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LaDonna Cherry: Empowering others to shine

As 2013-2014 Employee Council president, LaDonna Cherry encourages Emory employees to "have their voices heard" by attending the annual Employee Council Town Hall on April 16.

From an early age, there was little doubt that LaDonna Cherry was destined for a life immersed in the creative arts.

Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Cherry routinely filled the margins of her mother's books with her own sketches. By middle school, she'd been accepted into the Alabama School of Fine Arts, a feeder school to the Atlanta College of Art — now Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which brought her to Atlanta.

After a brief stint at Emory as a senior graphic designer a few years after graduation, Cherry returned to the University in 1997 to join the Emory Creative Group; as associate director of creative since 2000, she oversees development of University marketing and communications materials for a variety of campus clients.

For the past academic year, Cherry has also served the University as president of the Employee Council, whose membership represents Emory employees from all organizational areas and levels throughout campus.

As the Employee Council prepares for its annual Employee Council Town Hall on April 16 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Auditorium (WHSCAB) — everyone is welcome to attend — Emory Report caught up with Cherry to talk about her experience working with the employee-based group:

How did you find your way to Emory?

When I was in college, I actually took an art history class at Emory in White Hall and fell in love with it. Early in my career, one of my co-workers had come to Emory, so when I saw a position here (for a graphic designer), I called her to ask about it. I worked at Emory for two years, then my husband at the time got a job in Chicago and we moved away for several years. I worked for Burrell Communications, one of the largest ad agencies in the country, where I learned some of the nuances of marketing. When I came back to Atlanta, I came back to Emory, where I work on different publications. But a lot of what I do is behind the scenes. As an associate creative director, I try to affect change in my group working with designers and writers. You'll see my stamp on various pieces, but I also like to give an opportunity to others to let them shine.

What inspired you to serve as Employee Council president?

I'd been asked to serve on the [now-defunct] President's Commission on Race and Ethnicity. So when the call came out for a representative for our division to serve on the Employee Council, I volunteered. It was much more than I expected. I knew that our mission was good, to represent all grades of employees. But as we started working, I realized that our reach was so much broader. Being on the Employee Council Executive Board, we have two to three annual meetings with President Wagner each year, just talking about ideas with him. Anyone on campus who is frustrated or upset or really wants to see change? I would tell them that Employee Council is a good place to start.

Do you feel the Employee Council able to affect change?

It's very possible. One of our goals is to increase awareness among employees: You do have a voice and people do care to listen, especially President Wagner. He wants to hear from every faction on campus. If everyone is silent then no one is heard. By speaking up and being engaged, I feel we have power.

What goals were you able to achieve?

Our numbers grew, we're seeing more interest, and the employee Hardship Fund has rebounded, which speaks to the generosity of the Emory community. One of our issues was that (campus) representation is not where it should be. We've worked on that. Overall, I just feel like we got a little closer this year. I don't pretend to think I had anything to do with that, but I tend to be a camp counselor – I know how to get people up and going and singing Kumbaya. (laughs) You don't always think to do that as an adult, but I got quiet people to speak up. It's been a fun year.

What's important about attending the Employee Town Hall?

Where else are you going to be able to ask President Wagner questions in such an intimate setting? You're in the same room with top campus administrators. If you're afraid to ask an open mike question, we have a "hot topics" button on the web page and you can submit your questions anonymously. Have a question you're afraid to ask a supervisor? Now you can ask the president and his cabinet directly.

What has the experience of serving as Employee Council president given you?

For me, it was being able to see people — from all over campus and Oxford — and to watch them grow. To say, 'I want you to do this' and have them look at you like, "Really? You're picking me? I don't know if I can do this!" And to be able to say, "Yeah, you can do it." To see people become who they were meant to be. To see people on campus and know they feel empowered and the fear is gone. I just love that.

Aside from your service to the campus, what keeps you busy outside of work?

My children. My son, who benefited from a courtesy scholarship, graduates from Emory in May. I also have a daughter who is a ballerina in The Boston Conservatory, on full scholarship, and a 15-year-old daughter who is a freshman in high school. I'm also extremely active in my church and sing in the choir. It may sound corny, but I'm raising and praising. I'm raising my children and praising God.

What do you do to nourish creativity in your life?

I practice yoga an hour in the morning almost every day. It sets the tone for my whole day. Whatever comes my way after that, I'm open to it. I've taken this time for myself. So now I can give my time over to the process, whatever that is, be it the creative process or a day of nothing but meetings.

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