Paula Brown on Showing Up Authentically in Community Work

Paula Brown is the director of operations at the Center for African American Health, a nonprofit based in Denver that empowers the Black community to make informed health decisions and achieve whole-person wellness. 

Paula’s extensive portfolio includes human resources, facilities and property management, development and implementation of strategic plans, vendor relations, and driving improved performance by optimizing value through scale and efficiency.

Although Paula studied communications and public relations in school and set out to be a national TV news anchor, she quickly learned that she was passionate about working on behalf of others.

“The one-on-one relatable relationships with community and being authentic in showing up for folks is what really called me to be here,” Paula shares.

She started nonprofit work 20 years ago and, besides taking a break to pursue her entrepreneurial goals, she’s been working in the field ever since. She joined the Center for African American Health in 2017 because she felt so strongly about the mission.

“This organization is seen as the Black 911 when it comes to being a trusted, spirited organization, working on behalf of addressing the social determinants of health to ensure that racial inequities in health care are truly addressed,” she explains.

Show Up Authentically 

Working in the nonprofit space isn’t easy, but Paula says she finds strength in the little moments of connection.

“Walking into conversations or rooms with individuals and seeing my mother, father, sister, brother or other family members in those community members is what really hooked me,” she says. 

Paula felt especially connected to the work when a young African American boy asked her to add more books to the building’s Free Little Library with characters that looked like him.

“I made it my personal quest to go to the store and find those books that reflected that 10-year-old little boy. The next week, he came back and he could barely keep it together, he was crying, and he said, ‘Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for ensuring that I see me in other places in the world,” she shares.

These authentic moments of personal connection are what keep Paula motivated and passionate about her work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Paula met a 92-year-old woman who was afraid to come inside the Center to get her vaccine.

“I sat and chatted with this woman for 20 minutes and I just felt like I was talking to my grandmother. Finally, she said if I would stay with her, she would get her shot. So I did.” Paula explains.

In addition to all of the community members she works with, Paula also draws inspiration from the women in her life who remind her to be authentic and kind.

“We really are humans being human. It’s our responsibility to be mindful and thoughtful in everything we do,” she shares.

Embrace Risks and Be Curious

Paula’s decades-long nonprofit career has also taught her the value of putting in the work. She has learned to embrace risks and stay curious.

“If you’re not doing this work, who’s going to be doing it? And while you’re doing it, show up and be your best self, be authentic. Realize that fear is not fatal,” she explains.

Throughout her career journey, Paula has worked with coaches to help her navigate being a Black female leader in the nonprofit space.  

“I’ve learned the importance of what it really means to go the extra mile. I’ve also realized the importance of investing in energizing relationships,” she adds.

Paula hopes future leaders will always look for opportunities to learn because this is how growth happens.

“It’s important that I remain in a constant state of curiosity, that I humble myself and that I’m grateful every day for the things that I learn,” she says.