I first met Denise Jordan at the Women’s Leadership Conference. At the time, she was serving as Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno’s chief of staff. In fact, as the first African-American to assume this role, she had made her mark in the history of Springfield. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and openness. She was a natural born leader. When she received the Women of Impact award in 2018, she remarked, “Leaders…they chart the path; they’re the ones who hold folks accountable and set the tone for an organization. Leaders are people who other people follow, not because they have to, but because they believe in their ability to lead.” Denise has been influenced by her parents. Her father, Raymond Jordan, was a long-time state representative and her mother, Donna, worked for the housing authority and the Attorney General’s Office, and with her husband, was a civil rights activist. Community service was part of Denise’s upbringing. Now the Springfield Housing Authority’s executive director, she still makes time to advise and mentor countless Bay Path students. Most important, Denise is an exemplary role model—a role model for all of us. Her passion is people, her mission is community.
Could you share a bit about your life journey and career?
I am a native of Springfield, MA, born to a family who valued service to others. I am a product of the Springfield public schools and attended the former Classical High School. After graduation, I went on to earn a bachelor of science in political science from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Eventually, I received a master of science in human resource development and an Honorary Doctor of Law from American International College. I have had the privilege to follow in the footsteps of my parents by serving my city and my community. How lucky am I? I have been blessed with multiple jobs where I was paid to do what I have always done—helping people.
What are you most proud of in your career?
When I became the city of Springfield’s first black chief of staff, it was truly the most career-defining position. I had the honor to work alongside Mayor Sarno. We faced many challenges. When he was first elected, the city of Springfield was in the midst of a financial crisis. Yet, we were able to turn that situation around and Springfield earned the highest bond rating in the city’s history under his leadership. It was an incredible achievement. As the chief of staff for over 10 years, I learned so many valuable skills. I feel that I can do almost anything. During my tenure, the city had a tornado, a freak nor’easter in October resulting in several days of lost power throughout the city, and a gas explosion, just to name a few. Equally important, I helped prepare the city to receive an influx of residents from Puerto Rico who were displaced when the island was hit by Hurricane Maria.
What is one regret that you have in your career?
I can’t say that I have any career regrets. I have truly had some the best positions someone like me could ask for in a career. I’ve never had a job that I didn’t like. Throughout my entire professional career, I have held positions where I could help people. I’ve been a worker’s compensation manager, sexual harassment officer, diversity trainer, civil rights officer, chief of staff, and, now the executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority. It’s been an awesome journey, and I have no complaints. And I’ve been able to pay it forward by working with young people and helping others with employment opportunities, mentoring and coaching.
What advice would you give to students at Bay Path who are setting out on their own life journey?
First, define yourself and never allow others to define you. Second, you must chart your path while establishing personal and professional goals. Finally, don’t be afraid to revise your goals and explore options outside of your major, as you never know what opportunities will bring you joy and professional fulfillment. It may take a couple of years to figure out your life’s plan, but be patient, stay focused, and don’t be afraid to take a few risks.