Soon after an earthquake devastated Haiti in January, three thousand people packed Hibernian Hall in Roxbury. The high turnout, with only a few days notice, was in part thanks to Mattapan resident Nancy Rousseau and several others who organized the event.
“It was challenging to pull off that event in such a short time and be the anchor of the event on that day,” says Manolia Charlotin, Rousseau’s friend and colleague. “She was so calm. It really impressed me that she could maintain that level of calm on such a hectic day. I suppose that’s because for Nancy her work is about the people she’s helping. It keeps her focused.”
The event highlights Rousseau’s deep dedication to community service and passion for helping others, according to friends and colleagues. Her work organizing the event earned her the Malcolm X Award from the Black Community information Center, Inc.
“What motivates me is the idea—this is cliché, but my drive comes from the idea that people be the best that they can be,” says Rousseau.
Rousseau, who grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Boston fifteen years ago to attend Northeastern University, was recently elected president of the Youth Professional Network of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (YPN), an organization dedicated to building community and career development for young professionals of color in the Boston area. Having previously served as YPN president in the early 2000s, Rousseau says that she has made it her mission as president to “revive” and “restore” YPN, whose numbers have dwindled in recent years.
In addition to her work with YPN, Rousseau helped found Think Politics Inc., an organization that aims to help aspiring black political leaders attain leadership positions. She also volunteers with a Girl Scout troop, mentors for One Step Closer and sits on one of the Mattapan Health Center’s steering committees.
“Nancy is well spoken, well prepared and always delivers,” says Marvin Venay, who co-founded Think Politics, Inc. with Rosseau. “Her drive and tenacity show in anything she touches. She’s a true community builder and a jewel in the community for empowerment.”
Career-wise, Rousseau is the director of the Urban College of Boston’s Career Center, but she says that her passion for helping “people be the best they can be” has caused to her to devote all her energy into her work, both job and service.
“I’m a workaholic by nature, and my personal and professional life are intertwined because that’s who I am,” says Rousseau. “You hear that you have to separate the two, but I can’t separate the two because I can’t stop caring about the state of community or someone’s life.”
Charlotin, who is a member of YPN with Rousseau, describes her as woman with “a very consistent work ethic, who strives for excellence—for Nancy it’s all about the people she helps.”
Rousseau graduated Monday from Suffolk University Law School’s Initiative for Diversity in Civic Leadership (IDCL), which aims to educate individuals from diverse backgrounds for public service, and spoke at the graduation ceremony.
“At the ceremony, I wondered what was it that attracted me to Nancy as a leader while she delivered her speech,” says James Hill, who also graduated from IDCL this year. “I believe it’s her large level of sincerity. She is a natural-born leader. I know some that don’t believe in that concept, but she is.”
Rousseau says that in the near future she will focus on strengthening YPN and is also currently working on creating a Haitian-American organization. She is tentatively considering running for elected office and will continue her work in the community.
“As long as I can keep moving and breathing and all that other good stuff I’ll keep contributing,” she says.