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A Courageous Rhythm

YWCA South Florida President, CEO Kerry-Ann Royes dishes on ‘Taking the Leap’ and advocating for women near and far.

Some folks you meet have a visionary aura that you just can’t escape. In a recent chat, Kerry-Ann Royes’ aura was infectious, inspiring and made you want to run out the door totally pumped up, arms flailing in the air and wanting to do something good for the closest person. Royes is the president and CEO of YWCA South Florida, whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women into the next century. Amid our current political and broader climate, this is not always the easiest mission. But, if anyone has the track record and grit to do it, it’s this 48-year-old Jamaican immigrant, Cooper City resident, wife and mom of two.

While her resume could fill this publication, some quick hits include 25 years in the social sector and serving on the board with the Nautilus Oceans Exploration Trust, Philanthropy Miami and The Miami Foundation, and leading work that like in Miami Leadership Local. Beyond her local work with YWCA, she also oversees the southeast zone of YWCAs, ensuring that region’s 15 outposts work cohesively.

The YWCA is playing an important role in South Florida’s business community as it redevelops its Overtown campus in Miami and builds a major housing complex in Miami Gardens. It’s also emphasizing help to single-mother households, who can face difficult obstacles as they seek to participate in the labor force and develop wealth.

She recently sat down with SFBW to discuss all of her journeys–to the states, within the nonprofit realm, how she’s achieving rhythm and to an island you’ve likely never heard of to find Zen.

How did you rise to become, in many folks’ minds, a rock star in the philanthropic space here in South Florida?

Wow, rock star. That’s an interesting moniker to own, but thank you for that. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a part of community building. I am an immigrant woman from Jamaica and came here when I was 13. My mother was the trailblazer who took the risk and brought our family here to South Florida. I’ve always led and lived in the tropics, but I think more importantly, it’s always been about listening and following what I have always, in my core, knew was right.

My gut has always guided me. I know and believe in the awesome power and influence that women, mothers, caretakers, people of color, people in our society bring to this community. I have always wanted to serve, and I’ve always been a passionate leader and a mission-driven leader. It’s about doing the right thing and just trying not to ever burn bridges because we’re all human, right? We’re all human, and if we’re all trying to go in the same direction, then we have to have some grace in doing so, be relentless in our pursuit, and hope that along the way there would be amazing people who speak our names in rooms we are not in, and opened doors for you, like I had.

How did that gut feeling that you mentioned develop over time, or did it come naturally?

I absolutely think that over time you learn to recognize it more. Over time you also have the perspective of looking in the rear-view mirror and saying, “Oh, that was what that was.” Early in your career or early in your experiences, you don’t know if that sense that you have is the correct one. It takes a lot of trial and error, trusting yourself and sometimes making the leap to say, “I’m not sure where this is going to end, but I have to trust that I can do this.”

I think when it comes down to it, inherently, we know what is right and wrong. Having guiding principles for yourself in certain moments or periods in life has always been a way to gut check yourself because sometimes the whirlwind of life can really distract you from your guiding principles.

Is there a particular moment along your business journey that ultimately shaped you or sparked you to be where you are today?

There was a moment where I had to make a pivotal choice about whether it was time for me to try something new, and it was intensely scary. I decided to leave where I was for over a decade, and I had built a bench in that organization. It wasn’t about them; it was about me. It was about taking a risk and realizing that I wasn’t going to ever discover what I could fully do in the strength and the talents that I had been given by God, frankly, if I didn’t test it.

What did this test look like for you?

I stepped out on faith, went to get an MBA, and during that time I was consulting. I had to believe that I would figure it out and it was intensely intimidating. Walking through that and then being head hunted and ultimately coming to the YWCA in this leadership role was a testament to being faithful to the journey. It was a testament to taking a risk and trusting myself to figure it out. It was a testament to not succumbing to just any job that came to me. I had to be true to the journey. I had to trust that I was going to land on my feet and progress and move forward. That experience has given me a level of confidence in failing forward and picking up the pieces when I screw it up.

What is guiding you here in 2024? What new has you excited in terms of your work with the YWCA?

YWCA is doing something that I think is groundbreaking, not in our history, but groundbreaking in the ways that we are responding to what we think are the deepest equity and systems needs for women of color and single heads-of-households moms. We are building YW neighborhoods…we are dedicating our greatest physical asset, which is land. We are redeveloping our property in Overtown in Miami, and we are also developing five acres of land in Miami Gardens to build close to 500 units of workforce at market rate and affordable housing, embedded with early learning centers and wrap-around services YW has come to be trusted for.

What need is driving this project?

We know that childcare and housing are the deepest expense for families, especially families led by women. We know that 75 percent of women who are single heads of household in South Florida especially struggle day-to-day. What changes their family success is being able to have safe places to live, pay for childcare and put more money back in their pockets. More so, it helps them to build stability and generational wealth and break cycles. YWCA has always housed women. … YW’s housed women through domestic violence shelters across the country. Here in South Florida, we’ve owned hotels and residences where we’ve hosted women who were going into the workforce early in their career to the wives of servicemen during World War II. This is just another generation where we are showing up for the needs of women in a housing crisis.

How about personally, how are you looking to grow?

I am always thinking about how I could be better. I’m a greedy learner. I think about how I can show up differently. I think about my family. I want to make sure that my kid in college has a great year. She’s in her second year, and that’s a big year, declaring a major. I just want to show up in a way that is very present for my family, for my team, for our community and with our board. We have bold plans for the future, and it requires bravery and presence.

With so many happenings, how do you find balance? Let me in on the secrets of some of the routines you have.

“Balance.” I usually don’t lead with that word because, frankly, I think it sometimes sets you up to feel bad about yourself. I’ve heard someone describe it as “rhythm” as opposed to balance, because balance indicates that everything is evenly distributed. When you think about the concept of rhythm, it’s that sometimes certain paces are fast and sometimes you have to double-tap into your family or your health or your career, and then other times you have to lean into other spaces. You have to find, within yourself, and with those around you, your cadence that works and your support systems that allow you to do that.

Interesting. So how is it that you find that rhythm?

It’s about the way that you lead in your career and the way that you’re creating space for others, as opposed to solely doing things for yourself. For me, it has become about finding the rhythm and being graceful and forgiving when you get it wrong and making sure that you’re supporting others. I try to stay grounded. You have to be grounded in something to keep your feet firmly planted when the storms of life come.

What is that something that grounds you?

It’s about spiritually feeling connected, trusted relationships and certainly physically taking care of myself–making sure I’m getting enough rest, making sure that I’m consuming the right things. Sometimes that train goes off the tracks, right? If I’m sick, I can’t take care of others and I can’t show up.

Amid a busy schedule, what do you like to do for fun?

Travel, for sure.

What’s your favorite trip you’ve been on recently and what’s your bucket list item there?

Even though I love traveling, I’m an extroverted introvert. I love being with the people who I trust in small groups, and that’s where I’m most joyous. Being outside and being with nature always fills my spirit. That does not mean hiking or camping. That’s not what I’m talking about. OK, I’m a glamping girl—I am not going hiking or being bitten by bugs or going into wildlife. I’m a woman of the tropics, and I love lush tropical spaces. There’s a small, tiny island off the northeast coast of Grenada called Sugarloaf that I loved visiting.

Wow. Who’d you go with?

A college friend that my kids call “aunt.” Her family owns the only house on Sugarloaf and it’s off the grid and you have to cross over this channel to get to it, and there is no dock. You literally jump into a boat in the ocean, go across a channel and hop on the beach. You walk up a hillside cliff and you’re in this sweet house off the grid. I went with my best friends of 30 years–just spending these quiet moments with people who know you, truly inside and out. There was no makeup involved, there was no fancy dresses, there was no itinerary.

What did you all do there that you found to be so relaxing?

It was literally waking up, going into the ocean for hours, laying on the beach and then walking up and making breakfast, lunch and reading a book and listening to music, going back in the ocean, and talking and chatting. We did this off-the-grid stuff literally surrounded by the sea for three days.

So, that’s the favorite trip, what’s the bucket list trip?

We’re going back again this year. The only other thing that could probably make it better is if my family was there. I’m excited to go back, but for bucket list, I would probably say South Africa. The whole family has to be with me for that.

What makes South Florida such a strong home base for you… what has kept you here since you were a teenager?

The more I travel, the more I recognize why I love South Florida so much. It’s the weather. It’s the fact that I can get authentic food from any South American or Caribbean country. I can also go into almost any community in South Florida, and I can look around and I see many types of people. I can go into the Trader Joe’s and I see people from every race you could think of. I love that blending of culture that happens here. I go into other states and other cities that I love to visit, and yes, they have these rich cultural experiences, but they’re very bucketed. Sure, we have our enclaves here in South Florida, but generally speaking, no matter where you are, there is a cultural richness everywhere. I love that being an immigrant woman of color is not a novelty.

Is there anything that you particularly have your eye on in this year that affects you as an individual or you as a professional that people should really be paying attention to?

We all know we’re in an election year and all the things that come along with that. I think we have so many new laws and regulations that every day we’re trying to figure out how to maneuver them for our families and for our communities to make sure that everyone can thrive. We need to be paying attention to any forthcoming changes in laws and regulations and how we act within those while building our communities. We need to keep an eye on what’s happening in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our schools, and how we can genuinely continue to support our growth. We really need to be thinking about how we mobilize voices … all voices.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.