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Representation & Accessibility

A Conversation with Kayce Ataiyero

Kayce Ataiyero is the Chief External Affairs Officer at the Joyce Foundation—a private foundation that aims to advance racial equity and economic mobility in the Great Lakes region. Kayce connected with Chanda to discuss her journey from journalism to philanthropy and why both sectors need to create a better environment for people of color to thrive and ascend.

Listen to Our Episode

Souphak Kienitz  00:01

You’re listening to conversations with Chanda a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker. Up next is Kayce Ataiyero. Kayce is the Chief External Affairs Officer at the Joyce Foundation.

Chanda Smith Baker  00:21

We have the opportunity to know each other through the work that we both do at the Joyce Foundation, me as a trustee, and you’re on this on the team leading a comms team. And so I would love it if you would just introduce yourself to the listeners.

Kayce Ataiyero  00:36

Sure. Hi, everyone. I’m Kayce Ataiyero, I am Chief External Affairs Officer at the Joyce Foundation. We are a Chicago-based foundation that supports public policy research, education, and advocacy across six program areas. And we fund largely across the Great Lakes region. And so, in my role as a chief External Affairs Officer, I oversee the foundation’s strategic communications, our journalism program and our community grants fund.

Chanda Smith Baker  01:21

And the journalism program is relatively new?

Kayce Ataiyero 

Yes, it’s about a year old. Yes.

Chanda Smith Baker 

How did that evolve? Because that’s a really interesting space to be in, particularly in the age of misinformation, and many people looking at narrative change and the power of communications. Can you say a little bit about why you all moved into that space?

Kayce Ataiyero  01:24

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it initially started as just a recognition that the contraction of the news industry, which is creating these huge gaps in coverage of our issue areas, particularly public policy, huge gaps and state house coverage. And you know, journalism is a key tool and interrogating the ideas and sort of kicking the tires on the things that we hope, we’ll be solutions to the problems that we’re trying to address. And if you don’t have, you know, boots on the ground, in newsrooms, in state houses doing the reporting, you just aren’t really able to get the same level of critical coverage of the issues. So, it initially started as wanting to help repopulate, if you will, the reporting ranks across our region of people who do in depth policy reporting. And then it really evolved to look at the broader issues of democracy. And how, as you say, misinformation, and disinformation is really affecting, you know, how people engage or don’t engage with their government, with their elected leaders, how they view democracy, and how particularly bad actors are weaponizing media to destabilize our systems.

Chanda Smith Baker  02:38

Have you been paying attention to what’s happening with Twitter?

Kayce Ataiyero  02:41

Yes, yes, I have obsessively.

Chanda Smith Baker  02:44

Have you like?

Kayce Ataiyero  02:45

It’s a car wreck? Like how do you stop looking at it? It’s unreal. Like I have to put the phone down because it’s so bizarre to watch Twitter unravel on Twitter. Right? It’s just it’s really interesting experience. But I will say this, and this may not age well, but I don’t think it’s going to go away.

Chanda Smith Baker  03:06

I don’t think it will either. But I think this whole thing, right? Because when we talk about media and representation and freedom of speech, like it gets very clunky, yes. But representation does not. Like, that’s a really clear point of view. Yeah, for some of us.

Kayce Ataiyero  03:21

Yes. And particularly, you know, there was a lot of conversation about the role of Black Twitter, right? And what happens if Twitter goes away. And Black Twitter is definitely a source of much, much joy to the community. But, you know, Black Twitter was also how the story of Ferguson was told, right? And how the stories of a lot of issues of injustice have been, and continue to be told. So, there is a vital societal role and having that community have an outlet. And you know, not just within the US, but if you look broadly across the globe, I mean, Twitter has been a main communication tool for people who are fighting injustice for dissidents, for people who are being persecuted by their governments all across the world. And if it goes away, that’s going to be a real loss for people who are in the movement for justice.

Chanda Smith Baker  04:23

Yeah, fair point. Speaking of representation, we were communicating back and forth about the Columbia Journalism Review, they have a new research article out, “How much press are you worth?”

Kayce Ataiyero  04:36

Yes. So it’s a model that lets you put in information about sort of who you are, your race, ethnicity, background, where you, where you live, and then it’ll, it’ll give you a sense of like, if you were to go missing essentially, what kind of coverage your local media outlet would give you. And I think I had four stories that I would get. What was the number you got Chanda,

Chanda Smith Baker  05:01

I got 14 Because I’m a little older than you. So I guess.

Kayce Ataiyero  05:06

I think I think it was also media market too. Right. So, you know, I’m competing with a lot of different stories, but I think it’s also a reflection of like, you know, again, who is populating these newsrooms and who are telling the stories. That’s why diversity in newsrooms is so critical, because people I mean, there’s a reason why there is a bias towards the young white blonde woman who disappears because of who typically makes the editorial decisions in newsrooms.

Chanda Smith Baker  05:37

Right. And so they, in fact, compare you to a young white woman in this tool. And so I think I had I would be covered by 14 news stories, I think it was like, you know, eight local, the rest were national compared to like, 124- 127 articles that would be covered if I were younger, white and female.

Kayce Ataiyero  06:02

Yep, I mean, that’s, that’s, that tracks. I mean, I’m not surprised by that at all. And you see it by sort of the wall to wall coverage of, you know, sort of Gabby Petito, for example, the summer angle was right, or maybe it was, it was a lot of coverage of that case. And it’s not to say that her case shouldn’t have been covered. But if you think about all of the black and brown women who just vanish every year, who don’t get a fraction of that coverage.

Chanda Smith Baker  06:30

And so this is, you know, a case that we hope no one gets coverage on right, someone that’s gone missing. Exactly. But I think the point is well taken that I assume that this also relates then to coverage on issues that are representative to the communities and issues that are important, which going back to the previous conversation, which is why we rely on Black Twitter. And the news is, because it’s more reflective, it’s more proximate, it’s more committed to making sure that we’re informed and when we have found the broader media to be. And so is that part of the work that you and Joyce are looking to do is the to increase representation?

Kayce Ataiyero  07:11

Absolutely, to not only to increase our representation, but to help create better environments in newsrooms so that journalists of color can thrive and ascend. You know, I think a lot of programs, I talk a lot about the pipeline to a cliff, like you don’t want to like try to get a bunch of people in the door, and then they just sort of left to their own devices. I certainly had that experience, I think about one experience in particular, I think, sort of illustrates the challenges of being a black journalist in the newsroom. Several years ago, when I was working with the Tribune, you may recall, when Jennifer Hudson’s family was tragically murdered, and I was sitting in a newsroom, and I was the only black journalists in this corner of the newsroom. And a white senior editor made a beeline all the way over to me. And said, asked me, Do you know anybody who knows Jennifer Hudson? Why would I be like, Why would I know anybody who knows Jennifer Hudson, as opposed to any of the white journalists who are sitting around me, some of whom were from Chicago, who may actually have known Jennifer Hudson. And, you know, it was, it was an example of sort of a two-fold problem, which is one in newsrooms being made to feel like the other and how, you know, you can only do that for so long before you just start to feel like you don’t belong here and you find other things to do. But also, about how the media, the mainstream media, I guess, now we call it legacy media would only go to certain neighborhoods when something was wrong. So because we didn’t cover her neighborhood, we didn’t have any sources there. We didn’t know anybody there. And so when something happened, we had to try to scramble to find the first black person who might know somebody. It was I mean, I saw it every day as a reporter, I would go to communities on the southwest side. And people would say, Oh, baby girl, you seem nice, but I can’t talk to the Tribune. I mean, frequently. And I couldn’t even be mad because I understood because the only time we came is when there was something wrong. And we didn’t tell the stories of that we didn’t tell the stories of the complexity, right. And, and the positivity that was going on in these communities all the other times, right, it was only when there was some horrific thing that happened that we show up. And it’s very obvious that we just don’t care any other time. So why would they talk to us?

Chanda Smith Baker  09:45

I have said this before on this podcast and with others is that you know, growing up in a neighborhood like that, right or a neighborhood that has been defined as a black neighborhood, North Minneapolis that as a child, you know, I was always sort of listening to how outsiders describe the neighborhood, which, from my own experience, and honestly, it’s not just as a child, I still live here, I still experience this. And so it has been foundational to how I lead in terms of making sure that we’re lifting up the complexities, the multiple narratives, and that we don’t get so comfortable describing people and neighborhoods by its problems that we forget to amplify the tremendous assets to the community, the brilliance that exists within the community, the humanity, the humanity, the dignity, right, the opportunity, like the beauty, the history, the richness, right, the honoring of what has been here, and I think that we fail to do that. And we have a big role to do that in journalism, also in philanthropy, yes, recently, even with Jesse Leon, who I just spoke to, and in a conversation, how we submit proposals, how we frame things, and when we’re talking about groups that we’re working to help it all matters.

Kayce Ataiyero  11:12

It does it absolutely, it all matters. And I think, you know, it’s really important to have people who are evaluating those applications, who have that lived experience. I think about it a lot. In this role, I’ve been in philanthropy, almost five years. And I’ve had, you know, the pleasure of sort of witnessing how much of an impact it can make, to have someone like me or someone like you doing this work, as opposed to other people who just may not be as connected to community or may not have as diverse of experience. And, you know, I also, I consider myself a product of philanthropy, you know, I grew up in a similar neighborhood, as you probably as low income neighborhood and east of the river in Washington, DC. It was the height of the crack epidemic, when the city was eating it’s young. And if you just looked at my zip code, right, like, I’m not supposed to be sitting here, based on the statistics. And philanthropy made a difference for me, I won a scholarship to college, Donald Graham, who was the former owner of The Washington Post, he launched a scholarship program in honor of a friend of his Herbert Denton, Jr, who among his many accomplishments, was the first black city editor of the Washington Post, and who was a firm advocate for diversifying newsroom and promoting and supporting and mentoring black journalists. And actually, a lot of the giants in the field today, Black Journalists, are ones who were mentored by him. And, you know, if I hadn’t won that scholarship, you know, I probably would have been one of the many students who had to sort of work my way through to try to pay for school, and then, you know, you know, the story life gets in the way of life demands overtake your, you know, school dreams, and then you end up graduating with debt and so on and end up not graduating with like, debt instead of a degree. And your whole life trajectory is just different. And so I think about that every day, actually, when I’m talking to people who are looking for support, because I know how transformative philanthropy can be for people, and transformative in ways that you don’t always have neat metrics for like, we’re a sector that loves metrics. We love being able to put things on a spreadsheet, right, but I can trace, not just my trajectory, but my whole family’s trajectory, really, to the moment that I got that call. And I think that there needs to be more people in this space. Who knows know what it feels like to be on the other end of that call? Because I think it just gives you perspective to think about, you know, how we engage with community and how we make it more accessible, right? So people have our numbers and that we and they know that they can reach us and we can have conversations about how to have how to have more people have the opportunity to have their lives changed that way.

Chanda Smith Baker  14:37

That’s right. You remind me of a conversation I had with a young, really super talented young woman that I had hired at that foundation? Yariset and Yariset when she she came, she said, You know, I really didn’t know that much about the Minneapolis Foundation before I got here and now I realize all the ways in which it touched my life. And I did I had no idea, right. So the investments we make in schools, the investments we make in neighborhoods, the small businesses that we might support through our intermediaries, to all of the other investments that we make around community. Yeah. And he’s like, you’ve touched almost every level of my life and my family’s life. And I just thought that was so beautiful. And regardless, like we like, it’s all the kids that come through those doors that some will benefit from some investments that a philanthropist or philanthropy has made. And so it’s a really, really valid point I appreciate that. So you also last time we talked, I learned that you are owner, a coach.

Kayce Ataiyero  15:43

I was a part owner and general manager of our minor league basketball team, men’s and women’s. I’m a lifelong basketball fan, I have no talent. So like I wasn’t a player just was always a fan. And a friend of mine on the team, and I just started helping me out for fun, and it evolved. And it was a really great two, five year experience of learning the business of basketball. And you know, there is no greater leadership school than trying to corral you know, 13-15, six foot plus guys to listen to you, when you have never played and really only know the game as a fan. It was definitely, in some ways, trial by fire, but a really, really, really great experience. And I learned a lot about, you think about, just sort of pathways, it was really eye-opening to see what happens to particularly young black boys, when people identify them early or early as having talent, and then that’s what it becomes all about. And then, if you don’t end up making it, then you just sort of are floundering a bit, right? Like, people don’t talk about the people who maybe don’t make the D1 squad right up here. You know, it’s like 1% of the best players in the country, high school players make it to like a, you know, an elite D1 school and then like less than that make it to the NBA. And so the guys who played for us were ones who like had maybe decent college careers, wanted to continue to play, and they wanted to get stats and film. So, they either go overseas, because you can make a lot of money playing in some countries overseas, or hopefully try to get on the G league , the NBA’s minors.

Chanda Smith Baker  17:29

You know, my kids are athletes, and particularly my older two DOM and Malik, and I was a different mom than I am now with my younger two. And so I was I was more of a bear like you come for my kids, I’m covering for you right there. But, you know, I would have people all the time, you know, they they were very driven athletes, student athletes, and there would be people that would say, you know, like, pay attention to your academics and do this and do that, which, you know, I could appreciate the village, right. But I also felt like, don’t rain on my kids dreams, like, let them be great. And at best if they get a scholarship, let them get the scholarship, get their degree, and they can figure it out from there. But I think it’s really interesting on how we, because there’s so many lessons that come from being an athlete that I think are valuable for young people, I get the statistics, but I think there’s so much value. And I think it’s de emphasize sometimes in our academic programming, do you think that we have the type of balance that we need? You know, whether or not it’s athletics, arts, or whatever, like, sometimes I think we want these kids to just be crammed with, you know, reading and math, and we always addressed them as whole people.

Kayce Ataiyero  18:50

Right, I mean, I agree with that. I think though, you know, when you are on the elite sports circuit, they don’t really allow those kids to be whole people, either. Everything you do becomes about the game, right? And, you know, you they identify you at eight or nine years old as having talent, and all of a sudden you get on the AAU circuit, and you’re playing year round, and you’re playing with your school team. And here, you get a Nike scholarship, scholarship and your are traveling and, and yeah, you don’t get to really be a whole human being. And I think that that is why if you don’t end up making it, which most people don’t,  then they don’t know who they are figuring out playing ball, because they never had a chance to figure it out.

Chanda Smith Baker  19:40

And so, you know, just going back to like the representation, so who you are leading on this team, and you’re a woman, they’re men, you are a spectator, not a player, right? And so again, you’re sort of in a space where you’re probably one of the few. What was that experience like for you? What were the leadership lessons that you’ve learned? Because there are many listeners that may not have this experience? Yeah, they might have the experience of being in a place where they’re either leading someone who is the first or the few in the space that they are working in, or they might be that person. So what advice might you have?

Kayce Ataiyero  20:22

Um, I would say, listen more than you talk, and have, I mean, just heaps of humility, you know? I think you just have to be straight up about what you don’t know. And be open to learning. And I think, if your team knows that you’re in this, to help them win, right, like this is this is about me figuring out the best way to help you achieve your dreams, the best way to help you achieve your goals, then, that’s how you get buy-in like, it’s like, there we I have I have skin in this game with you, too. Right. And but then you also have to do the work. Like I went to practice three nights a week. You know, I traveled on a smelly bus with them on the road. Like I was all in, right, like, you can’t just sort of like have them ride the bus to the middle of nowhere and you’re flying in or you’re driving in a comfortable car. You know, it’s like I did the work with them. And I think that that made a difference too.

Chanda Smith Baker  21:26

Yeah, so Brittney Griner.

Kayce Ataiyero  21:31

Yeah, yeah, that story makes me so sad. I mean, we had, we had a women’s team too and the men’s team and women’s team. And the women, you know, also would go overseas and play. And, you know, I think her case is really an example of the gross pay inequity, a player of her caliber shouldn’t have to go overseas to supplement their income. You know, the average NBA player makes, I think I saw the stats like 44 times that of the average WNBA player. Now, you know, there are definitely some revenue differences. For sure. You know, the NBA is for annual revenues in the billions and WNBA’s annual revenue was in the millions. But there is certainly enough and should certainly be enough revenue to keep people keep women from having to go overseas and play.

Chanda Smith Baker  22:27

Like on the offseason or what?

Kayce Ataiyero  22:30

Well, it’s so funny, like some of them consider the WNBA to be their offseason, because they can make more money, they can make a lot more money, sometimes four or five times more. I think the top players in the WNBA make about 200. Something like that. Right. Right. And so, you know, I don’t know what Brittany was making in Russia, but I’m sure it was, I mean, they can make a million dollars. And so that’s why I think it was this year, the league implemented a role where players have to be they have to be in town for the opening of the season. Because there was overlap, right. And some players were just sitting out the first few games so that they could finish their seasons overseas. And so it’s all those things where playing in the WNBA gets them sort of the notoriety and cachet to be able to you know, command higher salaries overseas, but it’s not really where they make their money. And so you have some players that will just sit out altogether.

Chanda Smith Baker  23:34

You know, the way inequity between women and men show up for sure in between the leads. And so what you’re drawing here is that Brittney Griner because of this was placed in a situation that landed her where she is.

Kayce Ataiyero  23:53

Yes. Yeah. I mean, if she if she had been able to make a comparable salary in the US, there would have been no need for her to play in Russia.

Chanda Smith Baker  24:04

At the fundamental level at a fundamental level. Yeah. And you know, there’s so much conversation about this, including and obviously, I think she should be at home, right? Like, I just want to say this upfront, but I’ve heard a lot of people were, you know, this is not unusual to say, well, she should have knew the rules of the land. Like why would she even have the vape or whatever it was? Like, why would she have that? Why? Why didn’t she know better? And I think it’s very easy to jump in. And I think we see that even in the neighborhood, like why don’t they just know better? Right? What you know, like, let’s just blame the victim. You just know?

Kayce Ataiyero  24:35

We’re saying that we think that nine years in a penal colony is an adequate and appropriate and proportionate punishment for having a vape cartridge in your luggage? Is that what we’re saying? Because I mean, that’s I that’s just madness to me. And that is also assuming that you can trust anything that Russian government says, I mean, we’re acting like we’re dealing with a fair and just legal system, and that she is the only American who has gotten caught up. So you can make that argument for any American that goes anywhere and finds themselves in legal trouble, like maybe that they shouldn’t have gone there. I mean, she wasn’t she wasn’t, you know, sightseeing or, you know, in some inherently dangerous places, the team that she had played for, for several years at some other people had played in, and she just had the misfortune of going through the airport, you know, on the cusp of a war. You know, I think this probably would have been a nonissue if Russia was not preparing to invade Ukraine. So, I, and I just, it’s what can be really, really frustrating about our community sometimes, is that we will sometimes rally for the wrong thing. So, for the same people who are bending contorting themselves into pretzels to make excuses for Kanye West, are saying that this woman deserves nine years of hard labor for a vape cartridge. It’s the same people. And it’s just madness.

Chanda Smith Baker  26:31

Yeah. What role do you think that media could have had with the Griner case? And let me, well, let me contextualize why I’m asking this question because I was in New Orleans at the essence Fest and essence has a women in sports. And there was a conversation there with Elle Duncan and other folks and Elle’s on ESPN. And they were talking about just the the coverage around this. And that, you know, again, the Columbia Journalism, like, Was there enough coverage? Was there enough political pressure? Do you think that the elevating the issue, was there enough elevation of the issue? Or was it more like Britney did? Or this is Britney, but like, was it? Could it have been bigger and more? And do you think that it could have helped?

Kayce Ataiyero  27:29

That’s a good question. I mean, it would have been a completely different story, if LeBron James was trapped in Russia. I mean, just no doubt. Right. But I think because of the war, and the tensions between Russia and the US, I actually don’t think it would have helped. I mean, Brittany is a valuable bargaining chip, unfortunately. And the longer that this war goes on, and the worse Russia fares in this war, the more challenging it is to negotiate to get her back. So I think, you know, just from what I’ve seen early on, it seemed like, there was an effort to try to actually minimize coverage, so that they could sort of try to negotiate this backdoor deal without in a way that could maybe have Russia save a little face. And, you know, it definitely seemed like they that there were attempts to not really, you know, talk about it much. And then that posture changed. I, I definitely think the coverage would have been different if she were a male basketball star. But I don’t know that it would have helped her.

Chanda Smith Baker  28:49

That’s a fair point, when I think about it more broadly. And just sort of, again, going down this this theme of sort of representation and engagement, right? There’s many of us that are now more engaged on issues related to politics than we probably ever have been, because of social media because of how visible these issues are, whether or not it Kanye, whether or not it’s Brittney Griner. Whether or not there are police involved deadly encounters that have been highly visible, that have engaged us to be activated in our local communities, to other injustices that are happening, it is engaging us, but I’m not sure that it is moving us to be more engaged at the ballot box or more engaged and being involved in local politics. Do you have a sense of that or any insight?

Kayce Ataiyero  29:45

I think it looks different generationally. I see and we have seen energy among younger voters. And then you have sort of the older voters who are your bedrock vote all the time, folks. I think the challenge is, there were too few people in this country for whom elections have any appreciable impact on their lives. You know, it’s like, regardless of who is in the office, my conditions are improving, and in some cases are getting worse. And so I think, yes, we should encourage people to vote. But at a certain point, you can’t keep asking people to do so without a return on that investment. You know, and I think that we have to improve the value proposition for people. And to make the case of why it is their lives would be appreciably better, if they got engaged.

Chanda Smith Baker  30:56

I just spoke with Eric Holder, he has his new book, “Our Unfinished March. “In our conversation, he had shared that the younger voting block, 19, I think it was to 29 is the largest voting block now in our country. But predictably, like you said, it’s the boomers that vote all the time. And so while it might be the largest, it has the least power, because it’s not actualizing that collective vote, right. And so the ideas, the energy, the opportunity, and they’re, they’re the most inclusive generation, right there, they’re most welcoming to those that others have not been as welcoming to. And so there’s a lot of opportunity, if we can create that value proposition, what role do you think philanthropy can have in helping to create that value proposition?

Kayce Ataiyero  31:47

I think it comes from policies really, like thinking about ways that we can use public policy to improve people’s condition. And then make the argument for elected officials to support those policies. And draw a straight line as much as we can between what happens at the ballot box and what happens in your home. And I think that it really is about how can we see more real solutions that people can feel, you know, so much of what the so much of what is talked about broadly, and politics just feel so disconnected from our everyday people live their lives. Right. And so if we can think about ways to have more sound, and just and fair policies that improve just sort of border condition, and then educate people on how those policies improve their condition, and then explain why it is it is then important for you to support X person, or Y person and that sort of I mean, that gets outside of sort of what philanthropy should do in terms of like, promoting individual candidates. But just making the case that okay, here, here are the solutions here to things that can make a difference. And then so that is why you should vote for people who support these things. This is why you should show up, you know, for these things, and I think we just I think we can be that connective tissue for people. I think that that’s really what’s missing, like people just sort of don’t get inherently the connections always between going to vote, and what that means for my life.

Chanda Smith Baker  33:49

Until you start getting older, and then you’re like, Ah, see? Right, right.

Kayce Ataiyero  33:56

Right. But like, you know, you’ve got these younger people, those folks, by the time you wait 20 years, so many of the things that are going to adversely affect you are already in motion.

Chanda Smith Baker  34:05

Yeah. And not to discount sort of the level of understanding but I am just actually appreciating the value of more complete understanding as I have lived. And I understand this. This better, right. I understand the importance of this differently than I did when I was younger. The midterms were surprising in some ways, did you follow the midterms?

Kayce Ataiyero  34:28

Yeah,absolutely. Yeah.

Chanda Smith Baker  34:30

Was there anything that surprised you in terms of the midterm elections?

Kayce Ataiyero  34:34

I mean, definitely. I I was I mean, I think everyone was surprised that the Democrats did as well as they did. And I think we’re still trying to sort of figure out what happened. But the hopeful sign I’m trying to draw from it is that people have just started to reject the crazy, right?

Chanda Smith Baker  34:57

Reject the crazy.

Kayce Ataiyero  34:58

Because I mean, it was a really scary proposition to have all of these election deniers who might be controlling the next election. And to have people who I mean, who you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t hire to do anything important, who wanted to hold these really important offices. And it wasn’t clear, it felt like a very clear and present existential threat for democracy. Again, and with that connective tissue, it wasn’t clear that people it was registering with people. You know. And, you know, to be clear, like when I say that, that people don’t always connect the dots, it isn’t because of apathy. Like, I don’t believe that. But when I say all the time, you know that the debate about the fate of the Republic is really the luxury of the comfortable, right, it is the luxury of people who have the free mental space because their mortgages are paid, and their kids are fed and clothed, and they’re not worried about how they’re going to scrape together gas money, you know, and so, because of that, you then have all of these free space to debate all of these broader 30,000 foot issues. And so it’s not that I think that people don’t care, but like the very immediate survival needs, I think, just really consume a lot of folks. Yeah. You know, and so because of that, and because, you know, we were coming up on election where people are hurting, right, like, at every point of sale, everything costs more.

Chanda Smith Baker  36:39

Baby formula.

Kayce Ataiyero  36:40

Baby formula, right? It’s like, I mean, people, people have been through a lot, you know, it’s been a rough, rough year for people and continues to be, and people are nervous about sort of what that means for them and their families. And just given sort of historically, how midterms typically go, right, it just seemed like all of the conditions were ripe for some of these crazies, just to completely, you know, slip in. And I hope, again, that this means that with all of the things competing for people’s time and attention, and concern, that the fundamental bedrock principles of our democracy are ones that across the divide, we all still believe in and want to protect.

Chanda Smith Baker  37:31

Absolutely, because this is not a partisan argument. This is about having people in elected roles that have the experience, the capability, the willingness to support all of the residents, and their wards in their right, like to think broadly about how they can bring policies forward that support the advancement and the health of community.

Kayce Ataiyero  37:58

And to know that this is bigger than themselves. Yeah, right like this, this is bigger than your Twitter for a moment, or your Fox News hit, right like this is bigger than that. And for people to sort of understand the weight of the work. You know, like, I mean, we’re at a point now, I mean, it’s the number of times I heard that people know that someone’s so conceited. And it’s like, we had gotten to a point where it’s now news, like real news, that someone has conceded with grace and humility and dignity and has, you know, wished their opponent well, in a lot of ways, again, sort of sad that we had gotten to that point, but I was I was really heartened by the number of candidates who made a point of saying that.

Chanda Smith Baker  38:50

Yeah, to be gracious, right?

Kayce Ataiyero  38:54

Yeah. I’m really interested in just watching how you work and how you lead, and particularly how you represent the Minneapolis Foundation. What role do you see communications playing in the work that you do? And how do you use communications to advance your work?

Chanda Smith Baker  39:14

Oh, that’s a good question. I think communication is the bedrock of everything. And I think there is the function of communication and then I think there is a tensionality of how you communicate. Right. And so I think that I believe that how I show up every day, and how I communicate, shares with those within my listening, right, the value of the foundation and the work that we’re doing, that the consistency between how I show up how the work shows up, and how we’re messaging is aligned. The communication strategy at the Minneapolis Foundation is inaccessible to some of our stakeholders that we are hoping to support, then we still have work to do. That we cannot forget to center our why, and who we are here for. And, and the responsibility and understanding our role is to bridge many perspectives right at a community foundation and even in my work that I led before, you have people that enter different doors, right? Like you might come in this community center door, or you might come in as a donor, you might come into this program, you might be another funder partner, you might be a government partner, you enter in different doors, and that’s your that’s your point of view, the value of being in a community foundation, and your communication is actually opening up the door for them to see someone else’s point of view. And that is a responsibility and an honor. Right, it is a gift to be able to understand right to listen to understand someone else’s perspective. And an honor to carry it to allow someone else to hear it and perhaps to expand their worldview. And I see that as the work of philanthropy is an expanding worldview and points of view so that we can all move together, not with the same strategies, right? Not with the same be that with the same anything but maybe with a shared expectation that we can all actually do well, we can all actually be healthy, we can all actually access, like healthcare, and live in homes that have heat, that have food where we can feed our babies. Yes, right, that we can we can age with dignity. Yes, we can travel our streets with with the understanding that we’ll be safe. I think there can be some guarantees. And I think the role of communications is evolving and should not be a place where you beat your own drum, but a place where you are amplifying the beat of others.

Kayce Ataiyero  42:29

Yes. Absolutely and which struck me when you said when you talked about sort of how you show up, and, you know, I definitely think the most important thing that you can do really to communicate your values is just to show up. Right, like a lot of organizations spend a lot of time on press releases and flashy videos and things that’s like, the most important thing you can do is just show up. Yeah, you know, and have people see you and know you and get a sense of the work that you’re doing and know that you really want to be a partner in the work like that, that is worth 10 press releases.

Chanda Smith Baker  43:08

Yeah, that’s, that’s priceless. I do think that like me personally, I think what I have tried to do, as a person is to be as consistent as I can be. Right? And, you know, I’ve shared this like as extroverted as I look, I’m the quite the opposite of that, which people can misread. And I’ve had a lot of self-awareness around that. And so I tried to be consistent and as warm as welcoming as I can be. Because I represent the organization that I work for, right? Like the Minneapolis Foundation, Pillsbury United, right, the boards I sit on, and that by me not be welcoming, they can translate that into the foundation is not for me. Absolutely. And so I have understood that in my leadership journey. And I understand that even in my business, right, like today, like I’m dedicating a bunch of time to catch up on these emails, these direct messages, messages, like they come in all kinds of shapes and forms, right? And, and I miss them. And I hope to goodness that the community, you know, that that sends those messages and trust me to receive them, you know, are sort of, you know, charging it to my head and not my heart because it’s hard to balance everything, but I hold that really valuable. And I try to do my best to honor those requests, even if even if the answer is no, not now. I think it’s important that I understand where help is needed, and do my best to figure out how to how to get help there. That’s how I try to show up is how do I help folks that have not had the opportunity generationally have not have the opportunity in their leadership yet to navigate philanthropy formally, how do I help those people gain confidence? How do I help them translate what they’re doing into philanthropy speak so that they can, that’s full, not just at the Minneapolis Foundation, but beyond. And so even if that $1,000 is not a lot of money, but they can put it on their website and say they got money from us as a way of validating their work, and their brilliance and what they’re doing in community, that’s what I want to do.

Kayce Ataiyero  45:40

Does that get heavy?

Chanda Smith Baker  45:43

Heavy is a good word. But I think that heavy comes when we have moments that we saw in 2020, with George Floyd, being murdered or heavy happens when I see the lives snuffed out in community. And I feel like I’m in a role where I could do something and I don’t know what to do. And the reality is I know, I can’t solve it myself, right? Like, I know this logically. But I feel compelled, right, I feel the heaviness of the collective grief of community. And I sit, and I’m thinking whether or not I am doing enough, and then you have people saying you’re not doing enough. And it’s like, Well, okay, so are concrete to help a sister out because I’m actually struggling with the same idea of that, right? It gets heavy, then I think that on a day to day basis, I think I’m more internalizing it, too. I know that I can’t, I can’t meet all of the expectation, even if I want to, because time is limited. And I’m human, right? Like, there’s only so much I can do one a day. I still have family responsibilities. And I feel, I feel that right. So, I have to calibrate from overperformance and the expectations of others to setting the course and the rules and how I show up in a way that’s comfortable to me and my leadership so that I don’t lose track of myself.

Kayce Ataiyero  47:28

It’s hard, though.

Chanda Smith Baker  47:29

Yeah. Does it get heavy for you?

Kayce Ataiyero  47:31

Oh, my God. Yeah. I feel the lived experience I’m bringing to this role I look at as an asset, you know, but it also feels like an assignment. Right? Like, it feels like, I have the responsibility to bring with me, all of the people who didn’t get that call, right? And to be mindful of what it means to have someone like me doing the work that I do, just wanting to make sure that they honor that. And sometimes it does. It does feel like a lot sometimes when you’re in a space, you’re in a room where you know, if you don’t say it, no one everybody else is. You don’t do it. Nobody else is.

Chanda Smith Baker  48:27

Well, okay, so okay, if we’re gonna go there, then you couple that with and if I say it, then I gotta deal with rationalizing, just stuff justifying the live experience and the voices that I’m bringing with me. So you, you sit between, you’re holding it’s not even a bridge. It’s like a what do you like? I don’t know, what your your whole like you’re holding? I don’t know. And so you have to select those moments. You have things selected, you have to know what strategy to deploy and how you communicate.

Kayce Ataiyero  49:08

Yes, yes. Yes. And you have to, for the sake of the bigger fight, no, which battles are worth it, and which aren’t.

Chanda Smith Baker  49:17

So is that exhausting? Or what?

Kayce Ataiyero  49:21

Yeah, it can be sometimes, right? It can be sometimes. But then, you know, I have moments when we have you know, I have a black or brown staff person who comes into my office and has a conversation with me that I know that they wouldn’t be able to have with anybody else here. And they can walk away feeling seen and heard and validated and supported. And it reminds me of why I’m here and it renews me. And it makes me feel like it mattered. It matters that I continue to push.

Chanda Smith Baker  50:04

This is why representation matters. And I say it a lot. I remember I say, Karen Kelly or Ruelas name a lot because she was in this role that I have. Now, you know, it looked a little bit different. But she was in this role at the Minneapolis Foundation. And she also attended my church. And I remember coming up in the work, and sort of understanding what she did, right, just like kind of understanding what she did early on and thinking, Man, I want to do something like that one day, I only could identify that I wanted to do something like that one day, because there was someone that looked like me doing the thing. Yep. Right. I had someone that allowed me to aspire into a role, because she was representing the role in community in a way that was accessible. And it looked like something that I wanted to do to make a difference. There were many other people doing that work. But I knew her as a black woman doing that work.

Kayce Ataiyero  51:03

It matters, right? Like you can be what you can see, as they say, right? So, it matters. And knowing that is what makes the fight perfect. Right. It fills your cup. Yeah, fills your cup.

Chanda Smith Baker  51:17

I brought up the issue of exhaustion because the podcast I did with Jesse, he talked about code switching. And it was just like, it’s exhausting. Like you come in the room, and you’re trying to figure out which way to go and how to say it or whatever. Right. Like, that’s exhausting work. So that’s why I brought it up, right, is that I think that there are a lot of things that are really tough. And I think that there are lots of us trying to figure out how to navigate in these times, that can be challenging. And then we also understand statistically, from data from experience, from what we are seeing that there is still a crisis, right again, and Eric Holder’s words of representation, whether or not it’s in the political sphere, whether or not it’s in leadership, whether or not it’s in governance on our boards, whether or not it’s in some of our offices, there’s still a crisis of representation and a time that we are trying to advance justice and equities. Right. And when representation is there, I have seen places that I’ve been very mindful and intentional about how to make sure that it’s not just a diversity in the room, but it’s representation in the room of the ideas and the experience. And those are not the same thing.

Kayce Ataiyero  52:37

No, because all skinfolk are not kinfolk. I mean, they’re not. And the code switching thing is interesting, because, um, you know, I, I mean, I certainly, you know, as any good communications professional, would I tailor my pitch to my audience. But, you know, I’m, I’m me everywhere I go for, for better or worse, you know, for better or worse.

Chanda Smith Baker  53:07

I mean, I’m pretty doggone consistent. Like, there is this kind of what you get. Yeah, there’s not a whole lot of secrets. And what I don’t say I pretty much show on my face. Yeah, you’re gonna pretty much get a clue. And if I don’t say nothing, don’t push it.

Kayce Ataiyero  53:26

Right, if I will say anything, just say thank you.

Chanda Smith Baker  53:30

You’ll need me to be quiet for about a good 24 hours, just leave me be. But I appreciate this conversation and sort of the evolution of, of your leadership and our stories, which I think are so similar, right, and, and so familiar, and many, many respects, of the brilliance that exists within our communities. Like no matter how distressed, there are more people that live there that are brilliant, and they really just need the safety net, and the investment that allow them to move forward in a way that advances that brilliance into roles and leadership’s that impact all of our community. And that’s what the work is.

Kayce Ataiyero  54:09

That’s what the work is. That is exactly what the work is like. We are not the exceptions, right? We’re nowhere near there are so many wonderfully dynamically brilliant people in our communities that just need an opportunity and and a platform or just someone to look at them and see that they can be more.

Chanda Smith Baker  54:37

Right on, I say this before my mom said some of the most brilliant people are sitting in jail. Yep. Across our country. And it’s not because they weren’t smart. It was because they were dealt to hand. Some of them down to hand and they slipped through the cracks.

Kayce Ataiyero  54:53


Chanda Smith Baker  54:55

I don’t think you’re smarter.

Kayce Ataiyero  54:56

No, don’t think are smarter. Don’t think you’re better you probably just luckier, right? You know, you just you just got lucky. It’s like, Yeah, I think about that a lot, you know, just in my own neighborhood. I mean, I, I wasn’t the only smart kid. I certainly wasn’t the only talented kid. I just happen to get a scholarship. That was a difference.

Chanda Smith Baker  55:19

Before we close in the season of Thanksgiving, you know, would you share something that you’re hopeful for or thankful for?

Kayce Ataiyero  55:27

I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be somebody else’s opportunity. And I’m thankful for that. And I’m grateful for it. And grateful to all the people who saw something in me and for all of the people like you, who support me and support my leadership and give me just that little bit more boost right to kind of, you know, say what I believe with my chest, right, you know, it matters. It matters. So, I’m thankful for you and thankful that we were able to have this conversation. Thank you, Kayce.


And that’s Kayce Ataiyero in our host Chanda Smith Baker. If you enjoy this show and want to learn more about what we do here at the Minneapolis Foundation, please visit us online at Thanks for listening to Conversations with Chanda.

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About Our Guest

Kayce Ataiyero

Kayce Ataiyero is the Chief External Affairs Officer at the Joyce Foundation, where she oversees the Foundation’s strategic communications, the Journalism Program, and the Lend A Hand community grants fund. She is also a member of the Foundation’s leadership team.

Kayce has extensive experience in communications, journalism, and politics. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2018, she served as director of external affairs for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where she led communications and community engagement. She has also led communications for U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly, the Illinois Governor’s Office, and the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office. As a journalist, Kayce previously worked as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, The (Raleigh-Durham) News and Observer, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Washington Post.

She’s a native of Washington, D.C., and has a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. She is a member of the board of Media Impact Funders and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. At one time, she was general manager of the Chicago Steam, a minor-league basketball team.