitchen trying to work these products to develop this bath bomb to have as samples for the pitch event - something physical to show people. And she did her initial kind of packaging and branding, which is not what it looks like now.
But she did an incredible job of not only having this vision, but honoring her people. Argrow's house is named after her grandmother. Argrow's' House is rooted in her grandmother's story. She is healing her lineage by what she is doing and what she is providing to these women coming out of domestic violence and abuse situations.
And it's incredible. As of September 2021, she has launched a retail space and a larger community center. Mind you, Kit did her initial launch December of 2017. The accelerator program ended in November of 2017.
She paid off the house that was used for the services for these women and where the products were made, I believe in a year and a half. She has won a national award and she has had her products in other retail spaces. And what's very cool is that when Kit came into the program, she said I really would love for Becca Stevens to be my mentor. Because of my work with FTE and a previous video that I recorded with Becca Stephens, was able to make a connection. And it was so cool to see that just a couple of years later, Becca Stevens was her keynote speaker at one of her annual events. And so to see this kind of full circle is incredible. So that is one success story.
We have other stories where people have pivoted in the midst of the pandemic and still launched their business. Stephanie Mayer, NARI resort, were a high end clothing product that is made by men and women who are survivors of trafficking in Cambodia, which is where her mom's roots are.
She launched, or she intended to launch in March of 2020, and she contacted Stephen and I and was like, I don't know if I can do this. We are in a pandemic! How am I going to sell clothes and people are concerned about their lives right now! They made a quick pivot. The business is run by her and her sisters and her mom.
And they made some woven beautiful masks as a part of their launch, then matched with the clothing items that they have developed. And so that is another story. We also have Shelley Best who is a pastor who founded 224 EcoSpace which is a co-working space, an artistic space, Shelly would probably call it something else too. She is a very colorful artistic person and I just love her energy. But coming into Do Good X, she wound up leaving with an online course and experience called soulpreneur for people who are inspired by ministry and their faith to really speak to people in their communities with a business - this aspect of spiritual entrepreneur. And so she launched during the pandemic as well. And within her first month she made $20,000. And so she has been doing different iterations of that and is continuing to develop that out while also managing 224 EcoSpace.
We also have Ryan who is in the development process of launching an app for Gogo Healthy Kids - I think it might have since changed to GoHealth kids, which is to combat childhood obesity. He's a doctor and comes with the story of really wanting to attend to childhood obesity. With the examples that I've given you, you see a service-based business, a product-based business and a technology based business.
There are different success stories that come out of Do Good X. I would also say that for me, a success story is someone coming through Do Good X and they realize that social entrepreneurship is not for them. We saved them money. We've saved them time. We have saved them energy.
Patrick: I just want to name that as you're telling these stories, the many different types of success, we define success in as many ways as possible, there’s an excitement about what you do and what you're able to do through Do Good X, some of what you can do in FTE, but tell me what makes you come alive as you're doing this work with and seeing these success stories come out? Is it the life coaching? Is it the connection to ancestors? Is it the deep rootedness that you feel like you're helping folks get clear on what it is that they're doing? What is it about this work that's so exciting?
Kimberly: It's a couple of things. I think it circles back around to my initial story of me not being clear about what it was that I wanted to do, and the fact that I had the ability to help these entrepreneurs to gain clarity and essentially go through a discernment process in this accelerator program: What is my why? Why am I even doing this? What is my connection to this business, what is my story that is really driving me to pursue this and to be in alignment with, and help them get into an alignment with their business to help it be a viable solution, potentially sustainable solution, that gives me a lot of energy? I'm contributing to something in a way that I wish that I had, helping someone discern and live into their purpose. What makes me come alive is using my gifts beyond myself, beyond my household. And so my gifts around empathy or listening or helping to dig into the questions beyond the surface for people, helping people to unearth what it is that they don't see, but also helping people to see the gifts that they possess within themselves. There are people who have gone through our accelerator program, [they] haven't really spoken up a lot or are beating themselves up.
I see it as my role to be their cheerleader, to call out something in them that I see that is a benefit to their community with what are wanting to do. Yeah, it just makes me come alive to be able to use my gifts in this way. And I would say connected to that, to both of these things, as people are unearthing their own stories, their own why, for many people, I feel like they're healing their lineage. They may be healing themselves. And they're healing other people.
I shared this with you Patrick and other leaders at FTE this past week, but I've read that when you heal yourself, you're healing four generations back. The fact that I have a role in that as people are unearthing their why’s, really tapping into their deeper story of why they are pursuing and building this business that is addressing this larger problem, that they have this connection to, it's incredible to see the continued healing and the result of that work.
Patrick: I have one last question for you. I ask this of anyone who's come on this show, this question around how much of your call comes with community and how much comes with that inner voice, but I want to rephrase it or reframe it a little bit for this interview because you've given us so much to think about around going back generations, and then thinking about having both a strong sense of place, and your role in helping people find their story and their voice or organizations find their story and their voice.
So I am really curious in your case, in particular, how much of your call or your work or celebrating your gifts are from this ancestral lineage: from the sense of place, from the sense of people, how much is it from this community that keeps calling to you and saying, you know, I don't know if I can make it. I'm thinking of that call from Stephanie, I don't know if I can launch. How much is it that call from the world to say, I need your help and how much is it thinking about your future generations, the lineage that you're leaving, the legacy that you're leaving, the life you're living right now?
Kimberly: I mean, if you're going back to the continent, I believe I bring what is there on the continent, which is so much happens in community. It cannot happen without community. And so much of my call has come out because of my ancestors, because of my family, because of my daughter. What do I get to do that creates a foundation for her? How do I leverage my gifts and use my gifts for the betterment of other people and what am I going to show her as a reflection of that? And if she has gifts similar to mine, how am I going to cultivate that in her that I may not have necessarily received?
My ancestors have called out gifts in me starting at six years old. I have some gifts of intuition on top of all of this. I have a very close tie to my ancestors, to the spirit world, and I'm grateful for that. And I'm honored by that. And in that, they have and continue to call out things in me that I need to pay attention to, that I need to live into, even if I have some fear, that I need to have the courage to push through and pursue.
Also my community of my mentors or spiritual teachers, to have people who are very direct with compassion and can see something in me that I may not be able to see in myself. And to also have patience with me to journey as I discern my call and continue to discern my call because honestly, the discernment is probably never going to stop.
There's always going to be something that I'm discerning that I get to do in order to truly leave the legacy that God has for me, that my ancestors signed me up for. I can't say that I am the source of most of my call, I am probably the smallest source of my call. It is my ancestors, it is my community, my family, my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my daughter. It is my partner. It's all of these people around me in the physical world and spiritual world. I wouldn't have seen what I have seen in myself and I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for my community.
Patrick: Kimberly, I am so grateful for that. I'm grateful that I'm part of that community, that I have benefited from these gifts. And just want to say that, from all your ancestral lineage, from the farmers to the candy makers, to the family, to Atlanta, to theater arts, to helping FTE find their story, to helping me find my story of my voice, you know I'm just extremely grateful. I'm grateful I get to play a small part in your life journey and life story. So thank you. Thank you for being on the Sound of the Geniune.
Kimberly: Thank you. I appreciate you. And you are one of the many people that have called out gifts in me. And so I'm grateful as a friend and as a colleague.
Patrick: Thanks for listening to another episode of the Sound of the Genuine. We hope you enjoyed that one with Kimberly Daniel as much as I enjoy working with her as the co-founder of Do Good X, as my colleague here at FTE. You can find many stories that she has helped curate on fteleaders.org. You can also find a whole series of resources to help you discern your next most faithful step.
And just as a special plug, if you haven't already checked it out, she is the author of A Way Out of No Way, a book she published with our president, Stephen Lewis. Check that out and so many other resources at fteleaders.org. A special thank you to Heather Wallace, Elsie Barnhart, Diva Morgan Hicks and @siryalibeats for his music. As always thank you for listening to the Sound of the Genuine and please, please, please share this story with a friend!