PBI is pleased to present a series of Q&As with Black leaders making a difference in the community. To read more, click here.
Ricky Petty has found purpose in giving back. The Boynton Beach native says that challenges in his young life fueled his desire to have a positive impact on his family and neighbors. “I found my mission and it is to add value to people in my community,” says Petty. “I love to bring people together, because I feel that no one person can get things done. It takes a collective effort.”
After studying sociology at Bethune-Cookman University, he returned to Palm Beach County and worked in various community organizing roles before becoming project director of Healthier Boynton Beach, one of six resident-led Healthier Together initiatives supported through Palm Health Foundation. Healthier Boynton Beach focuses on family caregiving, with its three main objectives being to raise awareness about the role of family caregivers, to educate those caregivers about the resources and services available to them, and to promote the health and wellness of caregivers.
In addition to his work as a real estate investor, Petty devotes his time to supporting the mission of Healthier Boynton Beach and building positive connections within the city. PBI recently caught up with Petty to discuss how the challenges of 2020 have affected the role Healthier Boynton Beach plays within the community and to gain insight into his development as a leader.
PBI: How has COVID-19 impacted the work you do at Healthier Boynton Beach?
Petty: It’s impacted it in many different ways. With community organizing, we do a lot of coming together, so it impacted it in that way. But it didn’t stop us. We’ve moved to doing things virtually, but we can’t have those more intimate conversations that we used to.
As far as the families and the community members that we reach out to, it has impacted many of them tremendously. We’ve had a great deal of individuals who’ve lost loved ones due to COVID-19. Many caregivers taking care of their mothers or fathers, they no longer want to go anywhere because they don’t want to expose them to the virus. So, they’ve been limited on what they can do. We came up with a group called the Caregivers Club, and they’ve made phone calls to check up on these caregivers, which they’ve really appreciated. Then we help identify different issues that they may have and put together care packages for them.
One other thing that is unique is we’ve received additional funding with Palm Health Foundation for a Neighbors Helping Neighbors opportunity. That’s allowed us to support our local community and those dealing with different issues as a result of COVID.
How do issues of race and inequality impact the work you do at Healthier Boynton Beach and how do you go about addressing them within the community you serve?
Some of the things we try to recognize and help with are health disparities and breaks in equality. Before some of the things that we’re experiencing now, we had already been preparing for this type of work. We hold workshops that we call REI, and it’s an acronym for Race Equity Institute. It’s a two-day workshop that really gives you a history lesson like no other that can change your perspective of how you see race in our country. We also have other race and equality work groups in partnership with Healthier Delray. Those who took that REI training come together and convene once a month to talk about these issues, how we can break some of these barriers down, and how they relate to health disparities, race, and injustice. We work in that arena as well with the community, because it is an issue and we want to address it. When we talk about health disparities, you’ve got to talk about race because there’s a disparity there too.
In general, how do you approach leadership roles?
I like to identify people’s strengths, because sometimes it’s okay to lead from behind. You don’t always have to be in the front to lead. I think it’s important to be able to find strength in everybody and in the communities. I’ve dealt with people others might not have considered to be leaders, but I considered them as leaders. So, it’s been how do you foster that energy? My leadership style is very diplomatic, and I think that has a lot to do with my success.
When you look back on your life and career, what’s been one of your proudest achievements?
One of my proudest accomplishments was graduating high school. Growing up in the heart of Boynton as a young black man was challenging. Growing up in a single-parent household as a juvenile delinquent and a teen parent, the odds were definitely against me. I made a promise to myself that I would graduate high school. In 1997 I graduated high school and went on to attend Bethune-Cookman University. This was just the beginning of all the opportunities I’ve positioned myself to take full advantage of. Being a wonderful father, graduating from college, and returning to Boynton Beach to serve my community was part of my vision, and it all started with a promise I made to myself to become a high school graduate.
Can you identify some role models or colleagues who have been very inspiring or uplifting to you?
There are many individuals who have had an impact on my life, from teachers, counselors, and community members. The brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. have had one of the greatest impacts in my life. Growing up in a single-parent home with no positive role models was challenging. After graduating high school and attending college, I joined the fraternity. Being a part of this organization, I was exposed to some great men who were doing amazing work around the world and in our communities. Men who were great businessmen, fathers, community activists, as well as many other positive attributes I’d aspired to have. I looked up to many of these men with the hopes to travel in their path. With what I have accomplished thus far, I feel I’m traveling in the right direction on the right path. Lifting as we climb is a part of our motto, and I aspire each day to continue the path for others to follow.
2020 has thrown some significant difficulties our way. What has been your biggest takeaway from the events of this year thus far?
I was so looking forward to the year 2020. I have a daughter graduating high school this year. I just thought that this was going to be an amazing time. Because we’re still in it, I’m just trying to feel hopeful and be optimistic, but it has been so much at one time. With COVID and then racial injustice—I’m just praying that we don’t get a hurricane.
I would say my biggest takeaway would be adaptive learning. We’ve all had to learn differently and adapt to new ways of doing business and communicating with each other. So, adaptive learning and change. With COVID, it’s how do we stay healthy? What are those measures? When it comes to racial injustice and different things like that, I’m hoping for change. And, again, how do I stay safe and out of harm’s way, because being a black man, you never know when that situation can happen.
What resources do you think are most helpful to young people of color in their quests to succeed in their careers?
I would definitely say to find someone you look up to. Find a mentor, someone in whatever field or whatever direction that you’re going. Find someone you can talk to and bounce ideas off of. I would also say to read. If you plan to be a leader, read about leadership. People like Les Brown and John Maxwell—look at their teachings and implement some of those strategies that they lay out for you. And I would also say to have faith because I think every foundation is built on faith. And live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What tips or words of wisdom would you share with young professionals looking to get involved in community organizing and succeed in their careers?
I would say the best way to predict your future is to create it. Know what you want. I think that a person with a clear purpose will make progress even on the roughest road, and a person with no purpose will make no progress even on the smoothest road. That’s a quote by Thomas Carlyle. Know what you want in life and don’t give up until you get it. Connect yourself with good people and position yourself well, because opportunity only knocks one time, and if you’re not ready, it’s going to keep going. If you’re in the position, you’ll be ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.