Black History Month: Yale African American Affinity Group Co-Chairs Continue to Build Community

February 22, 2021

The month of February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to honoring African American communities’ contributions and achievements. We spoke with Yale African American Affinity Group (YAAA) co-chairs Reese McLeod and Cherice McNeil about how YAAA celebrates the legacy of African Americans who shaped our history and their journey of belonging at Yale.

Left: Reese L. McLeod, MPA Sr. Administrative Assistant, Cardiology. Right: Cherice McNeil, BA, MS Assistant Administrator, Internal Medicine

How has your engagement with YAAA shaped your experience as an employee?
Reese: My engagement with YAAA has taught me to think quickly and efficiently no matter what comes up. It’s important to always radiate professionalism and be a team player and a supportive colleague.

Cherice: It has allowed me to become even more creative and enhance new skills that I may not use daily in my current role. As a co-chair, I have a chance to manage and develop programs and projects, present to a large audience, and manage funds.

As New Haven natives, why is it important to create programming inclusive of the New Haven community?
Reese: If we do not continue to push the narrative of black excellence and opportunities in the New Haven community, who will? I believe it is our job as co-chairs now and after the end of our terms to continue to support the new incoming co-chairs to create successful programs for YAAA. I am truly proud of all The Yale African American Affinity’s Groups Black History Month programming and believe that all the events planned for February were very impactful in their own way.

Cherice: As a New Haven native, I have had the luxury to meet phenomenal community members who may not be as recognizable to the Yale community. Bringing in community leaders from the arts, science, and social justice fields during Black History Month and beyond is essential. We must give these individuals praise and recognition while they are here and share their gifts with the broader community, such as in our past evening discussion, “Being Black in White Space.” This discussion allowed community members to listen to a presentation from Dr. Anderson, join in on the discussion, and allowed an opportunity for Q and A at the end.  

Tell us about your career journey?
Reese: I started my career by taking advantage of the New Haven Hiring Initiative (NHHI). I attended every meet and greet and coaching event that the New Haven Works (NHW) and NHHI set up. I called my career development mentor Nakisha Jones weekly and went to every interview. I didn’t miss a beat! I will be honest though, the process was not easy and many times I thought about giving up, but I was lucky to have great support at New Haven Works. Eventually, my dedication to the process paid off. I spent two years applying through NHW, and in 2017 I was hired as an administrative assistant in the Department of OBGYN. After earning my Bachelor of Science, I expressed my interest in obtaining a position as a senior administrative assistant in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine. I applied and interviewed—and landed the job!

Cherice: After graduating college, I looked for a more challenging position in an organization where I could grow. My cousin Melissa Dawkins, who worked at Yale University, told me about a program called New Haven Works and how to sign up. I called and made an appointment to meet with a counselor. I came prepared to discuss my interests. My resume outlined my years of experience working in the healthcare and business fields, which still held great interest for me. Within two months, I found a position with the help of my New Haven Works counselor (Cheryl Bergman). I was hired as a temp in the Yale Health Claims Department on 9/3/2013 and offered a permanent position in the department on 09/23/2013. My counselor was most the helpful to me because she described the process thoroughly, was open-minded, explained the “Yale way,” and always kept in touch. If she called me and needed me to do something, I did it asap! 

What is your message for job seekers interested in a position at Yale? 
Reese: Take the initiative to research a position before applying and gain a clear understanding of the department before interviewing. Make sure to ask questions to gain a better understanding of what the job entails. I strongly recommend that one takes full advantage of New Haven Works and the New Haven Hiring Initiative, talk to recruiters, get resume reviews, cover letters, and interview critiques. Having a great mentor to help set goals and plan your career path will set the tone for your journey’s next steps.

Cherice: I would encourage job seekers to be open-minded and research the area they are interested in. Stay engaged and motivated in your job search, network with people in your desired field, and stay knowledgeable and educated in the field they are pursuing.