Get to Know Dwayne Marshall: Our New VP of Community Investment

Dwayne Marshall joined the staff of the Community Foundation in February 2019. Previously serving as senior director of programs and partnerships for the Southeastern Council of Foundations in Atlanta, Georgia, Dwayne is enthusiastic and passionate about serving the community, lifting up new leadership, and getting to know Chattanooga.

You’ve moved to Chattanooga to work with the Community Foundation – tell us about what drew you to this work.

I have lived in Georgia all of my life. I was born and raised in Savannah, and I moved to Atlanta for college in the early 90’s, and for the most part, I’ve been in Atlanta ever since.

I’ve been following the work of the Community Foundation for the last several years, partly because the organization where I previously worked, the Southeastern Council of Foundations, has several members in the Chattanooga area. So I was aware of the philanthropic activities that were happening here, both by the Community Foundation as well as some of the leading private foundations in the area. I’m so intrigued by the collaborative nature of how the Chattanooga community does philanthropy and the desire to be intentional about engaging the citizenry and broadening the stakeholders involved in that process.  One of the things that is very appealing about this opportunity to join the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga is that it’s going to be an opportunity for me to learn so much about the other nonprofit organizations in Chattanooga and further connect with the citizens that directly benefit from the generosity of our donors. I’m really looking forward to doing this work in a very collaborative way with our other colleagues in the city and the county.

What will you be doing with the Community Foundation?

My team at the Community Foundation and I are responsible for the management of our grant-making portfolio and the ongoing relationships with our grantee partners, as well as directing the Community Foundation’s education and scholarship program. We will also be engaged in conversations to address issues of equity and economic mobility within the city of Chattanooga. A key part of my role at the Community Foundation will be working in partnership with other organizations in the community, as well as our fundholders and other key stakeholders, to help drive that conversation about making Chattanooga’s opportunities available and equitable for all of the community’s citizens.

You’ve been working with mission-based, non-profit organizations for more than 10 years. How do you maintain your passion for your work?

I try to intentionally surround myself with individuals and networks that are passionate about change, citizen engagement, making our community better, and investment in next generation leaders. I know these are people who I can learn from, gather new ideas from, be motivated by, and keep that fire burning within me.

I also try to stay connected to communities that are currently challenged, because it’s a constant reminder of why I’m committed to this work. Without [philanthropic organizations], there are many people in our communities whose lives are not going to get better. I myself am a direct product of philanthropy, which played an integral role in helping me achieve my hopes and dreams. Philanthropy made it possible for me to go to college, get a degree, and have the career opportunities and life experiences that I’ve had since.

Tell us more about your journey to get to college.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation changed my life. The foundation has been focused on providing scholarships to qualified minority students of color across the country since 1973.  I was blessed to receive that scholarship and because of it, I was able to attend Emory University in Atlanta. The foundation also gave me a network of peers at colleges and universities throughout the country who were, more often than not, first-generation college students just like myself. That scholarship not only gave me access and much-needed financial support, it also gave me confidence that if I believed in myself and I stayed focused and committed to excellence, that I would be able to take my life and career forward, and that I would also be able to bring others along the way. That scholarship completely changed my trajectory and outlook on what is possible.

Philanthropy has supported me and now this is my opportunity to give back. One of the most exciting things about working with the Community Foundation is knowing that I’m going to come into contact with so many young people within the Hamilton County Public School System who are going to remind me of myself at that moment in my life. I’m hoping that through the work that I will do directly with Rebecca Suttles (Community Foundation Director of Scholarships) and the staff of the Community Foundation that we will continue to create opportunities for these young people to follow their dreams within and beyond the city of Chattanooga. We want to show the youth of Chattanooga that there are no limits to how far they can go.

There have been a number of reports that have come out recently about the importance of equity and economic mobility for all to Chattanooga’s future. What do you see as the greatest challenges in that for Chattanooga’s community leaders?

The reality is that Chattanooga is not unique in that. A lot of our urban centers across the country are experiencing that very same dynamic. We have to realize that as these challenges were not created overnight, they’re not going to be solved overnight. We’re not going solve all these challenging issues in a year or a grant cycle. We’re going to have to have a generational approach to solving these issues.

The greatest challenge – but also the greatest opportunity – for those of us doing this work is to intentionally draw closer to citizens who are currently not benefiting from the economic advancement that is taking place within the city and the Hamilton County area. We have to allow ourselves to get much more proximate to them so that we have a better understanding of what is preventing those individuals and communities from tapping into opportunities [for upward mobility]. I’m a firm believer that a lot of those community members have ideas that we can benefit from listening to. When we’re proximate and listening to those economically-disadvantaged community and community leaders, I believe they’re going to give us the answers to some of the challenges the Chattanooga area is facing. It’s also important that we adopt a cross-sector engagement approach to tackling our community’s issues. We have so much talent and wisdom here in the private, public, and philanthropic sectors and all of our voices have to be present at the table for our Scenic City to become all that it can and will be.