by Sonia Montalvo | Photos by Marley Nichelle of Locs Image
New York native and Charlottesville Change Maker Kaye Monroe believes that running for her life from the Big Apple is what ran her right into her destiny. A vacation visit with her two children in 1982, led to a permanent stay in Charlottesville where life began to transform drastically for the community advocate.
Initially working as a Clinical Nurse’s Aid for UVA, Monroe had dreams of becoming a Nurse. Her career reimagining would come after a stint in Nursing School where she realized that it was not her calling. “I got all the way to clinicals, and could not change a colostomy bag to save my life. I said, “I want to help people, but not like this.”
Changing roles, Kaye went through a period of academic and professional discovery. She soon became a teacher’s assistant and during her course of study, Kaye was tasked with teaching Career Exploration for Women at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC.) Seeing first-hand how the lives of her students far transcended just academic obligation, she states, “I had women from all walks of life… It was one of the most important parts of my life. It was a priority and a place of passion for me.” Expressing her joy in collaborating with her students, she also acknowledged her role in creating a supportive space for their immediate needs. She shared, “I had women who had other needs like their car broke, I had a woman who didn’t have a stove and she had four kids, she was cooking on an electric burner. I remember Mary Alice Blackwell, she was a writer for the Daily Progress, I called her one day and said, ‘I see you have this column; I have women who have needs, would you do this for me?’ She wrote stories for me for women who had needs, and people would just give. They would just send checks; it was pretty amazing.”
In 1996, she commenced her role as a Job Readiness Trainer with the Department of Social Services, serving until 2006 under President Clinton’s Pro Rural Act. Concurrently, she engaged in ministry at First Baptist Church, achieving ordination as a Minister in 2002. Despite not often discussing that period, she notes that people struggle to understand that aspect of her identity. She no longer embraces a role of a traditional pastor. Describing her experience as a woman in ministry as challenging and feeling like a misfit, she emphasizes, “I don’t discount it [my experience], but I’m a Marketplace Minister.” She openly admits that her past role in the church laid the groundwork for her community involvement in Charlottesville, particularly in education and youth work.
Photography by Marley Nichelle
All of Kaye Monroe’s work within the first 20 years in Charlottesville laid the groundwork for where she sits today. Kaye has served in several capacities that have continued to push her love of teaching and mentorship. Serving as Vocational Rehab Counselor up until 2022, Monroe currently wears the hats of Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Minority Business Alliance, and the Founder of her passion project turned business, KDM Coaching and Associates; where she focuses on organizational process, executive coaching, and framework development. Possessing academic accolades from Old Dominion University, PVCC, and other esteemed institutions, along with her prominent role as a Community Leader, Kaye acknowledges that her journey has been marked by significant challenges.
“I didn’t even tell you about scenarios here that should’ve put me in jail when I was simply minding my business.” Her son Courtney was the victim of an unlawful search after taking a run at Charlottesville High School track. After leaving, he was stopped and told he fit the description of someone who broke into a home in the area of the high school. The police followed him home and moved forward with searching their entire home. “At the same time, I’m sitting on an advisory board with the police chief and that is what they did! The person in charge who I will not name called me and said, “If I had known it was your son-” Oh Wait what are you saying to me? What if it was my neighbor’s son?! What is this classification?”
Serving on various advisory boards in the city, including but not limited to her involvement with the former Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s Home to Hope Initiative and her current appointment to UVA President Jim Ryan’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships, she remains dedicated to fostering positive change and community engagement.
Being the forward-thinking individual that she is, Monroe always ponders the question “How did I get here?” She is now in the portion of her life where she is looking into succession planning for when she is ready to step down. “You have to think about who replaces you before you go, don’t you think you have some responsibility in that? Identifying and onboarding the next leader?” When questioned about her current thoughts on the state of women leadership in Charlottesville, Monroe says “I do not want to think anything. I want to sit and observe, but I see their prowess. I want to listen, and I often wonder if I could convene with them what would it be like?”
Kaye Monroe admits that though she has done so much work, she knows that as a Black woman she walks a fine line where grace is not always shown. “I am extremely aware of how fallible I am. Life is short and it’s fragile and I only have one time to mess up. A white man can do what he wants when he feels like it, and still run for president of the United States. I am a Black woman and I got one time to do something that maybe looks like a foul or for the sake of appearance looks like it could discredit me, and do I get that grace? Probably not, but you have to pick and choose your battles.”
In Kaye’s forty-one-year span of leadership in the Greater Charlottesville community she defines herself as luminary who is no longer seeking validation sharing that her motto is, “You just be.” Monroe declares, “I am evolving and it’s not like I’m purposely trying to. These things show up in my life. If I were beat up, sick, and tired, I would know it would be time to end, but I am not. I am still doing this!”