A graduate of UA Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and a master’s degree in secondary education, Ganelle Blake is a first-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
Blake keeps a busy schedule. She is the owner and a strategic consultant at The Giovanna Group and was a major gift officer at the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross. Additionally, she is a senior strategist for Terrapin Philanthropy and a commissioner for the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority Commission. She also works as a development associate for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Outside of work, Blake and her husband, State Representative Charles Blake, enjoy a large family, including a one-year-old daughter, Bronx.
Blake’s public service interests include fundraising and strategic planning.
When you Google your name, several things come up – The Giovanna Group, Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority, the Clinton School, etc. In addition to being a wife and mother, how do you balance your time?
I guess I balance it by focusing on the one thing that’s in front of me. I really just have to take it one task at a time, because it can get overwhelming. I work in chunks of time, and there are times that are solely dedicated to my family. Saturday mornings are really sacred to me, and I keep those free, period.
Knowing that I have that time is nice. Otherwise, I don’t know, I feel like the less time I have to get things done, the more I get done. You just do what you have to do. I know every mom – working moms in particular – say that. My daughter woke up at 3 a.m. this morning, and I was still awake studying for my field research midterm. Luckily, my husband was there and I just was like, “Here, you’re going to have to wake up.”
So, I do have help, and that’s the key. I have an amazing family; they make it possible for me to do this. Nobody could do this alone. I’m not over here superwoman doing it. I have a lot of help and I just focus on one thing at a time.
What is The Giovanna Group?
I have a variety of nonprofit experience, and something I’ve learned from the last eight years working in nonprofits is one of my talents is going into an organization and identifying what that one key factor is that could transform an organization quickly.
I liked the idea of being able to work with several different organizations at one time. The Giovanna Group is a consulting company that allows me to do that. I wanted to figure out if I could make money and stay home with her for the first year, and I did.
Once I started it, about eight months in I applied at the Clinton School, mainly so I could further my company and build relationships and formalize the work experience I already had. So, a bunch of this I was already doing but I just didn’t have the terminology for it. The Giovanna Group is a company that helps organizations identify the one thing they can do to transform and have a higher impact on the people they work for. My daughter’s middle name is Giovanna.
How did you transition from degrees in theatre and secondary education to fundraising?
Through AmeriCorps VISTA. I was going to be a high school drama teacher. While I was getting my master’s degree in secondary education, I was going to church at Mosaic in Little Rock, and my friend Georgia Mjartan was in a small group with me. She was the executive director of Our House.
I had never heard of Our House at the time, but we became friends. She mentioned to everyone in our small group that she had an AmeriCorps VISTA position open and it was in development. I was a standardized patient at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. There was a woman named Mary Cantrell who told me I should really look into development, so that was the first time I had ever heard the word development in that sense and I didn’t know what it meant. She explained to me that it was fundraising and I had a personality for it, and with my public service orientation that it might be something I’d be interested in.
When I saw this development assistant position that Georgia sent out to our small group, I thought, “That’s interesting, somebody said I might be good at that. I’ll give it a shot.”
I realized that event planning was very much like putting on a theatrical performance and when the curtain goes up, it’s up. You have to be ready to go and then you have to tear it down. There’s a lot of preparation for it, and then it’s over. That sort of flow is something that I really enjoy, I think.
So, I went to Our House through AmeriCorps. Then when I went to my public service training at AmeriCorps, that really opened my eyes to public service in general. I took that oath and it meant the world to me and I meant every word I said. That was it, and I was just off running with public service.
When I finished my internship for my master’s program, I knew I was at a fork in the road where I was either going to be in a classroom or build on these relationships and the networking I had done – meeting their board, planning their events, meeting all of their volunteers, and I wanted to capitalize on the network that I had built up, because fundraising is all about relationships. So, that’s the path I went down and here we are.
What is the Water Reclamation Project and how did you become involved?
Greg Ramon is the CEO of what is now called Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority, and I met him through Just Communities of Arkansas. We honored him at our walk for community events so he was one of the honorary chair people. He’s very inclusive and wanted to make sure that there was a very diverse group of people on that commission in terms of age, race, and profession. It is a utility to the city whereby we’re able to reuse our water. We clean it and repurpose it into the community.
My job is just to go to the meetings and represent the rate-payer, the public who pays for it, and make sure the money is being used well and that they have a strategic plan. I don’t have the hard job, but they do and it’s interesting. As the city expands out west, that’s going to be a challenge for the city. So, my focus is figuring out what that looks like for the rate-payers.
What brought you to the Clinton School?
Bill Clinton, and a lot of the work he did, brought me to the Clinton School. I’m like five-generations Little Rock, but I’ve lived other places. Around the time I was in college I traveled around the country quite a bit, but I’m from here and my story is his story. My story is the work that he did here, in the state and in the city.
I grew up in Quapaw, across the street from the governor’s mansion on Arch street. I went to Arkansas governor’s school. There’s no denying the work that he did here in the state affected my life. There’s no other program like this in the country, plus it’s right in my backyard. I’m very passionate about Little Rock and seeing it do well, so it was a no-brainer.
Do you know what you want to do for your IPSP?
I know I want to take my daughter with me, so I’m going to have to work around that. I want her to have that experience.
I’ve never been outside of this continent, I’ve been to Mexico and I’ve been to Canada, but I’ve never crossed the seas. I want to be in a metropolis, I know that. I don’t want to be anywhere rural. Not that I don’t appreciate it, or wouldn’t visit it, but in terms of having to take my one-and-a-half-year-old there, I just want to have access to schools, hospitals, and roads without fear of coming into any kind of emergency.
That’s as far as I’ve gone down the IPSP road right now. I would love to go to Africa. I have never been and being African-American and just feeling so not at home in your home is an interesting dynamic. I would like to be around a sea of brown people; that really appeals to me. Walking around and not seeing yourself or seeing yourself under represented is seriously impactful. Having said that, I really want to see the old cliché western Europe, too. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I can understand it, and write it a little bit. I would love to go to Spain. So, I don’t know, the world’s just open and I can’t wait to figure it out.
The Kettering Foundation asks the basic primary research question of what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Their hypothesis is that deliberative democracy could be the answer. They have a very specific definition of democracy and citizenship and their definition of citizenship really only includes people who are participating not just by virtue of the fact that you were born here, but that you are actively working towards establishing and maintaining the democracy that we have. So, one of the ways that they do that is they develop forums and issue guides.
The forums go through the National Issues Forums Institute and they host conversations. They’re guides that show people how to host conversations about really important issues like food insecurity, healthcare, mental illness, race, and ethnicity – just really big, heavy stuff that affects our country.
The other way they do it is through issue guides about historical positions. For example, the Clinton Library has one on Kosovo. What happens is they have groups of people come in and deliberate about three value-based options that President Clinton had and sort of take his seat and say, “What would I have done?” Together as a group they decide on one of those things and the answer could be “none of those things.”
But they definitely have those three value-based options to deliberate about. So, the Kettering Group believes that the work of deliberating and coming to a decision with a group of people who have different values is the work of being in a democratic society and not just voting and participating, but being active in having those conversations in a formal way.
So, the ARHDLE is taking that idea of the historic issue guide and putting them in for museums across the state – Crystal Bridges, Delta Cultural Museum, US Marshalls which isn’t built yet, but is very programmatically active, and the MacArthur Park Military Museum. We are asking each of those museums to come up with an issue that is of interest to them and is important to them.
For example, the military museum has picked the Little Rock arsenal crisis. The short story is that the Civil War almost started here, because the Union wanted to take back the arsenal, which is what the museum is in now. There was sort of a militia of Confederate rebels that were trying to stop that from happening. There was a captain who had to make the decision of what to do – give that arsenal back to the union or start the civil war here in Little Rock.
So, there are values there that could be weighed. That’s what we’re doing, we’re coming up with those three options, and what those three options are for those issues.
We went to Dayton to participate in a forum with the Kettering Foundation and just talked to them about what their expectations are and what they would like to see and why they even want us to do this.
What made you decide to come back for a degree in Public Service?
One, the networking and the relationship building specific to Clinton School. Like I said, I know the value of building relationships. I mean, I asked Dean Rutherford to be my advisor, so that’s why I’m here. The field practice work I find to be really appealing and informative in a very practical way, too. It just fit what I was doing and I really thought that it would further my business. At the end of the day I want to be marketable. My degree didn’t necessarily match up with what I was doing. I could’ve kept doing it anyway; I didn’t need the degree to continue what I was already doing. But I think that building the relationships here, formalizing the things that I knew and doing the international field work. Again, a no brainer. I’m doing this for my business.
You listed your favorite book as “When and Where I Enter.” At what age did you first read this book and what sort of impact has it had on your life?
I mentioned earlier when I started talking about being black here and what a challenge that is, just to be here. Often times it feels like people don’t understand why you’re upset. Like, you’re free now, and you have the same opportunities that I do, so why can’t you do what we’ve all been doing? That’s really hurtful.
Slavery is now a mental issue; we are enslaved in our minds. That’s not to say that there are not still institutions that are literally enslaving people, because there are. But, for me, it was more of growing up and thinking, at 11 and 12-years-old, not really knowing I was black, because no one around me was. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I identified with mostly white people. When I read that book, for me, it validated a lot of feelings and questions I had about why am I the way that I am. Why do I have this particular set of issues that I can’t seem to break the chains for?
Having that knowledge of the role that black women have played in the American democracy from the beginning until now is what the book is about. It was so eye opening and validating, because it showed me who I am.
It’s sort of freeing because it’s not you, you’re not crazy. This is what it means to be black, female, and American. It’s super special to me.