As a Black woman and Environmental Engineer, ValaRae Partee has always valued representation and its importance. In late March 2020, after a virtual check-in with colleagues, ValaRae realized she was the last remaining black woman in her local office after COVID-19 pandemic staff reductions.

In parallel with global protests of police brutality and calls for justice unfolding around George Floyd’s death, ValaRae channeled her energy into finding systemic solutions to support people of color and create meaningful organizational changes within Brown and Caldwell.

From a young age, ValaRae’s grandfather has had a huge influence on ValaRae’s passions for people and the planet. When her grandfather was a young man, his father told him “show me a black man in engineering, and I’ll pay for your degree.” Due to of a lack of representation, he could not get that degree. Fast forward 60 years and now his granddaughter, ValaRae, is an environmental engineer here at BC interweaving her passions in her work. As a former civil rights activist, ValaRae says her grandfather instilled a personal responsibility for leaving the world better than how she found it. Now with a multigenerational view of the power of representation, ValaRae uses her voice to help elevate the stories of marginalized communities and to ensure that they have a seat at the table.

Jumping into action, ValaRae started collaborating with leaders in the Women at BC and LGBTQ Community & Allies Employee Network Groups (ENG) to develop an effective way to support people of color and allies, create a safe space, learn, and make a positive impact. With support from BC leadership, ENG leaders, and BC colleagues, the Community of Color Employee Network Group was formed — a group open to all employees and focuses on challenges, opportunities, and open dialogue around cultural diversity, race, and ethnicity at BC.

Within a few days of its launch, hundreds of BC employees joined the group. With topics ranging from implicit bias to cultural appropriation, the Community of Color has opened up conversations that are beginning to transform how we think about culture and identity at BC.

“My goal is to help grow this group and influence positive change within the workplace and industry. To get there, we have to make small steps and, right now, it’s really about building trust and learning together.”

Outside of work, ValaRae is a multifaceted artist. As a painter, she describes her style of work as “afro-galactic” and has even sold some of her pieces. About two years ago, ValaRae began modeling to promote body positivity and inclusion within the beauty, hair, and fashion industry. She is now a full-figure model and the 2020 Face of Queen Size Magazine, a monthly publication dedicated to the plus size fashion industry. Even with her busy schedule, ValaRae participates in a number of community outreach programs that focus on engaging students and young girls in engineering.