by Constance Garcia-Barrio
If life stacks the cards against you, reshuffle the deck, advises DeAnn Cox, who teaches “A Crash Course in Social Media for Business,” a popular class at Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
Cox knows whereof she speaks. She grew up in “some of the meanest neighborhoods in Camden,” NJ. Her parents separated when she was young. Cox’s mother, who suffers from schizophrenia and alcoholism, reared her and her two older sisters. “Whatever happened, failure wasn’t an option,” says Cox, 31, a black lesbian with working-class roots.
Cox spent grim years in Camden’s school system. “In elementary and middle school, we didn’t have enough seats or books in the classroom,” she said. A confrontation with a teacher in Cox’s senior year of high school proved a catalyst for change. “I thought Ms. Brockington didn’t like me,” said Cox, of the teacher of business and technology at Camden County Vocational and Technical High School.
“One day I said to her, ‘Do you have a problem with me?’ Ms. Brockington said liking or disliking me wasn’t the issue. She said that she was my teacher, and she was going to do her job.” Months later, Ms. Brockington called Cox aside and spoke of a co-operative job at a law firm. Cox would work 20 hours a week and attend school full-time.
“I began as a file clerk, and I was offered employment after graduation.” Cox jumped at the chance to attend college through the law firm’s employee benefits program. Soon enrolled in Camden County College (CCC), she studied business administration. Cox went on to become a certified paralegal. By then she had left home and had her own apartment.
The bottom fell out when the law firm, hit by the economic downturn in 2005, laid her off in August. “It was really disheartening,” said Cox, who scraped by with low-paying jobs and cut back to one class per semester at CCC. In November she found work at another law firm, and she went on to earn an associate’s degree from CCC, where she maintained a 4.0 average every semester. One thing marred her 2010 graduation: her parents refused to attend.
Another blow fell that year. She was laid off again.
Through good times and bad, Cox found the energy to volunteer. In 2007, she founded Southern New Jersey GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) Pride and also became GLBTQ Liaison to the Office of the Mayor of Camden. “These positions are important because where I grew up, we don’t have exclusively GLBTQ venues,” Cox said, noting, that there’s no GLBTQ community center or homeless shelter. “To this day, I’m working to get community members to take pride in themselves.”
Cox’s advocacy often brought her to the Mazzoni Center, which provides medical care, counseling, recovery services, HIV care and other assistance to Philadelphia’s GLBTQ community. “As a volunteer, I helped raise awareness of the Mazzoni Center’s programs and services to potential clients and volunteers,” Cox said. It was a win-win deal. “I expanded my professional and social networks while helping community members in dire physical and emotional need.” Cox also met “Dr. Ruth” Westheimer, the famous sex therapist.
While her sexuality has presented no career barriers, Cox has run up against prejudice of a different kind. Once she was talking with a man in a gay bar. During the frank and lively talk, he mentioned that he was married. “As soon as he learned that I was from Camden, he said, ‘Camden? That’s a not such a good place,’ and he ended the conversation.’ Here’s a man cheating on his wife with other men, and he won’t talk with me because I’m from Camden!”
While Cox worked as a volunteer, the clock was ticking on her unemployment benefits. “I knew I wanted something more stable, and I felt that my own business would give me that possibility.” She won a scholarship from Temple University’s Women of Color Foundation in 2011, which provided funds for her to study at the Fox School of Business.
Cox had just finished the program at the Fox School of Business when luck gave her another surprise assist. She had posted her profile on LinkedIn. Within days of her completing her studies at Fox, she received a call from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to come in and interview for a job, thanks to her resume.
“The call came out of the blue, but it was so welcome,” Cox said. It turned out that her charm and chutzpah made her perfect for a position in donor relations. “In my current position as director of donor research, I identify prospective donors,” Cox said. “I’m also responsible for corporate sponsorships and quality assurance of donor services.”
Cox learned about the Mt. Airy Learning Tree through her partner and proposed a course in social media. Her most recent class was on May 21 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. “If you have a start-up or medium-size company, Facebook and Twitter can help broaden you client base at little cost,” said Cox, who first taught at MALT in 2012. “Many people don’t know how to begin, and my course gives them the tools.” Her goal seems counter-intuitive. “I want to make clients independent so that they no longer need me.”
For more information about Cox’s social media classes, call 215-843-6333 or visit www.mtairylearningtree.org.