Leading change with Women of Color at Penn

Colleen Winn was a young girl when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Today, she follows his call to service through mentoring future generations.

Colleen Winn was a young girl when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968.

Today, as a part of her role at the African-American Resource Center, she co-chairs Penn’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium and organizes the University’s Annual Day of Service activities in his honor. 

During the last 10 years, Winn’s perspectives about the civil rights leader have changed.

She slowly began to understand King as a champion of racial justice and equality, not just for people of color but for everyone. 

“His message spoke universal truths that transcended color, class, gender, age, etc., as it equates to love, forgiveness, the human spirit, and human conditions to personal and communal dignity to reconciliation and service to others,” Winn explains, adding this is why the Day of Service is so important. “Like religious teachings, his words and works as a global icon of social justice remain just as true today.”

As the driving force behind Women of Color at Penn, Winn organizes its many events, including the Noontime Networking Series, a lunch gathering that welcomes everyone from across the University to listen to new ideas, the Women of Color at Penn annual awards, which featured Fox 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia” morning anchor Alex Holley as its presider, and the annual Queen’s Tea, a formal event that brings people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds together in summer dresses, gloves, and hats. 

Scheduled for Friday, June 15, at noon, this year’s Queen’s Tea will honor Shadonnah Hemmings, the founder of the empowerment program “The Queen Within.” 

Good Day Philadelphia's Alex Holley with Colleen Winn during the 2018 Women of Color at Penn Awards.

“We are always looking for more people to participate and for younger people especially, who can bring in new ideas and breathe new life into what we do,” Winn says. 

Following in the footsteps of King and other leaders and community activists she admires, Winn is leading waves of change in her own way here at Penn and beyond.

She “pays it forward” by doing her part to support the Penn Compact 2020’s commitment to community engagement and to increasing access to higher-education opportunities. 

As a member of the Marie K. Bogle Scholarship committee, she determines outreach strategies, secures guest speakers, manages behind-the-scenes logistics for the reception, and more.

In addition, Winn is following King’s call to service by touching the lives of future generations through mentoring. 

Since her arrival on Penn’s campus 10 years ago, Winn has been a shining star in the Workplace Mentoring Program through the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

For a few hours once a month during the academic year, about 25 seventh-grade students from Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus visit Penn from September through May.

“We ask the students about their aspirations,” she says, and then mentors match the interests of the youngsters with the University’s resources, such as the Counseling and Psychological Services office, School of Nursing, Libraries, Penn Museum, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital

“A lot of times, the young people who come through the door as mentees never really think they’re going to end up in college,” Winn explains. “This mentoring program opens up their ideas about where they can go in life–especially people that look like them. It gives them a whole different perspective; it gives them hopes and dreams. Sometimes they don’t get that encouragement, and they really need it.”

She adds that the Netter Center for Community Partnerships is always in the market for additional volunteers for its mentoring program. 

“We have to reach out to young people in our community and mentor them, believe in them and encourage them,” Winn, who is mentoring three seventh-graders this year, says. “When you care about young people and you mentor them, you change lives because you change perspectives. You change how they see themselves.”