New leadership sets the tone at Marygrove for 2023

At the start of the year, Marygrove Conservancy expanded its leadership team in a move that promises to elevate the nonprofit organization over the coming years. 

Robbie Walker. Photo supplied. Robbie Walker has been appointed to serve as the Director of Operations and Strategy and Turkessa Baldridge has been promoted to Director of Programs and External Engagement. Racheal Allen, who served as Chief Operating Officer for the Conservancy since 2019, will continue to support Marygrove through a vast array of auxiliary projects. Walker and Baldridge both come to Marygove with a plethora of community and professional experiences that will put them in a position to make a major impact on the Marygrove Conservancy.

Walker is a graduate of the University of Michigan, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business and Managerial Economics. She has spent the last 19 years working in both nonprofit and for-profit areas of commercial and residential real estate. She’s led multi-million dollar projects for the federal government and also helped navigate Black-owned businesses and first-time home buyers through the complicated world of property. 

“I found that small-business owners that were looking to move their business from their home to a brick-and-mortar often entered into lease agreements that left them with more responsibilities than they intended,” Walker says. “In speaking with some of these business owners I learned that they just didn't understand what they were signing, which is why it’s important to have someone well-versed in contracts (like an attorney) to review the agreement.”

Using the same hands-on approach she would to work with first-time home buyers, Walker was able to help. “Purchasing a home is a big investment and can be scary for most,” she says. “My approach was to eliminate the fear and attempt to make the process as enjoyable as possible. Which is why the educational component to the buying process was so important to me with my clients.” 

Walker says she’s honored to be a resource for others, and prides herself on going “above and beyond”. “Removing barriers and providing opportunities is what drives my passion for servicing the community.”

She plans on bringing that same work ethic to Marygrove.
“My passion is giving back to the community that raised me,” Walker says. 

As Director of Operations and Strategy, she will handle all of the operations of the campus, moving tenants around, rent collections, commercial operations, and just making sure the campus runs smoothly. She will also seek to incorporate new ideas and enhance current approaches and projects. 

“It's about how we can implement new ways of doing things versus old ways, and having a collaborative approach,” she says. “Just strategizing how to make all these pieces work. It's like a puzzle. ‘How can we strategically put all these things together to make it viable?’ is how I’m approaching my work at the Conservancy as well as following the mission and legacy of Maygrove.”

Walker sees a bright future for Marygrove, particularly around UofM School of Education's new degree program, Learning, Equity, and Problem Solving for the Public Good (LEAPS) coming to the campus.

“I believe in the program and I think it will do tremendous things for community,” she says, adding that it’s been a welcoming environment to step into.

“Just watching all of the new life that has been brought to this campus is amazing,” she says. “I can be a part of something that can reach a multitude of people and that's what's most gratifying to me.”

“I have a great team that truly enjoys their work and making a difference. This is a team I can continue to  build and grow with.”

Turkessa Baldridge is also a UofM graduate and has served as Program Manager since 2019 for Margrove.

Baldridge describes herself as a native Detroiter with a commitment to the type of work that uplifts and enhances the lives of others. 

“I have been fortunate enough to honor this personal commitment with over 20 years of experience working in the government and nonprofit sectors,” she says. 

Prior to Marygrove, Baldridge worked for the State of Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. She says her time there was professionally beneficial and helped prepare her for her new leadership role at Marygrove.

“My work there as an analyst and within the area of employment services has helped me to recognize the value and importance of collaborative programs that support the community,” she says.

In the three years she’s been at Marygrove, Baldridge says she’s witnessed a campus that has changed aesthetically and internally. Inactive classrooms have been brought back to life and community engagement has extended well beyond campus grounds. 

“I've seen the transition of an empty campus into a bustling lively campus,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed watching conversations about a program to support nonprofits evolve into the hugely successful Community Impact Incubator.” 

The annual Block Party and Light Up Marygrove, while admittedly a lot of work, are events that bring her joy.

With her new role as Director of Programs and External Engagement she’ll be leading and organizing signature events that will give the community an opportunity to engage with Marygrove’s educational providers, tenants, community resources, and partners.

“I support the continuation of legacy projects such as the former college’s Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series as well as new programs that support small businesses, arts, and culture,” she says. “My job is simply to continue the work of the Conservancy to transform Marygrove from a campus in the community to the community’s campus.”

Baldridge loves the uniqueness of Marygrove; the educational opportunities, partnerships, and programs make it a one-of-a-kind educational landscape for current and future students. She sees that progressing in the year ahead.

As well as the elementary school just expanding enrollment for grades K-3, Baldrige looks forward to celebrating the graduation of The School at Marygrove’s first class of seniors this spring. More enrollment information about schools on the Marygrove campus is here

"The one thing I have learned to expect here is the unexpected."

“I don’t think 2023 will be any different. We have initiated great programs that will continue to grow and evolve. As we have the capacity, we will embrace new opportunities that align with our core values of education, community, equity and inclusion, justice, and financial stability.”

With her new role as Director of Programs and External Engagement Turkessa Baldridge will be leading and organizing signature events at Marygrove.
All photos by Kahn Santori Davison, unless otherwise noted. 
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