Today, we launch our Getting to Know You Series, which highlights the amazing women who make up the NBWJI Team.
We are kicking off the series with our new Acting Executive Director, Dr. Sydney McKinney. Read on to learn more about Dr. McKinney, her influences, what excites her about joining NBWJI and even some of her favorite forms of self-care.
Tell us about where you grew up.
Dr. Sydney McKinney (SM): I grew up in Superior Township, Michigan. My mother is an elected official there – she’s actually the first Black person to be elected to her position. My father was a social worker, who at one point in his career, worked with justice-involved youth – he’s retired now. That meant that I spent a lot of my childhood thinking about issues of justice. More specifically, I thought about the injustices Black people endure living in this country. It’s funny how looking back it’s possible to see the direct influences their career choices have had on my own.
Who inspires you?
SM: Sojourner Truth inspired me immensely when I was young. I think I was 12 when I read her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” that she delivered at the Women’s Conference in 1851. Even at that young age, her words resonated with me. And her words continue to be relevant as Black women's struggles to be seen and treated with respect and dignity persists to this day. NBWJI is part of that struggle. It means a lot to me to be a part of an organization committed to bringing the lived experiences of Black women and girls to the forefront.
What inspired your academic and professional career?
SM: I’ve always wanted to be a researcher. But I’ve never wanted to be an academic. I believe data can be an incredibly powerful tool for social change, and using it in that way has been my motivation academically and professionally.
Why are you excited to lead NBWJI?
SM: I’m very excited to join NBWJI. There’s no other organization like it. There are several organizations in the field that use research, provide technical assistance, and advance policy to end mass incarceration. But, the Institute is among the first to make it its explicit mission to address the disproportionate impact systems of justice and confinement have on the lives of Black women and girls. Here, we place Black women and girls at the center of discussions about the justice system and policing reform instead of at the periphery.
What do you think is one of the most pressing issues impacting Black women and girls?
SM: Prior to joining the Institute, I worked at a foster care agency, and it was there that came to understand just how important gender-responsive, race-conscious, and trauma-informed interventions are for interrupting the trauma-to-confinement pathway, which characterizes the experience of so many Black women and girls who are justice-involved. Working in that setting, it’s impossible to ignore how abuse and sexual violence are correlated with problematic, and sometimes violent, behaviors. The criminal and juvenile justice systems label their actions as crimes, when a mental health (or trauma) lens shows us that these are in fact pain-based behaviors that could be mitigated by implementing interventions that promote healing and connection, and help Black women and girls reclaim their power. NBWJI is not only committed to identifying such interventions, but also providing them with the technical assistance to improve the outcomes and impact they have on the lives of Black women and girls..
Tell us about some of your favorite forms of self-care.
SM: Yoga, running, and spending time with family, friends, and my cats!