Diiv Sternman joined Chapel Hill team as Member Services Coordinator in May of 2016. And we are so happy to have them!
What made you interested in CEF?
I was at a point in my career where I had done direct service for 12 years—and it does take its toll. I was reaching a point where I thought I needed to find a way of still doing this work while putting to use all of the things I’ve learned—all of the wisdom that clients and co-workers have shared with me over the years—and find how to put that to good use in the community.
So, I noticed CEF—it was on the list—but there weren’t jobs open. I was watching you all and referred a couple of people from the shelter that I was working at. When I read the job description, I thought, “This is not only an organization that I really believe in, but it’s a way of doing the work that fits what I need.” I feel like I have a lot I can share with student volunteer and a lot of experience with the populations that we’re serving. I now also have a chance to get back to big picture—having a vision and being able to impact structural changes.
Why do you think connecting with people is so important?
I think this goes back to a lot of the trauma work that I’ve done —thinking about how everyone has a place in them that’s hurt and wounded and how it looks different for everyone. It might look different for you or for me, but everyone has that part of them. A lot of the most inspiring healing that I’ve seen happen is when folks are able to get in touch with that place that was hurt, recognize what is standing in the way of them achieving the things they want—and then being able to build the relationships they wanted and experience joy in their lives.
Whether it was that they couldn’t build relationships with their kids because of the toxicity of an abusive relationship, or whether it was being reactive and defensive in the community setting and having your community say: “Look, we love you, we care about you, but you need to chill out. Don’t expect the worst from everyone.” But you can’t just say that—it takes time to build and to heal. You need to hold space, and you can’t hold space if there’s no relationship. It’s really easy for us to shut off, to turn the other way and run.
The deeper the trauma, the more you’ve been harmed, the more you’ve found your voice has not been heard, the more likely you are to just cut and run. If we want to overcome those big traumas, institutionalized racism, cycles of poverty and structural oppression—then we have to be committed to building really deep relationships that can hold the pain of that in order to build and grow.
Tell us about your background
I grew up in Philadelphia. I left there to go to school in western Massachusetts and from there I moved to Boston after school for a couple of years, and then circled back to Philly. I’d been working in Philly for the past 6 years before moving down here. I made that choice with my partner and his son, and while looking at the school districts, Chapel Hill seemed like a great place.
Coming from the north and not knowing a whole lot about North Carolina, I was concerned about searching for a job. Being a very visibly queer person and being in a blended family situation, there are a lot of complicated things to explain to an employer. Almost a year before moving down here, I started looking at what organizations where I could see myself working, and organizations where I could see myself thriving, and I made a short list and started a job search. I landed somewhere pretty interesting, working in Chatham County at the Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services, and got to do some really interesting stuff and kind of got a crash course in culture. Moving from the urban Northeast to Chatham County, which is a very rural county in the South, I felt like I was almost studying abroad.
What inspires you?
The primary place that I go for inspiration is the movements that grow and build, and there’s always something new that’s happening, and there’s always shifts and changes. I think right now the youth that are coming forward in Black Lives Matter movements against police brutality, and folks in the queer community organizing to rebuildd communities. Moving to the South has kick-started something in my mind; where I was, I was feeling very safe and comfortable, and that’s great, but there’s something that spurs you into action when adversity is happening. So, I’m super inspired by movement building, youth, and folks fighting for justice.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge for me is going to be understanding where do we fit in the big picture of the services and the communities that sort of coexist in Orange County, and learning how we do partner with the Durham Office. It’s also a big shift coming from organizations that had a very hierarchical top-down approach to management. To now be in a position there’s all this freedom and ability to bring new ideas and work collaboratively!
What projects are you excited about right now?
We’re organizing a small version of a legal clinic in August and hopefully getting three folks in from Chapel Hill to talk to a lawyer and get advice for their legal needs. We’re hoping this will become a monthly thing where Members can get connected with Legal Services each month. There will be bumps in the road and we’ll have to fix things as we go, but it’s very helpful and I think it will sort of crack the door open and build a bridge.
Interview conducted by Adriane Fields