For LaToya King, the Foundation’s Chief Operations Officer, the concept of philanthropy is intensely personal. LaToya grew up in Oakland, California, the child of a single mother who struggled financially and was on public assistance. At the time she didn’t realize it, but in retrospect she was effectively homeless for a portion of her younger childhood. “I thought we were just hanging out with cousins and having sleepovers, but looking back that was clearly not the case,” she says.
When LaToya was 12 years old, it was understood she would get a job. Her first job was as a babysitter, and the dollars she earned she used to buy school clothes or participate in school activities. LaToya’s mom stressed education from the very beginning, and figured out a way for LaToya to attend the public school in the “good” neighborhood. To get to school, she had to take two or three buses each way. The experience of essentially living in two different worlds was very formative for LaToya. “Some neighborhood kids were selling drugs and having babies really young, and I had a classmate who had an elevator in her house, so I was exposed to it all.” LaToya loved school – a present to her was a math workbook or flashcards, and teachers had to give her extra work to keep her challenged. When it came time for college, LaToya’s mother encouraged her to go, but it was understood she could not help pay for it. “Howard University was my dream school, and I got in! But I absolutely did not do it alone. I often reflect on the teachers who encouraged me, the counselors who connected me to resources and scholarships, friends’ parents who gave me access to arts and culture.” Even with scholarships, LaToya found herself struggling, and in her sophomore year was working two jobs to try and make it through. Her best friend at the time told her parents over Christmas break about how difficult LaToya’s circumstances were, and her friend’s parents offered to pay for part of her room and board for the rest of her college experience. Reflecting on all the people who helped her along the way, she says it is not difficult to see why with her life she has made choices to give back to the communities that looked like her or who have had similar experiences to help make them better.
Majoring in accounting, LaToya’s first internship during college was with Nations Bank through Inroads, a nonprofit organization that “creates pathways to careers for ethnically-diverse high school and college students across the country.” One summer she worked in the Specialty Banking Group for nonprofits, and the next in Community Development. She returned after graduation and worked as an analyst. When she moved to the Fannie Mae Foundation, her work revolved around providing Program Related Investments to nonprofits creating or preserving affordable housing. This job took her around the country, and was eye-opening to see how people lived in poverty in different parts of the country. “In particular I remember visiting some parts of Texas near the border that were completely lacking in infrastructure, shelters with dirt floors. I thought to myself, ‘How can we allow people to live like this in the United States?’”
At some point LaToya realized she wanted to work for a nonprofit focused on providing affordable housing but first wanted a more robust business background, so she decided to attend business school at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where she could concentrate in real estate. When it came time to graduate, she struggled to find a job at a nonprofit, as there aren’t the same recruiting systems in place like there are with for-profit jobs. She kept saying no to banks who were trying to recruit her, and eventually found a role at a real estate private equity firm with a sustainable environment lens, working on some small components of affordable housing. Through this organization she became involved in incubating business ideas for affordable housing in New Orleans after Katrina. When the real estate market crashed in 2009, all of the associates were let go, but LaToya was kept on to help build the partner nonprofit, and eventually she moved on to work there full-time.
Over the years, LaToya has engaged in some of the most difficult subject matter in her work at nonprofits. Her most recent role prior to joining the Foundation was at JusticeMatters, which “addresses the roots and repercussions of human trafficking.” When asked about how she was able to maintain mental fortitude in the face of such a disturbing issue, LaToya is matter of fact. “On the one hand you are inspired by the resilience of people, but on the other hand think of how unfair the world is. I viewed my work in operations as the ‘helper of helpers,’ setting up people to do their best work on the front lines. An organization and a mission are only as good as the people who carry it out, so the number one priority for me was to take care of my colleagues to let them do their work. I can’t take away the pain and traumatic exposure, but what I can do is create a system that values individuals and lets them know, ‘I see you. I hear you.’”
In terms of what LaToya believes are the tenets of self-care, she says, “Good quality sleep, taking a break from the constant exposure – please take PTO, and know what brings you joy! And realize we are finite beings, we can’t fix it all – set healthy boundaries to do your best. Believe me, it is enough.”
When the Chief Operations Officer position became available at the Foundation, LaToya thought it was a natural next step in her career journey. “The Foundation is an integral part of the nonprofit ecosystem, the bridge that connects wealth with need. In my previous work I felt the disconnect of navigating the resources to the correct need and feel that the Foundation can bridge that gap. I wanted to be part of something that helps invest in nonprofits and lifts them up. Now that I have been here for a year I see the desire and heart to make a tangible impact in the Triangle. There are some barriers to doing it the way we feel like we want to do it, but none of them feel insurmountable, which is exciting! My hope is that moving forward the Foundation will be on the front lines of caring for neighbors who are being disproportionately affected by the immense growth of the Triangle.”
LaToya can see herself at the Foundation long term. “I want to build something that is meaningful and will last. I want to leave behind people who are better off because I was here. To me success is about building good character and how I make people feel. I hope that will be my legacy.”