“I still laugh when I think about the Accounting course that I had to take as part of the MAEL program. At the time, I hated every moment of it, despite having a great professor who was supportive and helpful. Math has always been one of my least favorite topics in school, and despite the best efforts of my professor and some empathetic classmates, I simply couldn’t understand what was being taught. I fussed and cussed about it for the full semester and argued that we absolutely didn’t need an Accounting course in a Leadership program.”

“I was very wrong, and the older I get, the more I realize how important that class was. Literally the day after the final class, I began writing a federal grant proposal. If you know anything about federal grants, you know how overwhelming and difficult they can be, especially when it comes to the budgeting. I created a far more sophisticated budget than I had ever created in other grant proposals, and I attribute my new knowledge to the fact that we beat out other proposals and landed the grant. I probably owe that professor a big apology. It would be nearly impossible for me to have led two organizations in the last decade without what I learned in that class.”

The two organizations that Kevin Dean has led since earning his Executive Leadership degree at CBU are Literacy Mid-South and Momentum Nonprofit Partners, where he is currently CEO. Prior to those positions, he was at Volunteer Memphis and Hope House — meaning that he has spent his career in community service and helping others. In his current position at Momentum, he serves the Mid-South nonprofit community — those who help those in need — by connecting them to resources, decision-making forums, and each other and by providing comprehensive learning opportunities that enable them to better accomplish their missions. Because when nonprofits get better, the community gets better.

Kevin has been recognized widely for his good work in the Memphis community, as a “Top 40 Under 40” by Memphis Business Journal, as a “Power Player” by Inside Memphis Business, and has been the recipient of the Ruth J. Colvin and Frank C. Laubach Award for Excellence in Community-Based Adult Literacy from ProLiteracy, the Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership Award from the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence, and an Innovation Award from Inside Memphis Business.

There are three important lessons that I learned at CBU. The first is that strong leadership requires vulnerability. Our society still often conflates vulnerability with weakness, but that’s an antiquated way of thinking. In leadership positions, we often have to make very difficult decisions, and the decisions I am most proud of are the ones where I held onto my inner strength while allowing myself to be vulnerable as a leader. I also learned that true leadership requires us to speak up, as our voices carry power. If we don’t, we become complicit in whatever problem we or the people we represent are facing. This is especially important in nonprofits, where we represent some of the most marginalized communities in our country. Finally, I also learned that leadership requires us to empower and lift up the next generation of leaders. In essence, part of the job is to find our own replacements and make sure they are set up to succeed.