Join Us as We Continue Highlighting 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 Monica McLaurine, the Capacity Building and Grants Manager for the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), housed in our Main Library, who formerly spent more than 16 years as the Coordinator for NPL’s Totally Outstanding Teen Advocates for the Library (T.O.T.A.L.) program.
Since we spoke with her last year, Monica and her team have been working hard to organize NAZA’s first professional development conference, NAZA’s L.E.D. (short for Learn, Engage, and Develop). Taking place on Thursday, March 9, the conference — free and open to all youth development professionals — covers topics such as curriculum development, family engagement, DEI, restorative practices, mindfulness, integrating youth voice, and more.
You can learn more (and register) for the conference by visiting NAZA’s website.
Monica and her team have also implemented quarterly meetings — Networking Moments — that connect NAZA partners to panel discussions and service providers to enhance their programming.
And, finally — Monica has started the process of writing her third book, which focuses on anxiety in the African American Community. While she’s still early in the process, she’s excited to finally start.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a native Nashvillian, and I’ve been told that we are “unicorns!” I am a two-time author and a certified life coach. I’m also godmother to six children and the proud aunt of three.
What led you into working in libraries and specifically NPL?
Before I came to NPL, I was working for the Nashville Career Advancement Center. I was in the Youth Department, and when you work in the Youth Department, you work with other youth agencies throughout the city. So, through those meetings, I had the chance to work with [former Assistant Director for Education and Literacy] Elyse Adler. She had shared with the group that they were getting a new neighborhood buildings grant, that it was going to be a fresh idea, and that they would be posting the job soon.
And when the job was posted, my boss was like, “Hey, did you see this? It would be perfect for you.” And, though I was content where I was, thought, “Okay, let me try it!” I got the job, and the rest is history.
Tell us a little bit about your job at NPL.
I have a long title: the Capacity Building and Grants Manager, and it’s two-fold.
Under capacity building, I’m responsible for supporting and providing professional development opportunities to our funded and affiliated partners in the areas that can help them create a better impact in a child’s life. I’m currently in the process of trying to implement our vision — “grow, cultivate, learn” — not only to affect the children, but also the people who work with them. I give them resources that empower them to create an environment that allows both them and the youth they work with to thrive.
On the grants side, we have several grants that are non-Metro that allow us to run our program. As the Grants Manager, I’m responsible for keeping up with those grants, making sure we’re in compliance, and making sure the money’s going to the right place. I’ve helped in writing some grants, and we’ve got a fun opportunity right now with a grant from The Economic Club of Nashville that focuses on giving the city’s youth and their families the opportunities to experience things they wouldn’t normally be able to do.
So, I get to work with them, and provide the incentive of not just the kids getting to go but the families, too, and that’s pretty cool!
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of working in libraries and at NPL?
Being able to work with a diverse population. You never know who you’re going to work with or what their story is. You don’t know what they’ve accomplished and what they want to accomplish.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many youth over the years and, in fact, I ran into one of my previous employees just yesterday. I hadn’t seen him in over a decade, and he was so grown up! I ran into him at the mall and he recognized me, even with my mask on. And to see just a little bit of the impact that I got to make in their lives is everything for me.
Even though I don’t have as much direct interaction with the youth in my role at NAZA, in some way shape or form, I still get to stay in-tune to what their needs are, and make sure that the people are not only capable but also have the resources they need to help those kids. That’s my biggest reward.
What do you find are the biggest challenges about working in libraries?
I find through my work with kids and teens that they tend to get a bad rap. The ones I worked with were great, and while some were a little rough around the edges, when you take the time to pour into them, and be there for them, and support them, they turn out into these great people. I’m blessed to have been a little part of that.
We’re also striving to change the narrative of what people normally think a library is. Even though we’re really big on books, there are so many opportunities, and so much support from staff for patrons to go and find their niche. People tend to think, “Oh, the library’s a place where you have to be quiet,” and we’re like, “No! We’ve got whole sections where you don’t!” You might come in and they’re showing a movie, or some youth are taking part in a makerspace [with Studio NPL], or you might be able to take part in some professional development, or view an exhibit. There are so many things here, so we’re just trying to change mindsets about what our library is.
Who are the women you admire most in your life?
I have to say my mom. I am truly a chip off the old block. I didn’t do exactly what she did, but she was really into working with youth and used to work with Jobs for America’s Graduates. So, she helped mold youth just like I feel like I have the opportunity to. I get that from my mom.
I’m a life coach and motivational speaker, as well, so I’ve had some opportunities to speak to different groups across the state and across the country, and when she’s been in the audience and given me a compliment, it just meant so much to me because she’s who I aspired to be like.
Both of my grandmothers on both sides meant so much to me, too. I learned so much from them — from cooking to how to sew on a button to listening to their wisdom. They were very influential in my life.
Also — Michelle Obama. I like to say, “She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s my best friend!” Just to see her being such a strong woman, and how she supported her husband, but still being a force all by herself! And seeing the struggles she has overcome by being the first Black first lady and having everything she did scrutinized, yet still coming through with flying colors while staying who she is. I loved every piece of that because societal norms are huge right now, and she’s not afraid to push those norms.
Last but not least is Iyanla Vanzant — she’s my mentor and just doesn’t know it! I love to hear her speak, and one of the most impactful things she said was, “Feelings buried alive don’t die. They fester.” It just means that if we never deal with those feelings that make us feel a certain way or hurt, they don’t go away, they explode, so you have to deal with those things. It just gives me chills when she says things like that because they just ring so true.
What advice do you have for the next generation of women?
Don’t be afraid to push back on what’s considered normal.
From birth, we’re told, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that; this is what you should do, and what you shouldn’t do.” Sometimes, we get so caught up in what everybody else says and feels that we don’t know who we are or what we want to be, or even how we feel about ourselves! We’ve been trained for so long that whatever society says is what we should do.
So, don’t be afraid to push back and truly figure out who you are and what you want to be. I wish I’d had someone tell me that, so I wouldn’t be 38 years old before I figured out who I want to be!
What are your favorite books and why?
The first one is Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Worry, doubt, anxiety, those things, they all can create wars in your mind, and your mind is the strongest thing you have in your body. As someone who suffers from anxiety, that book helped me realize that a lot of it is definitely in your mind, and you don’t realize how strong your mind is. Books like this give you, I don’t want to say profound things, but things that help you navigate these feelings so that you can control your mind, rather than your mind controlling you. It’s an awesome book that provides positive affirmations and ways you can learn and grow, and I just love it.
The other is The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom by Michelle Singletary. I usually reread it in January, just after the holidays, when you’re almost programmed to spend money. You’re using money for Christmas presents, birthdays, New Year’s gifts — all these things just going on your credit card. So, it’s really like a 21-day reset. You do something every day, for 21 days, so that you save money. You’re putting down your credit card, you’re not buying things that are not necessities, you’re reprogramming yourself.
I don’t know about you, but Amazon is a problem for me! I’m in these Amazon groups that give you discount codes, and I find myself buying things that I don’t need. When I go on this 21-day financial fast, it helps me reprogram to say, “Monica, you don’t need that.” In this day and time, you never know when a possible financial setback could be coming down the line. If you’re throwing your money away, that can become a problem. This book gives you some good tips and strategies to control your spending, create savings, and create a little “nest egg” for yourself.