Have you ever wondered about the thoughts, motivations, and experiences of the people that inspire you the most? I know I have, and this past week I had the opportunity to interview one of the biggest influences on my life (other than my parents). Leticia Watkins has influenced who I am as a leader, a peer, and a child of God, and with her, I always know that I have a voice, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on. She is one of the most genuine and caring people I know, and it was great to learn even more about her through this interview.
Can you give everyone an introduction?
“My name is Leticia Watkins, I’m the Director of Children and Youth at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. I’m a long time supporter of communities, schools, students, and a mentor and youth advocate. I’m passionate about youth development.”
What led you to become the Children and Youth Director at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church?
“I had a unique opportunity, after grad school, to, I guess, marry this passion of science and students. It allowed me to work on a project that gave me the opportunity to introduce more science technology and training into the classroom, so I got to work in several Birmingham City Schools. From there, it just positioned me to work more in the community, with students. Also, prior to coming to Sixth Avenue, I was also a youth director for a church in Virginia. Then, I had my full time job in the science world, but I also still kept my finger on the pulse of our youth by being involved in the community and being involved in the church. Church work wasn’t exactly foreign to me, so when there was an opportunity at Sixth Avenue that came up to work with its young people, I decided to jump in. Even though I had never been in a ministry full time, in that capacity, it just worked.”
What led you to do the work you have been doing in the community?
“For me, I think that it’s just always been a part of me and a passion of mine to be involved, to give students opportunities, to give them hope, to give them exposure. The same type of exposures that have helped to shape and develop me in my youth. It’s always been important for me to pour that back out, and we all know it’s one thing to say and one thing to think but it’s a whole other thing to put it into action. The way we put it into action is by making our greatest investment there, in young people. So, that’s what I’m driven by- making the investments there because we don’t know which seeds will stick, we don’t know how the seeds that we plant early on, in someone’s life, will take root and what they will become, what they will do. I also believe that it’s really important for us to model what we want for our youth, so if we want them to be lovers and sowers into their communities then we have to model that for them. If I were to leave something with any of the young people I have been blessed to work with, I hope that they would be left with ‘okay, I’m going to work with my heart, I’m going to be others-focused, I’m going to be passionate and driven and yes I can excel and I can fight but I’m always going to be thinking about how I can make other people’s lives better, in the process or in any career it is that I choose’. That’s what I want to leave with them.”
What motivates you to keep going?
“That’s a funny question, to me, because a lot of the work can be exhausting, but, I think, there’s always something to be done. So, I’m motivated by, I guess,…if you’re thinking about a project, you can check things off a list, but for me, there’s really no end. There’s no end to what you can do to continue work with making people’s lives better. There’s no end to that, and as far as regaining energy, that’s a God thing, right there. Being spiritually renewed, taking moments for myself to be spiritually renewed- that helps me maintain the energy to continue. Also, I think, just having the heart, having the passion for the work helps, so even when I get tired, I just know to take some time for myself to allow myself to regroup. The fact that there’s always a next. There’s always a next, always something to be done. I think that’s motivating enough.”
What is the best part about the work you do, or best parts, if you can’t think of just one?
“One of the best parts, for me, is knowing that youth and young adults feel like they’re heard, feel like they’re seen. Also, when I see something that has been invested in them or poured into them come to fruition and I see them coming into their young woman or manhood with some of the qualities I wanted to instill. Seeing that come to light is really really rewarding. I also really feel rewarded by the encouragement I receive from very young children- school age children. Like when they talk about what you are to them or sometimes they put it in a picture, poem, or handwritten letter. I’m really moved by those handwritten notes, and, I guess, this goes along with handwritten notes from parents. The emails, the texts, it just reminds you that even when the work gets tough, that it’s necessary and you’re doing a great thing, even when you’re having a difficult season. Those are some of the best parts, for me; I call them ‘God winks’. So, those God winks when you get some type of confirmation that you are doing exactly what you’re purposed to do.”
What impact do you want to make on the people around you?
“I want to make them feel loved and valued by me. I want them to be seen, I want them to know that they are seen, I want them to know that they are individually cared for. I think a lot about, you know, what type of legacy I want to leave for my nieces and nephews and, possibly one day, my own children. It would be a legacy of service to others. So, I would want them to say, ‘this reminds me of what my Tete would do’ or ‘I’m going to do this because my Tete did this’ or for people in the community or young adults to remember something that I did with them and carrying that out.”
If you had to describe where you are in life, in three words, what would they be and why?
“I would say I’m perfectly positioned. I’m perfectly positioned. Perfectly positioned because I am in a season where hindsight is 20-20, and I’m in this place where there are some challenges ahead. It can be a little bit daunting, a little bit unnerving, but I can also see that I’m in that place where I can see how some of the groundwork that was laid, which didn’t feel like groundwork at the time, was necessary to have gone through and how I was built in those tough moments. So, that gives me encouragement for the challenges that lie ahead. Yeah, so I’m perfectly positioned. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the answers, It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m comfortable. It just means that I believe, by faith, the experiences that I’ve already had have prepared me for this moment, even when the moment is bigger than me.”
What do you see as your biggest accomplishment or accomplishments?
“Living a life that I think makes my grandparents, who are no longer living, would be proud of. Living a life that I feel like my parents would be proud of. The greatest accomplishment, for me, is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. There have been some specific instances where I’ve been afraid to move forward and do the thing, but a major accomplishment, for me, is, regardless of the outcome, feeling the fear and doing it.”
What is one short and long term goal you have?
“Short term goal, right now, would be to position myself to make a bigger impact on lives. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable and pretty secure in where I am now, but, like I mentioned earlier, there’s always ‘what’s next?’ I don’t know if I can differentiate between the long term and short term goal, right now. I don’t know if this is a question down the line either, but one of the things that drives me is that I’m often asked the question, ‘what’s next for you?’ and my answer for that is ‘what is needed.’ So, a long term goal then would be to put some systems in place to address some long term issues for our students and community, so that we can see a sustained improvement, not just one event to put a bandage on it. That’s my long term goal. The short term goal is to position myself to make a bigger impact, to position myself to positively affect more people, and then, the long term goal is sustained change.”
What do you feel is your purpose, and how have you integrated it into your life?
“I’m going to answer your second question first. Just in general, our purpose is interwoven into everything or can be interwoven into everything we do, and it should be interwoven into everything we do. So, what is the purpose? Generally speaking, everybody’s purpose, who is a believer, is to glorify The Creator. For me, my purpose is just recognizing that my life is not my own, recognizing that daily I can empty out so that someone else can have. That probably goes back to how I keep going- it’s the fact that I can be renewed, too. So, you don’t have to hold on to your gifts, you don’t have to hold on to your talents. The purpose is to empty out myself so that others can have because I know that I will be renewed, I know that I will be restored. I found myself living out my purpose in a lab, I found myself living out that purpose in a school, I found myself living out that purpose in a park, with students, I found myself living out that purpose- and I never thought I would be- in a church. My purpose is not to work at a church, it is to, no matter what environment I’m placed in, glorify and to empty out for the people I have been blessed to serve. My purpose is to serve, it’s just a matter of what environment I’m going to do it in.”
What or who is your inspiration?
“Ida B. Wells. I’m inspired by Ida B. Wells because she was unwavering in her pursuit of bringing forth change, for her people. I’m also inspired by her because she was doing it for so long as a single black woman, and sometimes, there’s this belief that we can’t be strong, we can’t be fighters and also still be tender, and receive love, and be comforted, and have intimacy. So, she fell in love with this guy on the way to fighting for other people. People thought that she would never be married, and so, I’m inspired that she stayed true to everything she was and still became a wife and raised a family. When she was out there on the front lines marching for the rights of black people and fighting against lynchings, she had her with her, still, and so, I love that she didn’t have to choose between being a woman and being a servant, she was just a woman, and she was a servant, and she was a wife, and she was a mom. She wasn’t like this monolith or whatever was expected. I’m inspired by her, and then, for the women that I’ve met, I’m inspired by my mother, my aunts, my sister, and my grandmother. I have been largely influenced by black women, and I’m inspired by them.”
Lastly, what is advice you would give to anyone?
“I’m going back to something that I previously touched on, that’s feel the fear and do it anyway. Something that I’m often reminded of is that your gifts make room for you, and I think, especially with the pandemic, it can seem like opportunities are limited and we don’t know what we’re going to do with our lives. I’ve been in that place, before, where it’s like ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do, with my life?’ I remember being there, but the very core of who you are, doors open for that person. So, continue to improve. It all goes together. And, I guess this is long advice, but have this confidence that your gifts will make room for you. Also, you’re going to be afraid when new opportunities come up, but feel the fear and walk into those things, walk through those doors.”
I am so glad I got the opportunity to interview the caring, genuine, and hardworking woman that is Letica Watkins. She dropped plenty of gems, as always, and I hope you all gained something from it. If there’s anything you should take from this (I’m taking this as well), it should be to feel the fear and do it anyway. Feel the fear and do it anyway!