As our summer cohort sets out on their FUSE Executive Fellowships, they’ve shared their inspiration behind a year of service. Read more:
Alli Chagi Starr
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone, but especially those communities that have been historically and systemically marginalized. As a working, single parent, I experience the financial pressures of balancing childcare and work that so many other families in my East Oakland community are also navigating. At the same time, we Oaklanders have a lot of pride in our city—our cutting-edge culture, our movement-building history, and the resilience and beauty of our people. Our diversity and our dedication to justice is our strength.
While my career has spanned nonprofit leadership roles advancing racial and economic equity, youth leadership, green job creation, and educational access, I always had an interest in the role of business and the public sector in creating opportunities for those most often left behind. I was fortunate to go back to school to earn an MBA in innovation and social impact. Now, the FUSE Executive Fellowship provides an opportunity to harness my skills and passion to analyze the current landscape, create alignment between sectors, and co-create solutions with key stakeholders in this crucial moment.
Having grown up in Oakland, I have a vested interest in the wellbeing and vibrancy of my community and have been inspired by the City’s efforts to strengthen pipelines to high-road employment for those most affected by historical exclusion and, more recently, the pandemic. I am inspired by the creativity and expertise of other FUSE fellows and am excited to support strategies to decrease employment disparities and nurture healthy partnerships in this time of great challenge and opportunity.
I have built my career around the things that I am passionate about. Becoming a FUSE Executive Fellow is no different. This role affords me the opportunity to work with communities to bring about progress for people who are usually disregarded.By providing data-driven insight and facts to support policy decisions, I seek to change lives for the better. As a FUSE fellow, I have the opportunity to help erase the racial divide and the scars it created in the lives of so many. With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, this is a critical moment to create the change our ancestors believed would someday come! It’s my turn to make the world a better place for the next generation of changemakers!
After moving to Los Angeles in 2018, I got involved with a homeless services nonprofit in my neighborhood. I began spending my weekends engaging with unhoused neighbors at local encampments, building relationships, and trying to connect folks to services. As I learned people’s stories and watched them try to navigate the system, I began to understand the immense barriers that people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction face, and felt compelled to have a deeper impact in this ecosystem. In my FUSE fellowship, I’m working to scale programs that can help vulnerable community members who come into contact with the criminal justice system. I believe deeply in alternatives to incarceration and in the important role of the public defender, and I’m eager to dive into this work in service of my community.
As an American who spent many of my formative years growing up in Botswana, I became passionate about issues of economic inequity at a young age. This led me to a career in international development, where I took a systems approach to creating economic opportunity for youth, women, and other vulnerable populations in countries around the world. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated and highlighted racial inequities in the U.S., I became deeply engaged in efforts and activism to care for our vulnerable community members in Washington D.C. I jumped at the opportunity to bring my professional skills and experience to bear in my own city as a FUSE Executive Fellow supporting the development of an equitable and robust post-COVID workforce development system. Through this work, I seek to ensure that all of our community members have family-sustaining jobs.
Caroline Kim Palacios
The health of small businesses is the real measure of an economy’s performance. As the daughter of a first-generation Korean immigrant, it was our family’s small business that provided our livelihood. As a child, I witnessed how directly small businesses impact the health and wellness of families like my own. When we, like so many others, lost our family business in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, we experienced a breakdown that led to decades of hardships, including losing our home and years of painful and costly rebuilding. Those struggles taught me that, when small businesses succeed, families succeed. And when families succeed, communities thrive.
As we continue to navigate the pandemic recovery, there are many small business owners that are facing a daunting rebuilding process. As steep as the challenges are, this is an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine how we invest in the resilience of families and communities.
My vision is to help women & BIPOC-owned businesses accelerate the transition from surviving to truly thriving, backed by access to a robust network of support and resources. The opportunity to contribute to accelerating the success of small businesses—of families and communities like my own—toward building a more just, equitable, and inclusive economy is why I became a FUSE Fellow.
My work with FUSE to address housing displacement in Atlanta, GA is driven by my core beliefs. Namely, that everyone deserves the dignity of access to shelter, food, clothing, and healthcare; there is inherent value in demographically and economically diverse communities; and that the descendants of those who have historically invested in a community should be able to reside in that community for as long as they desire.
Guided by these beliefs, I have spent my career working to ensure food access to at-risk children and senior citizens, at a time when the need for affordable housing has intensified. I have experienced the pain of a loved one saying goodbye to a home they worked their entire life to own but no longer retain due to market conditions. I have experienced the challenges of securing financing while carrying significant educational debts. However, I also experienced the immense joy of homeownership. I have chosen to do this work, at this moment, to ensure more people know this joy and even more can benefit from the wealth-building opportunity made possible when homes pass from one generation to the next.
Despite my many years of experience working in public health and my intense belief in science, as a Black woman, I understood the skepticism I saw in communities like mine. Public health’s repeated failure to equitably serve Black and Brown people—or worse, doing us explicit harm—makes it difficult to trust the government with the well-being of our Black bodies.
I was drawn to the FUSE Executive Fellowship because I can tap into my visceral understanding of these dynamics and other lived experiences to help address vaccine mistrust]. While I have much to learn about Travis County, where my fellowship is based, I imagine that residents there—like people everywhere—desire to not just feel, but be safe from COVID-19. That sense of safety comes from trust and shared values. As I delve into this work, I endeavor to center two core values: family and community. Any reservations I may have harbored about the vaccine were overcome by my desire to protect my family and serve my community—widely shared values that can be a jumping-off point for greater acceptance.. I look forward to using the tools of authentic community engagement to build trust with various stakeholders as we face the pressing and taboo challenge of expanding COVID-19 vaccination.
My motivation to join FUSE came from my desire to serve and be a change agent in my community. A native of New Orleans, I come from a long line of public servants. Although my parents struggled growing up in low-income neighborhoods, they also understood the importance of helping others. Not only were my parents instrumental in raising several of my cousins, but they were the founders of a church in New Orleans that helped countless members of the community. I inherited those values of service to those who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and overlooked.
After graduating from Xavier’s doctorate program in educational leadership in 2018, I began working as a deputy director at an organization that served system-involved youth. This work sparked my passion for social justice and community advocacy—a passion that has ultimately led me to FUSE. Working to reduce incarceration by addressing mental health crises and substance abuse will help dismantle overreliance on our prison system and improve residents’ health. I am grateful to have the opportunity to use my experiences and education, to continue my family’s legacy of service.
My FUSE fellowship represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to contribute to the shape and quality of life for residents in a unique American city. For me, it also represents an opportunity to return to the hands-on, local housing and community development work that I find most fulfilling. I have worked in the field of community and economic development for almost 35 years—in national roles for most of the last two decades. But local government is where solutions that work matter more than almost anything else. It’s where we figure out how to take care of each other every day and build sustainable communities. As I look toward the final third of my career, I want to put my experience, technical expertise, and energy in service of community-based leadership. It is obvious that whatever progress we have made is not enough.
FUSE Executive Fellowships first came across my radar before the pandemic. While I wasn’t in a position to make a career change at the time, I knew that I wanted to transition back into public sector work sooner rather than later. Before I moved to California in 2015, I worked in the legislative and executive branches of state government in Wisconsin where I learned firsthand how important data, transparency, and accountability are to good public policy. I am also passionate about civic innovation and transforming government to improve outcomes for the people it serves, which is why the FUSE model – embedding experienced professionals in local governments to support systemic change and racial equity – resonated so strongly with me. In May 2021, the timing was just right. After more than a year of following FUSE from the sidelines, I was ready and able to explore new opportunities, which coincided with a fellowship opportunity that was an excellent fit. I am so thrilled to be a FUSE fellow and feel fortunate to be able to share the experience with such an incredible cohort.