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Dr. Kimberly Krupa - A Resilient Woman Fighting for Resilient Communities

By Blair Castro

Dr. Kimberly Krupa, Director of Achieve Escambia

Throughout history, there have been many great women who have changed the world and inspired others to do the same. One of those inspiring women is Dr. Kimberly Krupa, a journalist-turned non profit-director. Kimberly had anything but an easy childhood, growing up at times in extreme poverty. Her hardships and experiences helped shape her, giving her the compassion, empathy and insight needed to explore community resiliency in a whole new way. Kimberly would go on to be a first-generation college graduate and gain profound and diverse experiences as a journalist, and later, her career would lead her right here to Pensacola, Florida, where she has served as the leader of the long-term cradle-to-career education nonprofit, Achieve Escambia, since 2017.

Dr. Kimberly Krupa was born on the Jersey Shore where her family lived a hardscrabble life taken straight out of a Bruce Springsteen song. Young and independent, her parents met in vocational school and married at a young age. Kimberly’s family did not have much money and lived at the poverty line for most of her life. Her father often had trouble holding a job, resulting in a period in which Kimberly lived in a campground with no running water. Kimberly never realized that she had lived her childhood in poverty until she was much older. This realization would come when she saw that she qualified for a partial Pell grant after applying for the FAFSA. As a first-generation college student, Kimberly has a deep appreciation for the education that influenced her career later in life. Early on in her educational journey, Kimberly felt she did not have much in the way of college options because of a lack of funds, yet this lack of funding did not stop her. Every great journey must start somewhere, and Kimberly believed a state school would offer her as good an opportunity as any.

Kimberly knew journalism could be a powerful medium for change, so that occupation is where she chose to start her career. After enrolling in journalism school, she began writing a column in the school’s newspaper. Her excellent writing skills would land her an internship at a newspaper located in the state’s capital. Little did she know, at the time, this internship would be the start of a great career. Kimberly soon became a part-time reporter while also serving as the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, giving her valuable experience that she would later use throughout her life. This experience did not mean things became easier for Kimberly, though, financially, she still had to pay for her own college. Kimberly graduated college in May 2001 and was assigned to cover tragedies such as the 9/11 aftermath in New Jersey and the anthrax attacks that ensued across the Northeast. These urgent and important reports helped establish her reputation as a journalist, first in New Jersey, and later, she would choose to venture beyond the state.

Kimberly was drawn to the exotic, diverse and natural areas showcased in the photos one of her photographer friends from Louisiana had been capturing in his recent work. Never one to shy away from an adventure, she decided she would move there. Initially, Kimberly thought she would leave journalism and take a teaching position. However, life has a funny way of working out, and she ended up back in journalism as an education reporter for The Courier in Houma, LA. In Louisiana, Kimberly bore witness to the bayou and coastal community land loss crisis and the collapse of the shrimp and fishing industries. Being in the middle of these various situations, Kimberly had an immersive experience studying community resiliency and was able to observe how communities have the ability to organize and fight back, becoming advocates for themselves. One particular community she studied actually advocated for a sales tax to protect its people from storm damage. Kimberly first became interested in studying community systems change after experiencing her own community in Louisiana overcome much adversity. This would eventually lead to her exiting journalism entirely and beginning a new career studying community resiliency.

Kickstarting the next chapter in her life, Kim went on to get her PhD in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans while working for Brown University. During her time at Brown, she moved to New Orleans to officially study community resiliency just one month after Hurricane Katrina. Kim was Brown’s point person in coastal Louisiana. She spent ve years studying specific neighborhoods, considering all the factors at play that make people whole after a disaster, including things like wealth, family networks and geography. “What combination of these factors leads to disparities becoming a sad reality?” she wondered. Kim made it her goal to figure it out and find a solution. She wanted to be a part of the solution, so she made a point to get involved in rebuilding her own neighborhood in New Orleans. Kim helped pass a $100 parcel fee tax to raise money for educational and wellness services in the Broadmoor neighborhood in uptown New Orleans. As a result, Broadmoor is now one of the most well-resourced neighborhoods in the city, with free social services ranging from transitional housing to food pantries to youth afterschool programs focused on restorative justice.

Though her 15 years in Louisiana were foundational, Kimberly would not remain there forever. Fate had other plans, and Kimberly’s husband would soon bring her to Pensacola. Her husband had also received his PhD and was, at that time, a high school history teacher in New Orleans’ city schools. However, his passion lay elsewhere; he wanted to be a historian at a university. He got a postdoctoral fellowship at UWF and was making the long commute back and forth to New Orleans for some time. An opportunity arose for a tenure-track position after Thanksgiving in 2016 which Kimberly’s husband was eager to take. After working for Second Harvest Food Bank for four years, she knew her family was ready to make a move, and Kimberly put her house up for sale and set about moving to Pensacola. A mere 12 hours after listing her home, her house was under contract. By Christmastime, Kimberly, her husband and her three children were Pensacola’s newest residents.

When asked about the misconceptions people often have about the field she works in, Kimberly said people struggle to think long-term, tending to focus their energy on day-to-day problems. Kimberly believes that working on things like long-term change and community uplift requires a wider- focused lens, and it is often hard for people to get their mind wrapped around it, especially in the social-human service sector when crises are a daily occurrence. It can be argued that it is much easier to give out a box of food than it is to address the structural causes and fix the system that makes people go hungry. Kimberly argues that you must work from both ends to establish a balance between the crisis that is occurring here and now, and the long-term changes that can prevent the crisis from happening.

Dr. Kimberly Krupa is first to acknowledge she did not get to where she is today on her own. She had some important female role models who helped shape her mindset and philosophy. One such inspiration has been Ida B. Wells – Kimberly even plans on naming her fourth child after the civil rights crusader. Resurfacing as a sort of hero in recent years, with efforts like the Equal Justice Initiative, Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching crusades, and investigative journalism roots, inspired Kimberly to go after the truth, no matter what the cost. Another woman who influenced her thinking is the actress Mae West. West was an outspoken, bold and flamboyant personality whom Kimberly has long admired; she hung Mae West quotes in her childhood bedroom as a reminder of the type of person she aspired to be. West’s precociousness and sassiness made her an easy choice as an early feminist hero to idolize.

Kimberly has many positive changes she wants to bring to Pensacola. She has observed deep levels of disparity in race, gender and class within our area and knows we have many problems to tackle. One such problem is child abuse, where Escambia County is ranked fourth in the state. There are vast differences in terms of race and geography that we need to tackle in order to see long-term economic improvement in our community. Huge swaths of the community are left out of the labor force, and you can see it in our local literacy rate, middle school math scores, college dropout rates and more. The same educational disparities that start in kindergarten resurface again later in life. Kimberly believes we need to catch these disparities early on in order to close the gap. “ There is a racial component of who is getting left behind in our community, and it is something we need to confront and we need to talk about it continuously in order to see real change,” Kimberly said.

Kimberly learned from an early age the value of community and helping others. She never took things for granted and always sought to help others. Kimberly has some advice to give young women who wish to make a positive change in their communities. “Coming into a field traditionally dominated by women AS a woman is not always a walk in the park... this can also be a struggle. You need to make friends with people who are outside your comfort zone and get to know all the other players in your community who have power and can influence change. Get to know who can rise up and be advocates for themselves. For those women who wish to enter a career in the community change sector, Kimberly advises stretching beyond your personal comfort zone and not being afraid to make strange bedfellows at times. Kimberly believes it is unlikely allies that can often assist in propelling one’s agenda, and that finding common ground and shared goals are crucial to success. You don’t ever want an echo chamber.”

Wise words from a wise woman, who has done much for resilient communities in the face of adversity. ere are undoubtedly more great things to come from Dr. Kimberly Krupa, so be sure to follow her career and check out Achieve Escambia’s latest progress report on their website, static/5ba3f2780feb9d7656220531/t/5e27 3266c8d88d7566a9227b/1579627124664/ Annual+Report+2020.pdf.

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