Threading the Needle of Opportunity by Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton

In this eight-decade personal reflection, Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA, recounts the interplay of obstacles and opportunities she experienced — and offers advice for professional inclusion.

Beginning my ninth decade upon Earth in the aftermath of the country’s racial reckoning has brought on no small amount of introspection. Having beat the odds to achieve distinction in my field, I feel obligated to take stock and offer meaningful advice to those who follow me in their journey. In hindsight, my career trajectory seems direct, punctuated every decade or so by the nation’s swerve to the political left or right, but in real time, I felt as if I was threading a needle through layers of a thick, knotted fabric. You see, I began my journey right after my dad — in his singsong, hillbilly dialect — flat-out contradicted my teachers, my relatives and neighbors, the minister at my church and even my schoolteacher mother, defiantly proclaiming: “Why, this girl can do anything she wants to do.” Emboldened by his I-double-dare-you courage, I inched forward. Since then, I have advanced decade by decade, threading a needle through the almost serendipitous openings that appeared between constraints and opportunities. I share these reflections to help you do the same.

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