by Gene BAGEN
They say first impressions are lasting impressions. Your first impression will be one
of a tremendously energetic woman who spends untold hours each week balancing obligations
to her family, career and community. She is passionate about making our community a better
place to live. She works tirelessly to help people gain the skills they need to secure
high quality employment here so they can provide a quality life for themselves and their
families. She leaves a lasting impression.
She is Brenda McDuffie the Executive Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Private
Industry Council, Inc. (PIC). She is also a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend and a
community leader. She works constantly to balance and hold together all of these roles,
and she does it amazingly well!
Brenda Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York, the third of five
children. She grew up in a public housing complex which had a profound influence on her.
In those days, life in public housing was very different. Residents were very family
and community oriented. Not only was it common to have other members of ones family
living in the same complex, it was equally common for neighbors to become part of the
extended family. It was in this family oriented atmosphere that Brenda
Williams grew up and thrived.
For the first eight years of her life, Brenda and her family lived across the street
from her paternal grandmother. In order to provide for their family, both of Brendas
parents worked. Consequently she spent a great deal of her formative years with her
grandmother and her aunts and uncles.
Sharing quality time with her family (left
to right) Brenda, daughter Myllissa, son Gerald,
When she was eight, their family moved to a larger apartment on the opposite side of
the complex. It was also at that time that she lost her beloved paternal grandmother.
Although this loss certainly affected her, the familys move brought Brenda across
the street from her maternal grandmother. This move provided Brenda the opportunity to
spend lots of time with her and other aunts and uncles.
Brenda emerged from her childhood tremendously influenced by her parents, grandparents,
family and friends. They were, and continue to be, a source of inspiration and support for
her. In those years, she came to learn the essentials of family lifecaring and
taking care of each other.
Brendas parents wanted to expose their children to the many opportunities life
had to offer. They encouraged them to strive for excellence.
Summer vacations at Marthas Vineyard had a profound influence on Brenda. It was
there she met large numbers of successful professional African-American families. These
families, in stark contrast to the families she had known growing up in Brooklyn, gave
Brenda new insight on what could be.
Time spent at the Vineyard was a time for Brenda to meet new people and develop new
friendships, which would endure beyond the summer and become important relationships for
An evening with the man in her life, Gerald.
The Vineyard experience was itself a powerful source of motivation.
Getting there each year meant that everyone had to do their part and work together. For
her father, it meant working several jobs to be able to afford the family vacation. Each
of the children worked during the summer to contribute to the vacation effort.
Shuffle Off To Buffalo
Upon graduating from Canarsie High School in three years, Brenda was confronted with a
decisionwhere to go to college? She was certain of one thing, she wanted to go
out of town. She wanted a small academic environment where she could get to
Brenda was also looking for a college with a city atmosphere. She knew little about Buffalo, other than the fact that it was the second largest city in New York State. She chose Buffalo State College, with its intimate academic environment and big city atmosphere, as the place Brenda decided to pursue her college studies.
Through the Educational Opportunity Program (E.O.P.), Brenda was provided the
opportunity to obtain a college education.
Buffalo proved to be a real culture shock. It certainly was not what she expected nor
was used to. It was quiet, slow paced and laid back, all the things New York was not. Her
move to Buffalo proved to be a difficult adjustment for Brenda initially.
There was a real learning experience which came from living away from home. Brenda soon
learned that in college, your performance and success are based upon your motivation and
judgment. Being someone for whom success was the only acceptable outcome, she quickly got
herself into the swing of things and completed her undergraduate degree in three and one
After graduation, Brenda accepted a job with the American Red Cross. She planned to
keep the job until September and then move from the area. Although not sure where she
wanted to settle, Brenda was certain she did not want to return to New York. Neither did
she plan to stay in Buffalo.
Brenda and several friends, including her future husband, Gerald McDuffie, decided to
take a three month trip cross country to check out places where they might consider
re-locating. At the close of this adventure, she returned to Buffalo with the intention of
collecting her belongings and moving on. Even then, she was not sure where she was going.
However, several things had already been set in motion which hindered her planned move.
Principle among these was the fact that her relationship with Gerald was becoming more
serious. Gerald had strong local family ties and responsibilities which impacted on his
ability to leave Buffalo. So Brenda decided that she too would stay in Buffalo, at least
for a while.
A Job That Became A Career
Having decided to remain in Buffalo, Brenda took a position with the Comprehensive
Employment and Training Act Program, CETA, in its Division of Research and Statistics.
When she left CETA she joined the City of Buffalos Division of Manpower as part of
its Planning Unit.
When the Private Industry Council was established in Buffalo in 1979, Brenda became its
first Director of Planning, a position she held through June, 1994. In July 1994, she was
named Executive Director of the PIC.
The PIC is the primary workforce development agency for Buffalo and Erie County. As its
Executive Director, Brenda oversees the provision of training and employment services to
local business and industry as well as over 5,000 job seekers annually. PICs
services are designed to support maximum productivity for area businesses and the maximum
level of employment for area residents.
Brenda maintains a high level of involvement in the community through many Boards of
Directors on which she sits. These include: Independent Health, Millard Fillmore Hospital,
the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County; the Western New York Foundation and Buffalo
State College. She is also a former Board member of the Buffalo Urban League.
Her Philosophy On Life, Work And The Future
Brenda credits much of that which is good in her life to her relationship with God. A
deeply spiritual person, she treasures her relationship with God and works hard to keep
Gods grace and presence a part of her daily life.
Her work is very much an extension of her faith and life. Through it, she is able to
touch peoples lives and make those lives richer and better as a result.
According to Brenda, the future is a place of tremendous hope. She is very optimistic,
Our future offers great potential, new traditions and boundless opportunities. As a
community, we need to help each other embrace the future and say, ...it can
Friends and Motivators
There are many special people whom Brenda feels have had a deep and lasting influence
on her. Brix Barrell, Florence Baugh, Jan Peters, Robert Bennett, Dan Acker, the late Bill
Gaiter, Jonathan Soffin and Leroy Coles have each provided influence and support that
helped Brenda become a more valuable force in our community.
Among all that she values Brendas family remains her greatest treasure.
Family and friends mean a great deal to her, so she works very hard to be sure they always
know just how important they are.
Brenda resides in Buffalo with her husband, Gerald. They have three
childrenGeralinda, a mother and student at the University of Buffalo who also works
at Vastola Heating and Air-conditioning; Myllissa,a student at City Honors; and Gerald,
Jr. who attends Campus East School.
Brenda and Gerald have four grandchildren.
Because of the importance she places on family, Brenda makes spending quality time with
them a priority. They enjoy doing things together. But she also makes sure she does things
with each family member individually in order to reinforce how special each one of them is
One family tradition which Brenda has revived is summer vacations at Marthas
Vineyard. Because this experience had such a powerful influence on her as she was growing
up, she wants to be sure that new generations are afforded that same opportunity.
Brenda McDuffie believes that our future as a community will largely be determined by
our ability to come together, create a strong economic base, provide opportunities for
people, address the needs and interests of the entire community and create an environment
that fosters diversity with wholeness. She intends to play a part in creating this future.
She would like to help build a community where all people are able to work, play and
thrive if that is their wish.
Musing about what she might like to be in the next stage of her life, Brenda states,
Id like to be a philanthropist. Realistically, she points out several
obstacles to this. First, she lacks the financial resources philanthropy would require.
Second, she lacks the capacity to say no to anyones request for help.
The American Heritage Dictionary describes philanthropy as, ...the effort or
inclination to increase the well-being of mankind, as by charitable aide or contribution.
Love of mankind in general...
Maybe Brenda McDuffie will never become one in the sense of having a great deal of
money to give away. In reality, however, she already is a philanthropist. She dispenses
huge amounts of herself, her time and her talent to satisfy needs in her community. That
is the essence of philanthropy.
Gene Bagen is the Public Relations Officer of the Private
Industry Council, Inc.
Photos courtesy of Brenda Williams McDuffie.
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