As told to Emily Kestel and Jami Milne. Portrait by Jami Milne.

What characteristics do you admire in other women?


Who is the woman that you most admire?

My amazing three grandmothers, Dorcas Boit, Rael Boit and Anna Cheboina. They were educated. One of them actually went to Spelman in the 1950s. One of them gave me my name. Most of the time people say, “You’re African, where did you get the name Nancy?” And I’m like, “My grandma gave it to me.” She was a nurse. My mom’s mom was a teacher. And the other sister was a professor. 

What inspires you in life?

Right now, I’m very passionate about youth and youth excellence. They’re smart. They tell the truth. They’re very curious. And they’re very ambitious. I feel my job is to listen and learn, because they teach me much more than adults do. Sorry, adults. 

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear right now is that we don’t love one another. I wish people would love each other, regardless of how different they look, feel and sound. 

What does it mean to be fearless?

Waking up in the morning and telling yourself, “I’m going to show up, and I’m going to show up 100%,” even if somebody tells you that you can’t. I’m a great example of that, because 10 years ago, if you told me that I would be standing today, that I have four employees, I would have told you no, because I’ve been told “no” every single day, every time I’ve asked for help, that I don’t deserve it. That I don’t have a voice. That I’m not smart enough. That I have an accent. 

How do you define success?

Success changes every day. And I think the definition of success is not one thing. I think it’s good to be fair to yourself, and set realistic goals of what success is. Success to me right now is the fact that I go to bed hopefully before 10 p.m.

Do you feel as though you are successful?

I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that up. Ask me 10 years from today.

What was the hardest compromise you had to make in order to achieve success?

Being a single mother and allowing myself to basically quit working to set up a nonprofit with no money. There was a lot of sacrifice I had to make, because it really mattered for me to see young people succeed. I didn’t even know where I was gonna get money. 

How do we support the next generation in finding a path to success and fulfillment?

We don’t show up enough for young people. We don’t give them an opportunity to explore, fail and learn. We always want them to be perfect. No one’s perfect, including me, including yourself. So we need to show up every single day and be very intentional in allowing them and giving them safe spaces to grow.

What are you least confident about?

I have a lot of empathy. Sometimes my empathy gets in the way. 

What are you most confident about?

That I don’t give up.

This story is part of a collection of 10 stories produced by Ballet Des Moines and Fearless as part of its “SHE” series. To read all of the other stories, visit this link.