Join The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, a center in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in celebrating our new director, Antoinette L. Allen, PhD

Antoinette L. Allen, PhD was recently appointed as the new director of The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, which promotes the development of current and emerging leaders in Virginia academic institutions and communities. Allen is a published author, international speaker and an award-winning poet. Additionally, she is a certified life coach with an endorsement in executive coaching.


What drew you to GEHLI?


I think there’s a lot of things that drew me to GEHLI, but it has to really be the opportunity to tell Grace E. Harris’ story in a broader context. I think that she has a very unique leadership story that is not told widely outside of VCU. The fact that there is a leadership institute named after a Black woman, I don’t know how many there are, but I imagine it’s a very small number.


Probably like 5, definitely less than 10.


I am sure- I can count them on one hand! The opportunity to be able to highlight for the world, what Dr. Harris was able to do in the time that she lived, that informs the next generation of leaders is exciting. The other thing that drew me here, really are the parallels in her story to my passion work which is the work of forgiveness. And so to find an American leader, who's been an embodiment of that leadership trait, I mean that absolutely drew me straight to the institute. I also think I’m highly creative and artsy, to be at VCU with all that is going on with the young folks, like you- I’m on the other side of that, I like to consider myself a “midi”. No, that's what I really call the stage of life I’m in! But to be able to reconnect with the youth, that passion, and to be able to really share some of the wisdom that I’ve gained over the years; It’s very exciting to be here.


Would you say that the art scene is what drew you into VCU as a whole?


I think that was a strong reason for me to consider the offer. I have 30 years in the federal government, I carved out my own niche in leadership development doing highly creative work. I didn't envision leaving the fed’s, you know. For me this is almost like a reconnection with my younger self. VCU was the only school I toured when I was considering college.


Really? Wow, you knew what you wanted.


It’s the only school, because I wanted to be a dancer, right? So I was like “Oh, I’ll go to VCU and be a dancer” but instead I joined the Air Force! And now I’m back at VCU! There is still dance here, there is still art, there is still poetry, there’s still music. My hope is to connect the Grace E. Harris legacy with the arts.


I love that, especially as an artist myself and a previous graduate of VCUarts. Ok, let's move onto the next question, shall we? What does “leading with grace” mean to you?


Gosh, you’ve got some great questions! I think “leading with grace” to me, it’s about, dare I say the word- an essence of leadership. Right? It is the unique way that you are able to see everyones humanity. To understand that at the end of the day, no matter who we are, how we may have been raised, what we bring to the organization and to the world, is that I have the demand to treat you with dignity and respect. I am compelled to offer you grace. So if you make a mistake, I can remember the mistakes I made, and treat you with kindness. To me, that is what “leading with grace” is, to understand the humanity and just the human life that we are all trying to live.


That was beautiful and so well put, Dr, Allen.


Thank you!


What program or event are you looking forward to the most?


I really think I am looking forward to future events, ones that don’t technically exist yet. I’m looking forward to the ideas that the participants, staff, and myself have about the future. I ask, what could we do?


Any examples?


Oh, we gotta be careful with that, ha! One thing I would love to do is grow GEHLI into an international space. It sounds big, but I think we absolutely have the opportunity to do that with VCU’s already established international footprint. I see so many possibilities, and really, the possibilities are endless. What we need to think about is sharing her story. It has its local roots, we can make it more national- but why stop nationally? I would really love to see her story become well known. We really have the capacity to do some unique programming. 


Ok last question! How do you plan to leave your mark on GEHLI, which I believe you already answered with the previous question- please feel free to add any other thoughts if you have them.


I think there's a couple of things I would like to leave as my mark. One of those is, and this is something I’ve been trying to do everywhere I’ve been for the past 5 years, is normalize healing and forgiveness in leadership development. So that is absolutely a mark that I intend to make. I want to normalize the way that women, and even particularly women of color, the way that we nurture, the way that we lead in big and small spaces. It’s unique and it’s something that we shouldn’t hide.

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