Celebrating 'Black History Month': CEO Spotlight with Paris Chevalier

Paris Chevalier, CEO of South Bay CU.

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues are honoring the achievements and contributions of African American credit union leaders and asking them to share some perspectives about their heritage, career, and family.

In this final series, Paris Chevalier, CEO of South Bay CU, shares her insights:

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is very meaningful to me and to my family. Professionally, I see it as a month to celebrate Black excellence and to honor the pioneers, advocates and leaders who paved the way for me to compete, achieve and succeed in ways that simply weren’t possible for earlier generations.

In my family, we also take this opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of countless individuals – from Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass to Dr. King and Rosa Parks – who gave up so much to help us get to where we are now.

On a broader, societal level, my hope for Black History Month is that it serves as a reminder to all people of the important contributions that African Americans have made to the success of our nation. That can lead to greater appreciation and understanding among communities and be an inspiration to all of us.

How long have you been in the credit union industry?
I took my first credit union job in 2003 as a marketing manager. Back then, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me, but I was blessed to be in a very progressive workplace. I had many fantastic leaders and mentors, particularly women, both within that credit union and the movement, who saw potential in me and gave me opportunities to compete, excel and grow professionally.

What is it like to be a black leader within the credit union industry?
I absolutely love being a leader in our movement, because I’m passionate about credit unions and our focus on financial wellness and broadening access to the financial system. In many settings, I have been both the only female in leadership and the only person of color, which can lead to a unique situation where one feels a need to represent not just oneself, but all of these groups: Black people, women, and Black women.

It’s been interesting and positive to see the credit union industry start to put a focus on DEI issues. I’m hopeful that will be sustained and accelerate what I think is a demographic inevitability, which is greater diversity and inclusion at all levels within credit unions, our memberships, and our volunteers.

What is the best career advice you’ve received?
Get involved in any way possible! I was encouraged to embrace our movement’s emphasis on service and to take a broad view of what that means – from service within a credit union, to service to the industry, and service to and within various communities.

Right now, I serve on several industry boards, as well as a local chamber of commerce board and even our local Little League board. Throughout my career, each time I’ve stepped up and become involved it’s led to new opportunities to learn from others and sharpen my professional skills and brought new people into my network who have become friends and mentors. There’s also deep personal satisfaction that comes from giving of oneself and knowing that you’re helping to shape the future in a positive way.

What barriers have you had to overcome to reach this point in your career?
I recognize others have had different experiences, but I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored by many leaders who are truly committed to the ideals of diversity and inclusion. What that’s meant, in practice, is that they were intentional about nurturing talent, and about providing opportunities to women and people of color to be promoted and grow professionally.

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