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  • Writer's pictureCollective Leadership Strategies

Get to know Ashley Paz- Co-Founder of CLS

Updated: May 11, 2022

Ashley Paz has always demonstrated a natural aptitude for leadership. In the forth grade her classmates gave her the “best ideas” award, and today she is just off the heels of an eight year stint on the Fort Worth School Board. Her background is in entrepreneurship and executive leadership with past roles leading non-profits, marketing agencies, and her own ventures. Ashley is most well known for her work in education policy through Council of the Great City Schools where she worked on issues such as racial equity, bilingual learning, and outcomes focused governance. In today's post, we would like our readers to get to know a more personal side of this mother of two.

Let's ask Ashley some questions!

What made you get into this line of work?

Like everything else in my life, I did it out of spite. No, really. It's that simple.

Growing up in a small rural town at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, I didn't come into much contact with diverse faces, mindsets, or cultures. I did hear a pretty constant narrative about Black and Brown Americans that aligns with pretty much every negative stereotype one can imagine.

I was never able to reconcile what I was taught about living in a post-racial society while I also experienced a stream of racist ideology coming from people who looked like me. It wasn't until I moved to another state and actually made friends with BIPOC kids my own age that I realized that I had been sold a worthless bill of goods by my former teachers, church leaders, and family members.

I felt betrayed by the adults who I was supposed to trust. This is still a source of trauma that I have to own and unpack all by myself. Meanwhile, my natural inquisitiveness drove me to seek the truth from people who had actually lived real experiences that I had misunderstood. I didn't always get it right, but I was (and still am) willing to admit when I got it wrong and did the work to amend the mistakes I had (and still do from time to time) made.

As an adult, I have been intentional about seeking out spaces where I am in the racial minority as a White person. I try to sit back and listen to different experiences and embrace the learning that comes from living in the adaptive space where discomfort and growth connect. From 2013 to 2021 I have lived in this space while serving on the Fort Worth School Board while working in roles with companies that have allowed me to flex my entrepreneurial background.

In your opinion, what is a common practice that you'd like to see more companies institute?

I am always amazed at how few companies have any real leadership development programs to empower the folks working among their ranks. Investing in building the leadership capacity of your employees is one of the single best investments that organizations can make. Yet, it isn't the common practice that it should be.

How do you like to spend your spare time?

I love to read and write. My favorite genres to read are self-help, business, sci-fi, and horror. Recently I have been reading a lot of books written by women of color. Phoebe Robinson, Roxanne Gay, Ijeoma Oluo, and Rafia Zakaria have all penned some great works from their perspectives where race, gender, religion, and nationality intersect. They also have excellent social media presences from which they keep the conversation going.

I am also a long-time journaler. I have notebooks all around my house where I have scribbled my thoughts and feelings and even daily to-do lists down. I would say that out of 100 pages there might be a couple of paragraphs of literary gold, but my goal isn't really to publish my work. I have a dream of one day sitting down and putting all of my favorite pieces together for my kids, but that's going to be a long way away. As long as I can get it out of my mind and onto paper then I'm happy. I just need to make room to process more thoughts.

What is your professional background?

My professional background is a mixed bag of goodies. I started out in the event planning industry in 2002 internally for the company I worked for and then started working with nightclub promoters to bring a higher level of entertainment to the scene in the early 2000s. *sigh, what a time to be alive* I think of this as my scrappy hustling phase, because that's really what it was. I didn't always have the business to pay the rent, so there were a lot of times that I'd take random jobs to gain experience in an area that I thought might be valuable or just because I thought they would be a fun way to make money. (Shout out to my old colleagues at The Ambassador Force of Downtown Atlanta!)

I continued my career as an event planner until 2013 when I decided to take a stab at local politics. I ran for the School Board in Fort Worth, Texas because I was not happy with the direction that my local school district was going. Student outcomes were worse than ever and every time I picked up the newspaper (yes, we still read them back then) the articles were about adult problems. As a business professional, I knew that there were many ways to achieve success, but I knew that this strategy was not one of them. So I ran and won my seat in June 2013.

While I served on the school board I went to graduate school and worked as a marketing consultant for small businesses. Grad school was good for me because it helped me connect all of the lived experiences I had from the business world to a theoretical framework. I learned that it isn't a unique phenomenon to generally have an idea of how things work while missing the key elements that tie everything together. This is what ultimately lead me to start coaching other business professionals and elected officials across the country.

Where can we see you in the community?

I'm an immune-compromised sufferer of Rheumatoid Arthritis at the end of a global pandemic. Let's be real and acknowledge that I do very little outside of my house these days! With that said, I have recently started to dip my toes back into the real world by volunteering with one of my favorite non-profits March to the Polls.

I have worked on political campaigns for years, and have experienced the political system from the inside. I have been discouraged by the fact that money is such a corrupting force in elections. We very rarely see the best candidate win these days, or even the brightest minds run for office in the first place. I have learned that my efforts are better spent engaging a new generation of voters with the process than trying to contend with the amount of money going into elections. March to the Polls works with volunteers to go into classrooms and gives a presentation on civic engagement and the voting process, and then encourages 18-year-olds to register AND to vote.

There is no need to debate ideology with young people. They see the world that is in front of them and are taking the task of cleaning it up into their own hands. This is the single development that gives me the greatest hope for our future.


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