Opal Tomashevska
Coming Full Circle
the best times of my life, I loved it! I majored in psychology, which I still love and use every day. I was also heavily engaged in university organizations like the
Black Student Union, the Parkside Activity Board and student government. I met many new people through those activities — and playing basketball — who became
lifelong friends. There were only a few students from Madison there at the time, and it was really a great time to experience new people and college life. Living on
campus was the first time I lived anywhere outside of Wexford Ridge. It was the first time I was introduced to so many students of color who did not share my same
lower socioeconomic status. It was inspiring and eye opening; college is really where I began to understand that many of my dreams were attainable. It was also the
first place I shared my music and spoken word poetry.

Q:  What you are doing professionally in the workforce?
A: I am a multicultural business strategy manager for CUNA Mutual Group. My role is dedicated to advancing the efforts of the Multicultural Center of Expertise,
which includes gaining a deeper understanding of under-served consumers and partnering with internal departments to develop new strategies and products to
serve their needs.

Q:  Generally, do you feel supported as a young professional of color in our community?
A: I do now more than ever due to the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts of CUNA Mutual Group led by Angela Russell and her team. The last time I felt this
supported as a person of color I was in college; that’s saying a lot! I have worked for great organizations before, but this is the first time I have worked in a place
with employee resource groups like ours, dedicated to making our workforce more inclusive. We are also offered many learning opportunities throughout the year
that go beyond our own industry insights, and are designed to enrich us as people who are part of a larger community first, so we can bring our best selves and our
whole selves to work. I hope more companies in the area follow our lead.

Q:  What networks or organizations have you personally and professionally benefited from here in Madison?  
A: Growing up, I benefited greatly from the Lussier Community Education Center (formally the Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center). They provided low-income kids
from the neighborhood with access to summer camp, sports teams, school supplies, and a food and clothing pantry for families. Currently I have been able to benefit
from the Madison Network of Black Professionals, the Urban Community Arts Network (UCAN) and the YWCA.  

Q:  I heard you drop some powerful poetry at the Madison Network of Black Professionals February 2018 luncheon. Where do you draw your inspiration as a poet?
A: I write about all sorts of things, but I am most drawn to topics of social injustice. I use my poetry as a form of art therapy which helps me deal with the harm
racism, sexism, and poverty have caused me and others worldwide. Emotions are my inspiration; often cognitive dissonance leads me to write, but I am also
moved to write about joy, triumph and gratitude. Life is constant inspiration.

Q:  Could you share stanza from one of your favorite or most meaningful originals?
A:
“The slaves dreamed that one day their children would be free
and that impossible dream is realized in me
so how much more impossible should my impossible dreams be
oh, the limitless potential when a soul is born free
So, don’t say woe is me and don’t say woe is we
Bless the child who can see beyond the slave owner’s FREE”

It’s from a piece I wrote for the annual Black History Month celebration at the Lussier Center. I try to remember this every time I feel like I am dreaming too big or
asking for too much out of life. It pushes me to go for more. As a person of color, sometimes I feel like the world teaches us to settle the minute we are not
struggling. I refuse to believe that is all our ancestors fought for.

Q:  What are some of the other civic engagements you are involved in?
A: I am on the board of directors for UCAN here in Madison. I also continue to work closely with LCEC (Lussier Community Education Center). I am training to be a
racial justice facilitator for the YWCA and I am a member of the AACUC (African American Credit Union Coalition).

Q:  What is your proudest accomplishment as a young professional in our community?
A:  In general it is being able to work at a job I love that uses not just my education and training but also my God-given gifts and my art.  As far as one specific
event, there are so many I am grateful for, but I would say that being able to be a part of the group of CUNA Mutual Group employees who presented a $300,000 grant
Opal Tomashevska
A hush fell over the room as she recited potent words and spoke the mighty pen of a poet that resonated with her audience.
She exuded a wisdom and humility well beyond her years. The cadence, the rhythm, the passion that flowed as Opal
Tomashevska treated the Madison Network of Black Professionals to one of her original poems this past February was
magnetic.
She paid homage to our ancestors and painted vivid pictures of hope for things yet to come.   When she finished, a roar of
applause followed with endless praise.  

Tomashevska, a local poet, grew up on Madison's west side. Though her beginnings were humble, her dedication and vision
were not. Her outlook has always been to dream bigger than her circumstances. With that perspective, she has through hard
work and dedication landed a job with one of the city's top employers, which allows her to be part of a team that brings
products to under-served consumers. Her work with that employer became even more meaningful when she was able to
join her colleagues in presenting a large gift to the very community center that she frequented as a child. Learn more about
Tomashevska's journey in this YP Spotlight.

Q:  If you are not native to Madison, tell me know how you got here. What's your personal story?
A: I am native to Madison, and I grew up in the Wexford Ridge neighborhood on Madison’s west side. I was a basketball and
track athlete in high school and left for college at 18. After graduation, I moved to Milwaukee for a bit and then returned to
Madison where I have been ever since. I am a person who has always had dreams bigger than my surroundings, but also
someone who has had a desire to stay connected to my roots. I would say that is a big part of my story. The other is that there
have always been great people who have shown me kindness and helped me along the way. There is no story without them.

Q: Where did you attend college? How was your experience?
A: I attended undergrad at UW-Parkside in Kenosha and grad school at Edgewood College in Madison. College was one of
from our Foundation to the LCEC last month was one of the best feelings in the world. It was a
dream come true to be a part of an organization that is giving back in a tremendous way to the
very place that helped me as I was growing up.  That was awesome; it meant a lot! I know what a
gift like that means for them, and I am so proud of us.

Q:  What current issues affecting our city are important to you and why?
A:  The economic inequality in Madison is staggering. The Race to Equity Report published a few
years back was brilliant, but only confirmed what many of us have

known for a long time.  The experience in this city is drastically different for people of color and
for people living at or below the poverty line. We need to not only address but also fix the systems
that keep marginalized groups of Madison residents from fully benefiting from all this city has to
offer.  Madison is a wonderful city on the brink of so much, but imagine how much more impactful
it could be if all our communities were thriving.

Q:  What advice would you give to young professionals of color who are new to Madison?
A:  I know this is cliché’ but network as much as you can! In a city this size, (which is even
smaller for people of color) you will find most of your opportunities through other people. People
have to know your name, so if meeting and talking with new people isn’t your thing, get
comfortable being uncomfortable. Seek mentorship and pay that help forward whenever you can.
Truly become a part of this community. I would also say don’t be afraid to use what is unique to
you, bring your gifts to the table and understand they have value.

Q:  Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing outside of your work and civic activities?
A: My daughter is really my pride and joy. We are both incredibly silly and have a lot of fun
together. Being passionate about my work and my art can take up a lot of time, so I involve her in
both as much as possible. I also make sure that we do fun things together like bike riding,
basketball, and helping her with her own creative projects (she’s quite the talented film maker
and she’s only 11.)  I also read a lot, I love books and learning. I am always looking for ways to
improve myself, so we also spend a lot of time at Barnes and Noble. There also isn’t much I do
without a soundtrack. Music is also a passion of mine.

Nia Trammell is professional working in the legal field.