Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of Common Ground Management (CGM) Inc. CGM was founded with fellow Hawks, Dominique Landry ’08 and Sherman Washington ’09.
What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Our company, CGM, recently celebrated 10 years of being in business. Throughout these 10 years, it has been an honor and privilege to support 750+ businesses throughout the nation in getting their start, growing and scaling. Soon to be my proudest accomplishment, though — in just a few weeks, me and my wife, April (Perry-McKellar) Burks ’09, will become first-time parents!
Who is a leader you most admire and why?
My mother, Vicki Burks (deceased in 2014). She was very passionate about the youth of Philadelphia, their quality of life in the community and the educational system. At an early age, I watched my mother lead and bring communities together to galvanize on important issues (community green and recreational space, neighborhood safety, etc.) She cultivated and maximized relationships with multiple city and public officials. I believe, through my mother's influence, I developed a passion for working with youth, underserved populations and community engagement.
What are some words of wisdom for the next generation leaders?
Practice self-awareness not only in a professional setting but in your personal life.
Planning and outlining goals are very important but being flexible enough to pivot, when needed or anticipated, has become much more important and essential in everyday life and as a business owner.
Being willing to learn and take lessons from your mistakes and failures.
What is something you’ve had to overcome?
At the age of 10, my mother Vicki (age 40) was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease similar to multiple myeloma. At the time, not much information or data was available on this disease but shortly after her diagnosis, she underwent a stem cell transplant and rounds of chemotherapy treatments. What followed this were years of being in and out of transmission along with hospitalizations, some predicted and some unpredicted. This was very hard on our entire family, especially myself and my younger sister who were trying to understand and navigate life with a parent who we saw as a superwoman. Our mother passed away in 2014 after many years of fighting an illness and it has still been very difficult not having my mother physically present for special moments in our lives such as getting engaged, getting married and the birth of our first child.
How did your SJU education set you up for success?
I believe one of the greatest skills I was able to cultivate during my time at SJU was developing my analytical skills and an appreciation for how to understand and effectively use data. These skills were needed in my previous roles within the civic and non-profit sectors, and currently presents itself everyday in the world of entrepreneurship.
My experiences of living with a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life and from around the globe, challenged me to broaden my perspective and thinking on various issues. During my time at SJU, I had the opportunity to serve on the executive board in various positions of the Black Student Union (BSU) and from these experiences, I was able to develop strong interpersonal skills, manage organizational budgets, and how to work with and lead others.