13 Oct Get to Know Booker T.’s New Deputy Director, Whibs Howes
We had the privilege of sitting down with Whibs Howes, our newly appointed (and first-ever!) Deputy Director, to learn more about her background and professional journey.
Come along with us as we explore the profound influence that community has had on Whibs, both personally and professionally. Discover how she navigates and conquers workplace challenges as a woman of color, and gain insights into her plans to support our center’s meaningful contributions in the Fillmore/Western Addition.
To kick things off, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Originally, I’m from South Korea! I was a foster child, adopted, and immigrated to Minnesota at a young age. After graduating high school, I moved to Colorado for college, and started my career running my own graphic design consultancy. I did that for about six years before I moved to California.
Living in the Bay Area for over a decade now, I have worked in a combination of real estate, food and agriculture, start up, and the nonprofit sector.
What does community mean to you and how has that impacted your decision to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector?
Starting in elementary school, I grew up attending an after school youth program at a community center not far from my home. I also had the opportunity to work abroad at a Castlehaven Community Center, a non-profit organization in London that provides safe, inclusive spaces and engaging activities for all ages & abilities. Serving as the organization’s only in-house graphic designer was an amazing experience!
Since living in the Bay Area, I have served on the board for Inneract Project, a more than 18 year old nonprofit that supports historically marginalized people of color — from middle school to early career — find ways to explore design in school, career, and life.
Tell us more about the community center you went to as a child — any favorite memories?
The community center was local to our neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a blended family, it was important to my parents to establish roots in the community with like-minded families. At the center there were a number of kids from interracial families, and adopted families, like me! Having the opportunity to connect with other kids who had similar lived experiences was extremely important.
The community center also had a food program (not quite like the food justice program that we have at Booker T., but there was a focus on food education) and it often hosted potlucks during the winter months. These potlucks are some of my favorite memories, because I had a ball trying all the different dishes, especially the casseroles.
Who are some of the people that have played an important role in your professional growth?
I have three mentors, who have supported my personal and professional development for the past few years.
I credit a lot of my professional success to Sandra Reid Buehler. She is also an immigrant, a woman, and a person of color. Over the years, she has helped me maneuver the professional world and understand that many of my workplace experiences would likely be different from what individuals from dominant cultures might experience. She also helped me become one of the Board of Directors at Inneract Project.
Mary Macpherson is one of the top realtors in San Francisco, she took a chance on me when I first moved to CA and helped me understand the housing market in San Francisco. A significant part of what we do at Booker T., and what makes us unique, is having permanent supportive housing. I’m glad I was able to learn early on what affordable housing looks like in San Francisco and the components contributing to our housing crisis.
Lastly, Naveen Sikka, a former CEO of a company I worked for in the Bay Area, showed me what it means to be your authentic self at work. Many employers encourage employees to do so, but I didn’t really understand what that meant until I worked at his company. His children were adopted, and I’m adopted, so that was the first company where I ever felt like I could talk about more personal things and it would be accepted. He taught me a lot about work culture and confidence, all lessons I have carried throughout my career!
Tell us about your work before stepping into a role at BTWCSC?
When I first moved to California, I joined a real estate firm, and worked on both the residential and commercial sides of the business. That taught me a lot about transactions, business development, relationship management, and provided me with an understanding of the housing market in the Bay Area. After working in real estate, I worked in food and agriculture in the environmental justice sectors, in both chief of staff and director of people roles. These jobs really furthered my passion for sustainability, climate justice, and the food space.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and the approach you’ve taken to overcome them?
I believe that being an immigrant and woman of color, inherently comes with adversities in the professional world, and in society as a whole. During my early experience working for white-led organizations, I became aware of the disconnect and hardship that unintentionally, or intentionally impacts the people of color in those organizations. Once I began working for organizations and companies with BIPOC leadership, I realized how important it is to feel psychologically safe at work, and I made the decision that I didn’t want to compromise that feeling.
What specific aspects of BTWCSC motivated you to pursue the opportunity to join the team?
One aspect that greatly motivated me is the fact that BTWCSC is the only Black-owned permanent supportive housing facility in San Francisco. Among our 50 onsite permanent supportive housing units, 50 percent are dedicated to transitional aged youth (TAY). As someone who was fostered and adopted myself, this aspect of Booker T. truly inspires me. It demonstrates our commitment to addressing the needs of the community, including individuals who may have aged out of the foster care system and are seeking a home.
What do you look forward to the most in your new role as Deputy Director of BTWCSC?
One of the things that I look forward to in this new role is helping to expand our leadership team, and our center’s impact in the community. I’m also really excited to see our new and our more mature programs continue to grow and thrive. Each program is at an exciting point in their development process. With our upcoming five-year strategic plan in the works, I also look forward to amplifying communications around our impact as the oldest Black-led and Black-serving organization in San Francisco to further increase visibility and, ultimately, attract funding.
How do you envision actively connecting with the Fillmore/Western Addition community?
I envision establishing connections within the community, both here at the center and through active participation at community events. Booker T. is unique because we aren’t just an organization; we are a thriving community center where a significant portion of our work takes place. We are dedicated to being here five days a week, and providing a safe and welcoming environment.
I also look forward to attending and supporting not only our own events but also those organized by our partner organizations in the Fillmore/Western Addition community. I believe that showing solidarity by attending each other’s events serves to amplify our collective impact.
What are you looking forward to the most for the rest of the year at BTWCSC?
I am looking forward to my first holiday season here at the center! It is a very busy time with Harvest and Winter Fest, and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I also look forward to acknowledging our team’s incredible efforts, so that we can enter the new year refreshed and ready to continue to make a positive impact.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I am proud to share that I have read 18 books so far this year! My goal is to complete 25 by the end of 2023! My husband and I love taking our Coton de Tulear (dog), on urban hikes!
Lastly, do you have any mantras or quotes that inspire you?
Yes, I have quite a few. Here are just a couple, “The person coming to save you is your healed self” and “You are the greatest project you’ll ever work on.”
We are focused on making a meaningful impact in the lives of our neighbors, and we believe that our team is at the heart of everything we do. If you’re passionate about driving positive change for the Fillmore’s Black community, we want to hear from you.
Explore our current open positions and apply today to become a part of our dedicated team.