Going to college wasn’t something many people talked about within the inner-city community of Kansas City, Missouri, where Carmelita Nix grew up.
“Where I lived young people aspired to be drug dealers, athletes, or gang members,” said Nix, senior director, Business Units & Finance Operations at Kaiser Permanente.
It wasn’t until the leader of a local mentorship program for young Black women convinced Nix to join her program that Nix learned about professionalism, career pathways, and what it took to attend college. This influenced Nix, a straight-A student athlete, to get a part-time job at a local mutual funds corporation, a decision that shaped the trajectory of her career.
“That woman changed my life,” Nix said. “She taught me that your environment doesn’t have to hold you back, and instead builds character and is a stepping stone to success.”
Nix went on to work full time at the finance company, then served more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force in the finance sector before eventually earning her PhD. Today, Nix has been with Kaiser Permanente for 22 years in Finance Operations.
Influencing the next generation
Having a deep understanding of the power of education and opportunity for young girls raised in adversity, Nix wanted to pass on her knowledge and create a mentorship program.
The Leadership Academy for Young Women Program was born. The program holds 2 virtual information sessions annually for young women ages 12 to 18, primarily in the East Bay, a community where many families do not earn enough income to cover the costs of housing, food, and transportation.
We are impressing on these young ladies that there is hope and a future for them. If they can see themselves in the people at our workshops, it allows them to know they too can achieve success. – Carmelita Nix
The academy’s 2-hour sessions bring together professionals from a wide variety of industries to educate girls on financial literacy, including college financing, as well as career opportunities, resume tips, how to dress in the professional world, and mental wellness such as stress management and mindfulness.
Nix has held 3 workshops so far that have reached more than 100 young girls.
“We are really doing something here,” Nix said. “We are impressing on these young ladies that there is hope and a future for them. If they can see themselves in the professionals that look like them within our organization, it allows them to know they too can achieve success.”
Workshops feature a variety of Kaiser Permanente speakers, from finance leaders, registered nurses, and physicians to local Black business owners, actors, and motivational youth speakers.
Fruits of her labor
One high-school girl had a particular effect on Nix and helped inspire the creation of the academy. Nix had given a career development presentation at an Oakland high school when a young girl briefly told her about her situation — that her mom was struggling to pay rent, she was taking care of her siblings, and she didn’t have a lot of hope for the future.
Nix set up a time to meet with her and a few other girls to talk about their opportunities. But this young woman didn’t show up after missing her bus.
Nix didn’t give up. She told her she’d wait for her to catch the next one. The pair finally met, and the girl revealed that she had been previously involved in a criminal incident that she felt clouded any future opportunity she had.
Nix helped her in enroll in after school programs and wrote a letter to her presiding judge to advocate for the work she was doing to create a brighter future for herself.
This girl also attended the academy and is now enrolled in her first year of college.
“It’s very fulfilling,” Nix said. “There are a few girls who attended our workshops and are now in college. That feels great.”
Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a time to honor and celebrate the history, contributions, and culture of Black Americans.
For Nix, who has 2 Black sons, one a nurse for Kaiser Permanente, this month is very meaningful.
“I want to do as much as I can to influence change and the perception of not just my culture, but of all people of color,” Nix said. “I teach my sons to pay it forward and explain that someone saw potential in your mom, and I want you to do that for others.”
Nix was the first college graduate in her family and passes along to her sons that “it’s important that they are not the last.”