As a child, Orvin Kimbrough never thought he would end up where he is now. As President and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis, he manages the efforts to better people’s lives in the Greater St. Louis area—and it is no easy task. Considering the changing market, large number of social programs, government funding cuts for social services, and increasing demand of clients, there are many considerations. Despite these challenges, Kimbrough has served as President and CEO for three years, and seems to have everything under control–although, his life certainly didn’t start out that way.
Kimbrough was young when he was put into the State of Missouri foster care system following the death of his mother. He grew up in the system and, at 18, was launched into the world. Although he scored a 15 on the ACT (19 was considered average at the time), he decided to apply to college. He didn’t have sufficient funds to apply to more than one school, and the one school he applied to did not accept his application. But through persistence, Kimbrough tested out of the required summer math class and was accepted to the University of Missouri. He struggled through and graduated, but faced personal challenges, including his younger brother being shot eight times and left paralyzed. Although it was a blow, Kimbrough’s persistence gave him the courage to continue working toward his goals.
Kimbrough says that in his first job at JeffVanderLou Initiative, he found his passion, and at his second job, Faith Beyond Walls, he found his voice. Through his focus and courage, he is where he is today, as President and CEO at one of the region’s largest privately-financed charities. His humility and authenticity were apparent in his message to the class. He spoke of how as a student struggling to enter higher education, he would come and sit on WashU’s campus because it “made him feel smart.”
The greatest takeaway that we can learn from Kimbrough would be the importance of finding our voice and not being ashamed of our past. Kimbrough says that he still struggles with worthiness, thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t even be in his current role. But he encouraged students to not be ashamed of their story and background. He has found his passion, and uses his voice to mobilize and inspire an army of people to care about his cause. As he said, “I’m here because I want to be here.” As a man who has faced challenges and adversity throughout his life, his story truly inspires us to find our passion and work for it, for great things will come to those who have enough hope to imagine a different future.
Guest Blogger: Joslyn Bunderson on behalf of the Bauer Leadership Center