Taking an active leadership approach and being a servant leader are the main components of Dr. Sharon Elliott-Bynum’s leadership style. Elliott-Bynum is the executive director and co-founder of CAARE in Durham. CAARE is the acronym for Case Management of AIDS and Addiction through Resources and Education. Information on CAARE’s website states, “CAARE is a grassroots non-profit organization in Durham, North Carolina that promotes a holistic and community approach to health, ” (careinc.org).
The story of how Elliott-Bynum reached this point began when s
he was a teenager. “I had graduated from high school and was preparing to start college,” she said. “My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My brain shifted, and I wanted to take care of her – that was my ultimate goal. So, I went to Operation Breakthrough for help with obtaining my nursing degree. I received the LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) degree through Durham Technical Institute and the RN (Registered Nurse) degree through Watts School of Nursing in Durham.Later, I earned the BSN degree (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) from North Carolina Central University, and the Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Victory International College. Then, I also received a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in Theology from Victory International College."
Elliott-Bynum had received the professional training needed to care for her mother. This experience, as well as other positions, prepared this leader for her present position as co-founder and executive director of CAARE.
The idea for CAARE came about through a casual conversation with her older sister, the late Patricia Amaechi, on a Sunday afternoon in 1995, (as described on CAARE’s website). “We were discussing Durham’s large at-risk population, especially people with HIV/AIDS. They had little access to health care.”
Elliott-Bynum explained the basis of her leadership style at CAARE. “I take the Baptist approach to leadership. It teaches you that life, situations, and people change. In your day to day meetings, it is best to use a democratic style. Give people the opportunity to participate, so you are not just telling them but showing them and you all are doing it together.
“It’s being a servant leader. For example, there are three people at CAARE who need respite care; they cannot be left alone. Instead of me asking someone else to stay with them, I started staying with them myself. Because I started, two other people volunteered. You have to think about what is the best outcome and what is the best case scenario – that’s what active leadership would have you do.”
Elliott-Bynum’s application of the Baptist leadership philosophy influences her work approach, as well. “The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed Me. When I was sick, you visited Me. Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, you did unto Me.’ I understand why I chose the path that I did.” CAARE provides for those who are ‘almost invisible’ in the Durham community. “People who are almost invisible have real needs; they are people who become homeless. In the United States, we have people sleeping in the woods and in the street. We all make certain choices. We can try to take all the education and training to provide solutions for the least of these, because they are still a part of our society.
“Those of us who are educated tend to have a check-off list and say certain people are ‘non-compliant.’ However, when you look at life from a panoramic view, you understand the total perspective. Then you are able to say, ‘This person may be homeless, but he/she is also hungry, may have health issues or other needs.’
“Racism, classicism and sexism exist, even today. You have to keep this in mind when you advocate for the clients. This means you need to know how to speak the language of researchers, politicians and other community leaders. They have to trust you as the leader, so they will be honest with you. From the panoramic view, my choice is to create allies, as opposed to adversaries, to get the work done.
"I am consistent, and I walk in that daily. I always do a gut check using the three I’s – integration, intent, and inclusion. A lot of leaders don’t understand that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’
“It’s not humanly possible to do this kind of work without compassion. It’s impactful because sometimes in our day to day routines, we don’t think about the fact that we’re one paycheck away, one medical crisis away from being homeless. We should think about how we can use what we have to serve our brothers and sisters – not only those of the Black race, but of the human race.”
Elliott-Bynum shared the challenges of her position. “With a non-profit organization, you must know how to create resources on a daily basis, in order to serve the constituents in a dignified manner. You should think about the details – how would they feel in this environment? For example, I think about how to decorate the walls – what colors and designs would be best?”
A typical day for this executive director and co-founder involves several duties. “Writing a grant, attending a meeting – it just depends on what is needed.”
The leaders whom Elliott-Bynum admires are Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriett Tubman. “Their beliefs align very closely to my goal. My all-time favorite leader is Mother Teresa. In fact, when the Acting Surgeon General visited CAARE, he described me as ‘the Mother Teresa of Durham.’ He hugged me and said, ‘You have compassion.’ I was ecstatic to be compared to Mother Teresa.”
Another aspect of Elliott-Bynum’s leadership style involves making face-to-face contact, which sometimes involves attending meetings herself. “We can’t always send our representatives; sometimes we have to go.”
CAARE serves as the clinical site for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina Central University. “The students get to see my leadership style.” Students from the Duke Fuqua School of Business describe her as a social entrepreneur.
CAARE’s executive director offered her views on mentoring the next generation to become leaders. “I love young people. We need to teach the next generation of leaders how to get through the storm. A group of Fulbright scholars called and asked if they could visit. They were from all over the world – The Netherlands, Bolivia, Haiti, and Canada. Bolivia has a huge drug problem, and its scholar had created a tool that allowed people to live without drugs and alcohol. The scholar from The Netherlands said her country provides healthcare to everyone. She said, ‘I have so much now to think about.’
“We need to tell young people how we got ours (education, accomplishments), show them that we care about them, and we have the ability to accomplish anything. I always talk to them about their approach with clients, especially the medical students. I tell them, ‘That’s somebody’s mother, somebody’s aunt, a dear person to somebody.’ ”
"Leader" image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
About the Writer: Cheryl Deloatch is a freelance writer residing in the northeastern part of North Carolina, who is currently seeking full-time employment. Ms. Deloatch has written articles for newspapers, institutional publications, has ghostwritten biographies and worked in other branches of communications. For further information, please contact Ms. Deloatch at either firstname.lastname@example.org or Deloatch_cheryl@yahoo.com.