Join Us as We Highlight Diverse Voices During Black History Month
Last year, during Women’s History Month, the team at Nashville Public Library (NPL) shared the stories of some of the amazing women who make NPL a cornerstone of our city.
And — because you loved it so much — we’re bringing back this series for Black History Month 2023 to shine a light on just a few of the women of color who work every day to make NPL an inclusive hub that serves the needs of our diverse communities.
Today, we’re sharing the story of Deana Blount, who’s making a difference in the lives of Nashville’s middle-schoolers as the Partnerships Manager for the Nashville Afterzone Alliance (NAZA), housed in our Main Library.
Since we spoke with her last year, Deana (and NAZA teammates Allie Duke and Cole Dugan) supported a team of local youth who received a $15,000 grant through Powered by Youth Voice: Future Directions of Afterschool to enhance youth-designed afterschool programming; onboarded 13 new affiliated partners with NAZA; and was nominated for a 2023 ATHENA Young Professional Award through the Nashville ATHENA Award Program.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m from Bellevue, Nebraska, and I’m a military kid. I have an Air Force mom and a Navy dad. So, I’m one of those kids, and that has a lot to do with how I think about things and process information.
I went to college in Omaha at Creighton University where I studied Elementary Education and Spanish.
I’ve always been really big on community service, so I’ve done a lot of programs and been part of organizations that are about serving communities. I’ve always been involved in my church by being on different councils, being in the choir, doing vacation bible school, etc. Anything that has something to do with helping someone is something I’m big on.
I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, which is a public service sorority. and I’d describe myself as a “very Taurus-y Taurus.” A lot of the stereotypes fall into the personality that I have!
What led you into working in libraries and specifically NPL?
Honestly, I’ve always wanted to live in this part of the country. I have roots down this way — not in Tennessee, but in this region. So, this, ironically enough, is closer to the majority of my family than I’ve ever been, having moved 12 hours away from where I grew up. I researched different cities and this is where we landed.
What spoke to me about NAZA is that it’s just this awesome combination of my professional experiences. I’ve always, in some way, worked directly with youth, whether it was as a teacher or an afterschool program director or a summer camp director. I taught first grade, and then I worked for Boys and Girls Club for about six years running programs inside elementary schools and community center locations. During the summers, while I was in college and teaching, I worked for the Girl Scouts running camp programs, and for two or three years I oversaw the site for the summer.
So, everything I’ve done professionally ties into what NAZA does, and it just speaks to my heart as someone who knows the benefit of out-of-school time and education — that I get to be part of that field in making sure that kids get those opportunities and being able to do it in such a big city. That’s a really cool thing to me, and I’m proud to be a part of the library and do this work!
Tell us a little bit about your job at NPL.
My day-to-day shifts a lot, depending on what type of meetings or activities I have set up. Generally, what I do as the Partnerships Manager is that I’ll help set up our Affiliated Partners — who are smaller organizations or organizations that don’t serve our core 5th through 8th grade group — with support from NAZA.
Currently, our funding is specifically for fifth through eighth grade programming, which narrows down who we can help. But being an Affiliated Partner, we can reach other organizations — for example smaller organizations who are trying to get their footing — and get them resources and tools to expand and build themselves up. We can support organizations that serve younger kids since, just because they don’t serve 5th through 8th grade, it doesn’t mean they can’t use these training and tools we have available. The same goes for programs that support high schools, too.
I work with Youth in Action, which is an initiative that supports youth leadership in afterschool programs. High school students are matched with a partner program and they make weekly visits to support kids in the program as they create and run projects for their program, school, or community.
I also work on a layer of partnership called Enhancement Partners. I love my job in general, but this is one thing I really, really enjoy! Enhancement Partners are organizations within the community that can provide another layer of enrichment for afterschool sites where perhaps that site doesn’t have a level of expertise they need. That could be someone who is a specific kind of artist, or teaches a specific kind of dance class or science class, or works in community theater or a museum — things that have a special niche who can do outreach programming and come to the site.
What I do is meet with those Enhancement Partners to discuss what NAZA does to support these afterschool programs while I learn more about them and what they do, and what they’re capable of offering to afterschool program sites. I’ll then go observe them in action, in a sample session so that I can learn for myself and, if someone should have a question about what these folks can do, say, “This is what I’ve seen,” versus just going off of information on a website.
It’s a cool job! There’s a lot to it, but I love it.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of working in libraries and at NPL?
I would say the most rewarding part of my job is just being able to share resources and to make connections, and being able to do things that I — as someone who once ran programs like these — would have loved to have gotten more insight from something like NAZA. Just knowing that I get to work in a place that supports work that I find incredibly meaningful and that I’ve, in essence, done before is awesome.
I love the afterschool field. I think that there isn’t enough buzz around it for people to really grasp the fact that it’s not daycare. With the things that I get to do now, we get to really help shift that perception, and hopefully draw more attention to these awesome leaders that are being built in these programs. These opportunities are so necessary, and the impactful things that kids are doing — because of the staff who work with them day-to-day — shouldn’t go unnoticed. I think that it’s cool to be in a position where I can support that from another lens, as someone who has done this kind of work before.
And, finally: just seeing the cool things these kids come up with. It’s just really cool as someone who has a heart for community work and for youth to be able to be in a position like mine.
One reason I really enjoy working at NPL is because, as our city’s library, it's such an important community resource. It’s really our hub for meeting all kinds of needs. As someone who has worked in community organizations, but not inside a library before, it’s been a great way to realize everything that is at the fingertips of people who live in Nashville and Davidson County just by coming into this library. If you’re hard of hearing, or having issues with eyesight, there are things here that can help you. Even just the fact that teen centers exist — and I don’t know if they’re even a thing in other cities — but just being able to share information about those kinds of resources and get people connected to them is something I really enjoy, too.
What do you find are the biggest challenges about working in libraries?
In my position, one of the hardest parts is balancing the fact that my priority might not be someone else’s. For example: I’m trying to help some of these smaller organizations to get meetings with principals or other key stakeholders. On our side, that’s a top priority because we want to meet with these people and engage with them so that they’re aware that these programs and resources are available to them to support their youth and families. But for them, it might be further down the priority list because they’re worrying about things like Title I funding or getting grades together.
Who are the women you admire most in your life?
Three women I admire directly are my mother and grandmothers. They are all just amazing women in their own right, just because of the types of things they’ve had to overcome, and the things they’ve accomplished, over time. I’m actually named after my grandmothers — my first name comes from my mom’s mom, and my middle name from my paternal grandmother.
My mother came from a small town in Georgia, and is from a big family. My grandparents were really big on education, but didn’t necessarily have extensive resources. My mom did her undergraduate studies and then went into the Air Force as an officer, and went on to get two Master’s degrees. She’s just a really smart, hard-working person.
My grandmothers are business women. My Grandma Denner, who’s no longer with us, owned businesses with my grandpa. She was a well-known cook in town because of how amazing her food was, and she ran the café they owned. My grandparents were born in the ‘30s, so you take that, you add them being Black, and you take them living in Georgia — there are a lot of layers to what they were able to accomplish. She was also a deaconess in the church, which was also not as popular back then. So, she was a strong leader and just the most loving person ever.
Grandma Iona owned a flower shop out in California, which she eventually sold. She still does floral decorations for big events and weddings, leading a team to coordinate for events. Her floral arrangements are really impressive.
Another is Dorothy Irene Height. She was just such a force for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and such an awesome leader. Plus, she was a former National President of my sorority, so she was just an amazing, brilliant woman.
What advice do you have for the next generation of women?
I would say this: your expectations are not too high, and hold people to your expectations and boundaries. You’re not asking for too much. More likely, you’re probably asking too little.
Also, this: if you have a plan, stick to it. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s so easy for people to come through and tell you, “That’s not doable,” or, “That’s not possible.” If you have something in your mind, and whatever your guiding compass is — whether that’s faith or whatever — if it sits right with your heart and spirit, then don’t let folks knock you off of it. I can personally say that my path to this position — which I fully believe is exactly where I’m supposed to be — was mildly rocky. There were many times where I was told that I should just accept other opportunities that I knew I didn’t want to do. But I knew in my heart that if there was something specific that would speak to me that was coming, I was going to be available. And here we are.
I don’t know that dream jobs necessarily exist — other than laying on a couch and being fed — but this is exactly what I want to do. It aligns with my passions, it aligns with what I believe is my purpose. I can happily say that if I had listened to people who tried to knock me off the path of my plan, I wouldn’t be in this space. I would be doing something that was just good enough instead of what speaks to my heart.
Read the Other Entries in Our Women of NPL Series
- Beth Deeb, Collection Development Librarian, Main Library
- C. Magda Underdown-DuBois, Youth Services Librarian, Thompson Lane Branch Library
- Monica McLaurine, Capacity Building and Grants Manager, NAZA
- Cloreace Eppenger, Branch Manager, North Branch Library
- Syreeta Butler, Program Manager, Limitless Libraries