Creating an impact with empathy in action
Annie Pearl Elizabeth Holmes is as many women as her middle names. She’s a Social Impact Entrepreneur, Keynote Speaker, and Executive Strategist. Her personal favorite is JEDI – one who stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Living a life full of love, learning, and empathy in action, the charismatic Annie is the Co-Founder/CEO of Elevated Levels Foundation, Incorporated – focused on elevating the ingenuity of black and brown folx as the primary source of impact by attending to the social determinants of health through Learning, The Arts, and Economic Development.
Annie came up with the idea of establishing a private family foundation to elevate access to the social determinants of health following her family’s lived and learned experiences with systems (education, healthcare and capitalism) in the USA. In 2021, she lost her employment while healing. This event impacted her, her husband, their three children, and her mother (as Annie is her primary caretaker).
“Now, my life’s work and career is solely focused on humanity. There is a need for intentionality in efforts that aid in healing rather than harming. My family intentionally developed strategic initiatives to access personal and community healing through our three pillars: The Arts, Learning and Economic Development. We are committed to elevating Black, Brown and Indigenous communities in order to aid in equitable access to health and wellness.”
Annie was brave in the face of insurmountable odds, for she was raised to value learning. Her father understood the value of an education for a black woman from experiencing life, and instilled learning as a core value in her upbringing. Annie thus studied the science of learning at every stage of development, receiving 3 degrees and currently pursuing her PhD (ABD) in Adult Education from Penn State University.
She was fortunate enough to study learning from both academic and lived experiences. For instance, she was introduced to the Arts by her mother who was trained and performed with international jazz and soul greats. Annie thus performed her first song in public at the age of 5. She intentionally implemented all that she learned into the appropriate area of her life. In this way, she continues to actively live the mission, vision and values of Elevated Levels Foundation, Incorporated. She is continually affirmed by research and communities that have aligned desires and goals.
Prior to Elevated Levels, Annie honed her skills of organizational leadership, problem solving, effective communication, and emotional intelligence, in 20+ years of professional experience spread over strategic planning, research, consulting and finance. Some of her significant positions include: Executive Director for University Diversity and Inclusivity (Chief Diversity Officer) at California Polytechnic State University; Senior Vice President – Equity, Inclusion and Human Capital, at Opportunity Finance Network, Greater Philadelphia Area; Chief Equity Officer – Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington DC; and many more.
In 2022, she launched Elevated Levels as an incorporated nonprofit with a public private partnership model. As the only person actively working on the business, capacity is a consistent challenge. But the platinum lining in her life is that she was born a ‘preacher’s kid’ with a very strong spiritual upbringing. To strike a harmonious work-life balance, she thus adopted a ‘soft life’. A soft life prioritizes her ‘authentically expressive’ personality with her ‘intersectionally whole’ being. In other words, this entrepreneurial journey allows Annie to prioritize her health and wellbeing so that she can be whole when engaging in this work. And she is confident that as they grow their audience, they will attract partners who support the humanity of others to build out funding support and capacity needs.
Speaking about the passion that drives her work, she tells us, “I wear my passion like a silk kaftan flowing in the wind. I am so comfortable with myself and I wake up each day grateful for the fact that I am still alive, literally. My passion comes from being taught that the greatest gift is love. I lead with love. I teach from a place of love. And I want those who are in my presence to be triggered by love. I believe that Equity is Empathy in Action. For one to acknowledge the beauty of diversity, empathy must be experienced. Love and empathy drive my passion daily.”
For empathetic action unique to Annie, she has been honored by students, colleagues, and global leaders alike:
- Black Girls Rock Award, Pennsylvania State University, Blueprint Student Organization (2013)
- Profile in Diversity Journal, Diversity Leader Award (2019-2021)
- Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Award from the College of Education and Alumni Society (PSU 2022)
- Visionary Award, Internet 2.0 Conference (2023)
- Top 100 Innovators and Entrepreneurs (2023).
One of Annie’s greatest strengths is her belief in herself. Explaining how, she narrates a recent incident. “I was recently invited to participate in a virtual call to pitch my business to a billionaire for funding. The billionaire immediately attempted to dismiss me because I began my introduction by owning my identities as a black, woman, wife, mom with disabilities. As an award winning Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion leader who worked at the systems level, I am comfortable in my skin. I did not back down. The interesting part of the story is that after attempting to humiliate me on the virtual call, when I stood my ground and confronted the bigoted and disrespectful behavior, I was then invited to engage with them. This was not the first and will likely not be the last time I have been disrespected. Therefore, I actively live a life that dismantles the impact of white supremacy ideology and focus on living my truth aloud. My father taught me to be the best me that I can because everyone else is taken. I continue to stand firm on who I am.”
This unshakeable self-belief defines Annie’s leadership style. She emphatically states that no matter what leadership qualities she implements, she will always lead and elevate other leaders with humility and love. “I encourage any person to stay true to their goals and dreams. Live life WITH purpose and ON purpose,” she sums up.