PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

View Gallery
8 Photos
PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE CHICAGO PROGRAM DIRECTOR, BRITTANY MERRITT

From lacrosse fields in her collegiate days to the boardroom, Brittany Merritt’s passion for sports and athleticism opened doors of opportunities which influenced her personally and professionally. Brittany started her career on the law track, but began to see inspiration in the non-profit health education sector, drawing her towards a career change that would seek ways to directly impact youth, especially girls through sports, ultimately leading her to where she is today. Brittany is a true go-getter, and example of what it means to take a leap of faith and allow your passion to take the lead! We are pleased to share her unique journey with you that we are sure will inspire you!

Brittany Merritt,

Chicago Program Director

Peer Health Exchange (PHE)

Age: 32
Hometown: White Plains, NY
Education: Howard University, BA Communications
Northwestern University, MA Sports Administration
Stay Connected: Twitter & Instagram: @brittanybianca5

College


Why did you choose the college you went to?
I chose to attend Howard University because it gave me the opportunity to be in an environment that celebrated and nurtured African-American culture in all its diversity as well as a chance to continue to play lacrosse at the competitive collegiate level. The school also allowed me to be a part of history playing with the one and only all black female Division I lacrosse team in the nation. As a team, we were unique in our history and composition as women of color, and we strived to be phenomenal students both academically and athletically. When I went on my recruiting visit and spent the weekend on campus with ladies who would be my future teammates, I knew Howard was where I wanted to be.

I also chose to go to college out of state but not be too far away from my family. I was far enough from home where I felt I could gain a strong sense of independence and have a true college experience. However, I was close enough to New York to be able to visit my family as often as needed but they were far enough away that they wouldn’t just pop up on campus for a surprise visit!

How was freshman year?

Freshman year was unforgettable! I met some of my best and closest friends during freshman year. Since I went to school in a metropolitan city (Washington, DC), there was so much to explore outside of campus (from museums to restaurants) and to enjoy being in a new city. For me, this made freshman year a memorable time in my life as I also got to meet classmates who were from different countries, or of different cultures, and even make friends at neighboring universities in DC.

Why didn’t you attend a PWI for undergrad? 

For my undergraduate studies I chose to attend Howard University, an HBCU. As an incoming freshman student-athlete, it was imperative that I enrolled in a university where I felt comfortable academically, athletically and socially. For high school, I attended a predominately white independent college-preparatory day school for girls. When it came time to visit colleges, I visited both HBCUs and PWIs. However, when I visited Howard I was quickly able to connect with future teammates, current students and faculty. Coming out of the recruiting visit, I felt that Howard would provide me a very different experience than what I had experienced in middle and high school. From that one weekend visit on campus, Howard felt like home.

How did you pay for college? 

In high school I played field hockey and lacrosse and was recruited by various schools to play in college. Fortunately, Howard offered me a full athletic scholarship to play lacrosse which covered tuition, room and board and other expenses. This was a true blessing as the scholarship allowed me to focus solely on my academics and athletic endeavors. 

What organizations did you join while in college? Were any influential to your current career?

I didn’t join many organizations while I was in college due to the time commitment associated with being a student-athlete. However, I did manage to participate in various honor societies and community service organizations. As a student-athlete, I did not have much time to dedicate to or join other organizations.

 Most influential college professor and/or course?

There was not a single course or a professor that was the single most influential.  I would have to say that every professor or course I took in undergrad helped to shape my interests and academic pursuits. To be honest, there wasn’t a single course I didn’t take at Howard that I didn’t like or didn’t find engaging!

There are, however, two professors that stand out for me at Howard which are Rev. Dr. Debyii Sababu-Thomas from the School of Communications and Dr. Doris Corbett from the College of Arts and Sciences. As a communications major, Dr. Thomas taught some of my favorite communication courses from Advanced Public Speaking to Organizational Communication which helped me to hone my oral presentation skills. Dr. Corbett encouraged me and helped me to think about translating my passion for sports into a professional setting. Minoring in Sports Administration enabled me to learn different facets of the sports industry by being immersed in courses ranging from Ethical & Social Issues in Sport to Race & Gender Issues in Sport and Human Rights Issues.

Was interning helpful to landing your current position? What internships did you have?

I never had internships that were in the industry in which I currently work, which is now non-profit and health education. All of my jobs and internships I had during college were in government or the legal field because at the time I thought that I wanted to attend law school and pursue sports law and marketing, specifically. However, the internship positions at the time helped me learn transferable skills and prepared me for interviews I had after college. I took time off after undergrad which gave me an opportunity to reevaluate what exactly I wanted to pursue before applying to graduate school. I took a year to work at a law firm in their Adversity & Marketing Law Group and from there I decided to purse my Masters in Sports Administration at Northwestern University.

During my time in graduate school I had various internships and jobs that exposed me to different careers in sports. While working for organizations such as CBS Radio (Chicago Bears Radio Network), Comcast SportsNet, Intersport and Northwestern University Athletics focusing on sports marketing and sports management, I continued to work with non-profit organizations in my free time. Ultimately I realized my true passion was firmly situated in increasing health, self-esteem, academic performance, responsible social behaviors and leadership skills for youth, especially girls, through sports, where possible. I began to look for roles that allowed me to have more direct impact, particularly working with youth, which has ultimately led me to where I am today.

What was your first job out of college?

After graduation, I worked at law firm as a Legal Assistant in the Advertising & Marketing Law Group at a firm in Washington, DC. I knew I wanted to pursue graduate studies but taking time off between undergrad and graduate school gave me insight, practical experience and a chance to reevaluate my career path.

What advice would you give your undergraduate self?

This may seem cliché but I would tell myself that it is OK if you don’t know exactly what you want to do for a long-term career path. Don’t feel like you need to figure out your entire adult existence over the span of four years in college. What is important is that you engage in classes and extracurricular activities that provide opportunities and experiences that help you to figure out your purpose and eventually your plan will come together. Exercise patience and faith through the process and enjoy the ride.

What’s your favorite college memory?

I think one of my favorite memories was leading up to graduation week. I remember walking into the School of Communications (School of C) to get my paperwork that cleared me to graduate. That little yellow slip of paper made everything official. I had survived 4 years of college and all of my family was coming to see me walk especially my Great-Grandmother. Being surrounded and celebrating with friends and family for graduation was a wonderful feeling!

Career


What is a typical workday like for you?

As the Chicago Program Director for Peer Health Exchange, I am responsible for overseeing programs in 26 Chicago Public School (CPS) high schools which reaches 4,000+ students, overseeing volunteer training and development at our partner colleges for over 340 volunteers and assisting with the development and execution of strategic plans. What I love about my role is that I truly don’t have a “typical” day. Each day varies due to a combination of external meetings with partners, observing programming in partner high school classrooms or on a series of conference calls which often times causes me to be strapped to my desk for hours. With this variety, it keeps work exciting and engaging because no two days are ever alike.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

Peer Health Exchange’s mission is to give teens the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions. We train college student volunteers to teach workshops on sexual health, mental health and substance use and abuse to 9th grade students. It is important that youth have access to knowledge and skills that support their physical and mental well-being so they can make active and informed decisions about their health to lead healthy lives. When observing workshops in our partner high schools and see how students interact with our volunteers and are engaged in the content we are teaching, it’s rewarding. I get to see firsthand and know that the work we do is impactful not only for the students we teach but even for the college volunteers.

What I also enjoy the most about my work is that I work with such an amazing team! I am blessed to be able to work with passionate people day in and day out who are truly committed to our organization’s mission and vision. I honestly believe that people in our organization come for the mission and stay for the people. PHE hires highly motivated and talented people which make it truly a joy to work alongside to do social impact work.

Unconventional or Conventional career path? Explain.

Unconventional. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do – which was to go to law school. Clearly that did not happen and I know that I am happier for not continuing to purse that path. I ended up in non-profit and health education all because I followed my true passion; involvement in health, self-esteem, academic and athletic performance programs. In retrospect, I think I might have pursued a different graduate degree but everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t trade my previous work experiences because they have helped shape me into the person I am today.

Does your college degree relate to the work you do?

In the first few years of my career, I would absolutely say that my undergraduate degree directly related to the work I was doing. I worked in sports focused organizations that allowed me to apply what I had learned having majored in communications and minored in sports administration. As I have progressed in my career and shifted my career path focus, I am still able to apply skills obtained in previous roles in my current position. It’s a social norm to get a job related to your degree and area of study. However, I think it’s more important to pursue what you are interested in and what makes you fulfilled at the end of the day.

Has being Black affected your career? 

As an African-American woman, I know that race matters in general but it’s hard to say definitively how being Black has affected my career. What I can say is that I work hard to understand the goals of my organization and how I can best contribute given my unique experience as a woman of color.  Sometimes that means translating my perspective into terms that the mainstream population can understand. In my current role it may mean providing cultural context for the best way to communicate with our students or volunteers. I consider it a privilege to be a Black woman and believe our perspective is important to add to the dialogue as decisions are being made. That’s why it’s important to have executive leadership positions in the social sector. Not only does it help us better serve our citizens, it also sets a positive example and provides inspiration to young ladies of color to see women who share a similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds in positions of influence.

How did you receive insight into your career? Do you have a mentor?

Over the years I have met individuals and had supervisors who have been able to provide me with insight and give me sound advice on career choices. I am thankful and blessed to have various people in my life who have been very influential in different aspects of my life whether it’s professionally, personally or spiritually. Having various individuals who can hold you accountable has been important to my growth overall so having mentors and advisors are important.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

The most challenging moment of my career was my decision to leave working in a corporate setting and pursue working in the non-profit sector and doing what I love. I was at a place in my life where I was torn between continuing a lucrative career path or pursing my true passion and accepting a job in the non-profit sector. Taking a leap of faith was the best decision because when you end up following your heart and doing what you love, the money will come.

How do you escape on the weekends?

I enjoy catching up with and spending quality time with those I love, particularly my girlfriends. However, I am also an only child who thoroughly enjoys solitude so you can find me doing things like training for a next race, at the gym or in the aisles of Target.

How would you describe your office culture? Happy hours, game nights?

I love the folks I work with and it’s enjoyable to work in a relaxed and casual environment. We have a small office for the Chicago team so we are pretty laid back yet a hard working group me people. We spend a lot of time together which makes us a close nit team where do things together from happy hours to running a half marathons!

 Lifestyle


Coffee or Tea?

Coffee – it’s a life line.

Favorite nail color?

Lately I’ve been obsessed with and wearing Tiramisu for Two by OPI.

#TeamNatural or #TeamRelaxed?

#TeamRelaxed! I have a short haircut these days and creamy crack is the only thing able to keep my mane tamed.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Be true to yourself.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be?

Oprah.

Does your career interfere with your relationship status?

No. Even though I work a lot and have commitments outside out of work, you make time for what is important.

 What’s your guilty pleasure?

Chocolate and wine.

Favorite Quote ?

“Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.” -David G. Allen

Thanks for helping us inspire & empower!

Ashley Obasi

Ashley Obasi is the founder of BGG. She's also a PR strategist by day, and change-agent by default. She's so Chicago, and loves free food.

3 Comments
  1. Wonderful, empowering and delightful piece. Congratulations Brittany on remaining true to yourself and making your mom and her friends proud!