Culture and Leadership Connections Podcast

Gary Z. Linnen – Playing Peer Support Forward

July 12, 2023 Marie Gervais Season 6 Episode 13
Culture and Leadership Connections Podcast
Gary Z. Linnen – Playing Peer Support Forward
Show Notes

Gary's Bio:
As the CEO of PeerForward, Gary Z. Linnen has directed the nonprofit's programs for over a decade, cultivating deep experience in youth development, program innovation, and organizational leadership. Growing up as a black Puerto Rican in Spanish Harlem, he experienced firsthand the obstacles other people's assumptions place in your path. He developed resilience and social solidarity from his family, who taught him to stand and deliver.


"In a leadership position, individuals are looking up to you. If you're not being true to yourself, they'll see that."

"If you've never had to make pasta, you don't know the recipe for pasta. We can't make assumptions around it."

Episode Highlights:
Despite growing up in poverty, Gary's successes caused him to be chosen by the Oliver Scholars Program, which allowed him to attend the prestigious Weston School. Upon his return home, Gary realized that others who were as smart (or smarter) had yet to be given a chance to overcome the obstacles marginalized youth regularly face in academia, and he wanted to change that.

Childhood Incidents:
Gary grew up in a community where family meant everything to him. Material belongings only mattered to him after he was denied in school because his best outfit was a pair of jeans and a grey sweater, and not a suit. When Gary moved from his community, he realized he was primarily judged by how he looked, spoke, and behaved instead of his accomplishments or intellect.

Leadership and Culture Style:
According to the principle of Quakerism, regardless of who you are, there's a higher being around to help drive individuals. Although Gary is not religious, this principle guides him on many things. As a leader, Gary has made it his mission to ensure that everyone receives a fair chance. He also believes that vulnerability to oneself is essential because it helps us find where we are and how we can get past that.

Temperament and Personality:
Gary always believed he had everything under control based on his ability to juggle multiple tasks at once. About six years ago, he realized that he was juggling too much and needed to slow down because that pace wasn't sustainable.

Influential groups:
The LGBTQ+ community has played a considerable role in Gary's life. Since the age of 16, that community space provided him with a sense of resiliency, connection, sisterhood and brotherhood.

Cultural Epiphanies:
Being a Puerto Rican, Gary experiences people with a deficit mindset in his day-to-day life. In many cases, some wonder if he can produce the desired results, resulting in him being repeatedly questioned on his capabilities, even though he has consistent proof of his expertise.

What Brings out the best in Gary:
Gary has an open-door policy and loves it when people are upfront with him. Being a natural nurturer, Gary wishes the best for everyone. The ability to just be himself also helps him face challenges with ease.

Soap Box Moment:
Gary invites us to check out to understand how his organization helps youth be there for each other, and find out how to support educational achievement for youth in poverty.

Tagline: Youth as problem solvers, not problems to be solved.

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