WAVERLY – You don’t have to tell La Toshia Burrell about systemic racism or marginalized groups.
The Waverly woman, who is Black, lives and breathes it every day – and she’s working to make things better for people like her where she lives.
“As we know now, the climate in 2020 is still really racially charged,” Burrell said. “Obviously, that personally affects my life, as well as my son’s life.”
Her son, 3-year-old Jordan, knows more about bulls, rodeos and cowboys than he does about how people will treat him when he’s older. But Burrell’s work, including on the economic inclusion network, might help change that.
Burrell helped co-found Embrace, a celebration of diversity in Waverly that was the brainchild of a strategic planning committee in the city two years ago.
It began as an annual outdoor event, but has blossomed into an almost-nonprofit (Burrell said they’re working on their 501©3 status) that focuses on education.
“We just really want to encourage people to celebrate differences and also to learn about our true history – the good and the bad – and from that, learn and make positive change in our communities,” she said.
That “passion for justice,” said nominator Jennifer Onuigbo, has propelled Burrell, 35, into this year’s 20 Under 40 class.
“Not only does she have a passion for justice, she is willing to spend her time educating others and having the tough discussions others shy away from,” Onuigbo, who serves on Embrace with Burrell, said. “Her dedication to justice is inspirational.”
Burrell said it was her natural inclination.
“I just feel very charged for people who stand up for what’s right,” she said. “I just want to be able to serve and use my strengths as best as possible.”
A 2007 Wartburg College graduate, Burrell has used her strengths in a variety of ways in her professional life.
As a college basketball player, she was inspired to coach the game after playing under coach Bob Amsberry, and coached at Chicago-area colleges Trinity Christian College, Roosevelt University and Governors State University before returning to Waverly to become assistant director of The W at Wartburg.
“I still enjoy it, and I think one day I’ll get back into coaching,” she said.
She’s also taught as an adjunct professor at Wartburg, and is a licensed massage therapist.
“I feel at times I can be the jack of all trades, master of none,” she said. “I want to get my hands in so many different things.”
Since last November, Burrell has worked as the director of employee engagement at The Accel Group in Waverly, a professional turn she called “kind of a complete jump for me,” but said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“There’s always room for growth, and so I look for that professionally and personally,” she said.
That’s something she hopes to impart to future 20 Under 40 recipients, too.
“Just giving back to others, and embrace your privilege by giving back, because we all have various privileges,” Burrell said. “I think it’s important to recognize those, and then serve those in other areas where those people are less fortunate.”
“We just really want to encourage people to celebrate differences and also to learn about our true history – the good and the bad – and from that, learn and make positive change in our communities.” – La Toshia Burrell
"We just really want to encourage people to celebrate differences and also to learn about our true history – the good and the bad – and from that, learn and make positive change in our communities."
– Toshia Burrell
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!