March 22, 2023

Careers in Child and Family Policy: Finding Your Purpose with Derek Rhodes

By Clara Bonzi Teixeira, MPP '24

Founder and executive director of Durham Success Summit, Derek Rhodes, PPS ’15, joined the Center for Child and Family Policy on March 3 to talk about his professional journey and why he quit the corporate world to start his own non-profit.

Rhodes has always had a passion for social justice, and began his career in corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. He believes that genuine engagement and community relations should be a main priority for companies and organizations, but found working in this area was challenging. Rhodes described experiencing resistance from the many in the corporate chain of command in organizations he worked for. His experience was that companies set DEI goals but did not seem to adopt the policies and programs needed to make progress towards them. After five years of working with some of today’s hottest companies, Rhodes’ frustration with the corporate world and a sense of burnout led him to leave Microsoft after only three months.

After quitting his job in the midst of covid and the national reckoning over George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, Rhodes took time to reflect on what mattered to him and what skills he had that could help him address social justice issues head-on. He felt like “nobody was talking about [the fact that young Black men have extremely high unemployment rates].” Rhodes saw this problem in Durham, his hometown, where the vast majority of Black male youth are unemployed. He decided that he wanted to play a more direct role in reversing this trend.

Rhodes decided to use his skills at crafting a compelling resume and narrative about what he brings to an organization to help other young men in Durham. What began as local resume workshops during Covid transformed into Durham Success Summit with Rhodes’ initiative and passion. Durham Success Summit is a nonprofit with a mission to “increase access to business education, mentorship, and professional networking opportunities for young Black men between 16 and 24 years old in Durham.” The organization hosts a business incubator program, which provides entrepreneurial training, mentorship, and seed funding to aspiring full-time entrepreneurs with an idea, and a 12-week accelerator program, which builds practical networking skills and provides scholars access to employers, professional mentors, and opportunities.

Rhodes elaborated on the challenges of starting a non-profit from the ground up, including the role of needing to secure funding. Nonprofits need to raise money and carefully articulate their stories to receive grants and that has been a skill that Rhodes has had to learn. Rhodes reveals that his best strategy to acquire funding has been to utilize his resources, networking events, conferences, and other nonprofits to learn more about grant writing. Having a tight budget pushed Rhodes and his team to learn how to utilize money efficiently and intelligently. Although the work Rhodes does on a day-to-day is different than what he initially imagined his career to look like, the direct impact that he has through his nonprofit is rewarding.


Clara Bonzi Teixeira is a junior majoring in Public Policy (B.A.) with minors in Cultural Anthropology and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. She is planning on attending law school and has an interest in international development, with a focus on child and family wellbeing.