Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Katha Blackwell of Partnership Against Domestic Violence Is Helping To Change Our World
It’s lonely at the top — Being a CEO has it’s fair share of lonely moments, board members are technically your supervisor and your direct reports are your employees. There’s no real friendships here, for good reason, but still a lonely position.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katha Blackwell.
Katha Blackwell is the CEO of Partnership Against Domestic Violence, the first and largest domestic violence organization in Georgia. Katha has over 15 years of experience, providing an excellent level of leadership within non-profit agencies that serve the homeless population and those fleeing domestic violence. She received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science Pre-Law from Michigan State University, and a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago. Katha Provides leadership and oversight for all organization operations, including strategic planning, marketing and public relations, financial management, personnel, fundraising, program direction and supervision, administration, and Board functions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a child I grew up within an abusive household, my stepfather at the time, was physically and verbally abusive to my mother, my older sister and me. From elementary school to high school, he terrorized my family. At the age of 12, after calling the police multiple times, telling family members what was going on multiple times, I realized that in order to have a life of peace I had to get myself out of this house. So for the next 8 years, I focused on getting my education which gave me the opportunity to leave Tennessee and go to Michigan State University where I majored in Political Science — Prelaw. Prior to attending Michigan State, I had every intention of becoming a criminal prosecutor in order to put people, like my stepfather, behind bars. But in my Junior year of Undergrad I started to seek God and focus on my purpose in life. After praying for months for an answer from God, He told me to heal women and build shelters. Although the thought of becoming a social worker was laughable, at the time, I took a hold of what I needed to do and pursued a Master of Arts degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and graduated. From that point on, I have provided services to survivors of domestic violence for over 20 years and in 2022, I became the CEO of Partnership Against Domestic Violence which is the first and largest domestic violence agency in the state of Georgia,
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting story that happened since leading this organization is a child witness to domestic violence, who is now an adult, becoming a financial donor to Partnership Against Domestic Violence. We never know how we will impact the lives of the child survivors of domestic violence, but to see that child as an adult reach back out to donate money towards our mission is one of the most interesting things I have ever seen.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I made was trying to vote during a board meeting. No one noticed, but it was hilarious to me. The reason it was funny is because as a CEO I am a non-voting member, but in the moment, no one was immediately saying second and I wanted to keep things going. We had other things to tackle. I believe my mic was on mute at the time, it was a virtual meeting. But what I learned in that moment is that I don’t have to rush things along. Although, I have a ton of things to do each day and some meetings I can do without, I don’t have to rush to the next thing, because once that one thing is accomplished there will be another thing that comes right along to replace it. So now I try to relax and stay in the moment and not rush through meetings.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Absolutely! Partnership Against Domestic Violence is making a significant social impact by providing prevention workshops and trainings about dating violence with teenagers and college students. In order to truly reduce the number of instances where domestic violence takes place, we must do everything in our power to not only help survivors of domestic violence, but to also educate the next generation about what domestic violence is.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Yes, we were contacted by the local emergency room hospital informing us that a new mom, Serenity, had recently given birth to a newborn baby by C-section. Due to physical abuse, at the hands of her child’s father, Serenity’s C-section incision reopened during the physical abuse causing her to end up in the emergency room. Serenity informed the hospital staff of what happened and stated, “I can’t go back home! I don’t want anything to happen to my baby.” The local hospital called PADV’s emergency crisis line to see if Serenity could come to our emergency shelter once she is released from the hospital. Once Serenity arrived at one of our emergency shelters, PADV staff assisted her and her newborn baby. Serenity ended up staying in our shelter for about 6 months, but immediately gained employment and with our assistance found affordable childcare services for her newborn. Serenity eventually transitioned into our supportive housing program with her daughter and continued working diligently.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
For the community, they can ensure all schools connect with their local domestic violence agency and ensure those agencies have an opportunity to come onsite at least twice a year, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness month in February and in October for Domestic Violence Awareness month.
In our society, the root of domestic violence is at the foundation of how we process the harmful thoughts that come into our minds and how we harm those we say we love. The place where we rest our heads at night should be the safest and most peaceful place in comparison to anywhere else. People sometimes think that domestic violence only happens to a certain group of people, but in actuality anyone can become an abusive person. Every day we all have a choice to either show love and respect to the people in our lives or abuse them. It’s a choice, just as easy as picking out a pair of pants.
For politicians, ensure your state budget has a hefty allocation for domestic violence shelters and sexual assault centers
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability to inspire and guide a team of staff, volunteers or stakeholders towards a shared vision and mission. Leadership is not defined by a title but comes from the heart of an individual who has the love and passion to accomplish a goal. For example, my mother would probably say that I have been a leader since Kindergarten. Being the bossy little Katha that I was, I had every intention on learning how to read and used to tell the other students in class to be quiet because I wanted to hear what the teacher was saying. Luckily, those other students followed my lead, and the teacher gladly appreciated my support.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
It’s lonely at the top — Being a CEO has it’s fair share of lonely moments, board members are technically your supervisor and your direct reports are your employees. There’s no real friendships here, for good reason, but still a lonely position
The grass may look greener, but it’s made with the same dirt — Each lateral move no matter the title has it’s fair share of pros and cons, nothing is perfect except God.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Requiring harsher penalties for abusive partners and also implementing a domestic violence rehabilitation program within the prison system.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Where I am, is not Who I am. Who I am is Greater than Where I am.” Sam Chand
When I heard Pastor Sam Chand, say these words over a decade ago, it reflected on how I see myself. I’ve always known that I am supposed to do great things in connection with domestic violence, but it is important to know how important I am without the title or place of employment. If you wait on a title to define who you are, then you will be nothing when that title is gone. Due to God’s amazing love and grace, I have come to appreciate who I am way before I came to Partnership Against Domestic Violence, way before my family and I moved to Georgia. Who I am is Greater than Where I am. There is only one Katha Dean Blackwell in the whole world. I’m priceless like a diamond. Everyone should see themselves as being a valuable and important part of society regardless of where you are or the title you hold.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Oprah Winfrey, the reason being is because when my husband and I lived in Chicago, I used to say I’m going to go to the Oprah Winfrey show and always thought to myself, “I’ve got time, I’ve got time.” I’ll go to her show next season. And during the last season of her show, I procrastinated, and I missed out on going to a live recording.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Katha Blackwell — LinkedIn
PADV — Website
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!