The Difference Between Dreaming and Doing
By Samantha Mendoza | Photography by Delores Holloway
Me’Shae Brooks-Rolling considers herself, above all else, a “hybrid professional.” She’s accustomed to wearing many different hats, and wearing each one with commitment and compassion. In fact, it’s this balancing act that brings her the most joy in her life.
As the director of Special Events and Conferences for Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, a community financial literacy tutor and a board member for the Syracuse Rescue Mission, WISE Women’s Business Center and Upstate Minority Economic Alliance, Me’Shae spends both days and nights in the office or at meetings. She often finds it difficult to sacrifice time for her favorite television shows, she admits.
But it’s her commitment to serving others that keeps her going through long days and busy weekends. Me’Shae — who will celebrate her 50th birthday this year and just celebrated a milestone of planning more than 30 professional conferences in her career — has recently reflected on her life experiences and goals, and crafted a personal mission statement to remind herself what she’s working for.
“I vow to use my talents, skills, gifts, and abilities,” her mission statement reads. “And to leverage the multitude of resources I have been blessed with to help other people achieve their dreams in life.”
Me’Shae’s mission statement captures the type of person she is — the type of person who always puts others’ needs before her own, and who has a clear vision for what she wants to achieve. But Me’Shae didn’t always know what she wanted to accomplish in life.
Born and raised in the small town of Anderson, Indiana, Me’Shae pursued a master’s degree in public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. There she met her future husband James, a student at The College of Visual and Performing Arts, who was also — to the shock of her parents — a New Yorker.
“I sort of freaked out my conservative Midwestern parents by moving to New York City after graduation,” Me’Shae said. “And I eventually acclimated to the fast-paced lifestyle of the city.”
Me’Shae worked as a federal auditor in the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 1990, and eventually found a role planning special events for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
But despite her success, it was her personal challenges of New York City life that led Me’Shae to one of her true passions: teaching financial literacy.
“I was a young professional trying to make it in the big city with my husband,” Me’Shae said. “What we quickly came to realize is that, despite our graduate degrees, we were financially illiterate.”
Me’Shae became interested in learning about financial management and creating a budget, and her curiosity led her to conduct research and speak with other New Yorkers about their financial situations. She eventually published a book about financial literacy in 2006 titled “How to Save Money and Organize Your Finances” that detailed her findings and offered advice for other young professionals.
The publication of the book led Me’Shae to a crossroads in her life, a period she refers to as her “professional desert.”
“I had invested all this time in events and hospitality, but financial literacy had taken a special place in my heart,” Me’Shae said of her 15 years working in New York City. “What do I do with that? Do I ditch one and engage in the other?”
Her answer came when her husband was offered a job at Pennsylvania State University, where she was also offered the opportunity to teach financial literacy classes to university faculty and staff.
“That’s when I fell in love with teaching,” she said.
After two years in Pennsylvania, Me’Shae and her husband both took jobs at their alma mater in Syracuse. In addition to her day job directing special events and conferencing for the IVMF, Me’Shae also teaches financial literacy courses for women, minorities, veterans, youth and faith-based communities.
“I feel like I’ve come full-circle,” she said.
Since Me’Shae began her work in Syracuse nine years ago, she has provided financial literacy training to more than 1,000 individuals across the city. She hopes her work will have an economic impact in Onondaga County and empower others, especially women and minorities, to get connected to resources that will benefit them.
“I want to help people close the gap between people’s perceptions of them and their actual capabilities,” Me’Shae said, “to close the gap between dreaming and doing.” SWM
For more information on Me’Shae’s work with financial literacy, visit rollingenterprises.com.