I was always drawn to the arts. I recognized that I had absolutely no talent, but I loved being around creative people. I was always doing things in school, like being involved behind the scenes with the school play. It’s been about wanting to support the people who had the talent. The spotlight doesn’t have to be on me for me to be fulfilled or feel good, but I can shine it on you.

I had to prove a lot coming into this job because I was an outsider. My background wasn’t in poetry, and past presidents all came out of higher education. It was very high scrutiny, people watching to see: Now what’s she going to do? Because I wasn’t one of their own. What’s the Chicago politics saying? “I don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” But I don’t have to know poetry. There are people here who do. What I’m good at is organizational structure, long-term vision, putting the pieces back together, relationship mending.

In my 30s, I went to Chad, Africa, for two and a half years with the Peace Corps. It was a real test for me: Could I stick it out? It was like living back in time, 10,000 years ago. My job was rural water sanitation. One of my first projects was to dig a well for the school. So I assembled a crew and got everything together. Then I pick up a shovel and everybody’s laughing: “This woman thinks she can do men’s work.” They thought I was just the oddest thing.

When I started working in TV as a freelance engineer, those were old-school union jobs. For a young Black woman coming in, the assumption might be you’re only there because of affirmative action. That might have opened a door, but it’s not gonna keep you there. Just keep your head down and do the work, and the work will pay off. Nobody can take that away from you. People might have doubts, but they cannot argue with you doing a good job.

Life is so short. You gotta be kind, have fun, enjoy what you do, and support others.

When Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor, I got a call from his office to interview for the cultural affairs commissioner’s role. I had no desire whatsoever, because I knew the department was in a disorganized state, and all I knew about Rahm was what I saw on TV. I thought, This guy’s an asshole, why would I go work for him? When I met with him, after the third time I recommended somebody else, he was like, “Look, do you want this job?” And I surprised myself and said, “Yes.” He was very good to me and very supportive. There wasn’t anything I asked him for that he didn’t provide.

I love The Andy Griffith Show because it’s funny as hell and it’s heartwarming. I’ll cry at some episodes. There’s one where Opie gets all pumped up about an upcoming race and he loses. And he is such a sore loser. Andy is really stern with him, talking about how to be a good loser. He says, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in you.” The rest of the episode is Opie processing that. At the end he goes into the sheriff’s office and is like, “Pa, I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.” And he gives him a big hug and the violins are going. It gets me every single time.