How One Millennial Landed a Directorship in Under Four Years

Tenacity, preparedness, and optimism were key!

Santrice
Credit: iStock HAKINMHAN

If you still think that millennials should have their names posted in history as the lost generation, you’re obviously hanging around the wrong crowd.

You haven’t met the motivated millennials who are changing the face of leadership with their quick wit, tech savvy ideas, and relentless drive to succeed in whatever they do.

Come to Chicago and you’ll find a young millennial woman who is leading by example with her no-excuse leadership skills at the American Heart Association (AHA). And it’s working in her favor. In her four years serving as the director of Multicultural Initiatives, she has established partnerships with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Chicago Housing Authority, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and many other organizations. She has worked diligently with these partners to implement systemic changes that focus on building healthier lives free of heart disease and stroke. This has led to her earning one of the most coveted positions in the organization, senior director of Multicultural Initiatives.

Meet Santrice Martin. She’s young, African American, and she’s sprinkling her magical superwoman dust in ways that are exposing the next generation to what is possible for their own lives.

Moreover, Martin is a recipient of the 2015 Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Award, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. presented her with the Echoes of Excellence Award for Community Activism and Volunteer Engagement and the American Heart Association gave her the Health Strategies Award of Excellence.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Martin to find out how she expedited her journey to the director’s chair:

Black Enterprise: How did you get into the American Heart Association?

Santrice Martin: After I obtained a degree in Health Care Management from Florida A&M University, I took a leap of faith. I decided to relocate to Illinois. I learned quickly that to be successful, you must contribute the work necessary to reach your goals. This meant expanding my network and being open-minded. So, I connected with health services organizations. Then, I obtained a mentor who guided my steps into the nonprofit world. After numerous interviews and just as many rejections, I finally received my break with the American Cancer Society. Tenacity, preparedness, and optimism pay off!

After six years of working with the American Cancer Society in Evanston, Illinois, I applied to be the director at the AHA. I wanted to build a reputable brand in the nonprofit world. At the same time, I wanted to build my networks in the trendsetting city of Chicago. Soon after the first-round interview, the hiring manager pulled me aside and told me, “You were so great that I don’t need to see anyone else. The position is yours if you choose to accept.”

Four years later, I had the chance to work with a passionate team of individuals to positively impact the health of our communities. In addition, I have been awarded numerous community activism accolades and recognized as an emerging leader of the AHA. As a result, I am now the senior director of Multicultural Initiatives for the Chicago Market.

BE: You ascended the ladder in a short period of time. What do you think has helped you to achieve a wealth of success and be recognized for your work? 

Santrice Martin: At the American Heart Association, I’ve received one promotion during the four years of my tenure. However, this promotion defied the odds as I competed amongst several candidates for this role.

One candidate, in particular, was a male who had over 10 years of experience. He received numerous American Heart Association accolades for his work educating the community. Despite the candidates’ overall professional experience, the American Heart Association chose me for this leadership opportunity.

In my opinion, employees who want to move up in an organization should find ways to diversify their skill set. Additionally, they must be open to learning about the entire organization rather than a specific departmental role.

Here are three tips that will set you apart from others:

  • Dare to be different: if there are two of the same people in the room, only one of them is needed.
  • Know what makes you unique and build your brand.
  • Smile often.

BE: What will it take for more women millennials to win in the workplace and move to the director’s chair?

Santrice Martin: More women working in the 21st century are winning in the workplace. We have permitted ourselves to compete for our desires and negotiate our earning potential. Furthermore, women are stepping up to leadership and exceeding our own expectations. Women millennials are making strides and are committed to doing more!

Follow the American Heart Association Chicago office on twitter @HeartChicago


Charlene Rhinehart is a frequent speaker, former Ms. Corporate America, certified public accountant, and entrepreneur. She provides freelance writing and consulting services as the Managing Director of CEO Unlimited LLC and provides resources for female professionals as the founder of the Career Goddess Academy. Connect with Charlene on Twitter @careergoddess or Instagram @charlenerhinehart.