Founders often say that running a business can be a 24-hour experience. Recently, many of us are denouncing hustle culture for a balance of our own; as women who wear multiple hats, how we spend each moment of the day matters.
For Black women, time is precious, but often we forget that the time we spend outside of building our empires is just as important. In this ESSENCE.com series, we’ll get the scoop on how some of your favorite entrepreneurs and executives are spending time off the clock to refuel, recenter and remember their north stars.
Meet Liz Thompson, President of the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education Group, Chicago, 58
Liz Thompson, a former electrical engineer, switched careers to become the first executive director of City Year Chicago, an American education nonprofit, before partnering with her husband and former McDonald’s CEO, Don Thompson. Together they launched the 1954 Project and its parent organization The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education Group (CAFE Group). The CAFE Group was founded in 2014 to support and mentor students and professionals on their leadership journeys and broaden the landscape of African-American philanthropy. “We like using education as a lever to really help equity across our society. We believe that diversity is a critical lever for impacting and supporting communities of color and particularly as it relates to education,” she explained.
The 1954 Project identifies Black leaders who have a tremendous impact in populating the Black teacher pipeline in creating innovative teaching, learning and economic mobility models. “We provide support for leaders and then get out of the way to see the amazing things that happen when their genius takes center stage,” Thompson said. This year the organization awarded $5 million in grants making the total given to Black educators up to $10 million since its 2021 launch. As President of The CAFE Group, Thompson spends her time checking in with stakeholders that her company serves and managing a team of 15 people, but she is also a wife and mother. Discover how she advocates for equity in education while finding ways to pour back into herself.
A cup of tea gets her morning right.
After Thompson thanks God for waking her up each morning, she goes to her kitchen for tea before starting her first meeting. “I have tropical tea with acacia honey, and then the Zoom call is better at that point. No matter what I’m talking about, it gets better with that cup of tea,” she said. The self-proclaimed “tea snob” doesn’t like many flavors but has a love for tropical teas. Specifically, the pineapple and mango flavors, but the honey really elevates her tea experience. “Tea is just a vehicle for me to use honey, so honestly, there are times where if I don’t have my tropical tea, I’ll just have a glass of hot water with honey,” Thompson said.
Mentorship fills her tank.
To many people being a mentor can be a draining experience, but for Thompson pouring into others brings her joy. “It fills my tank when I’m able to have conversations with people that help them realize how to bring out the best in themselves,” she explained. The patience and understanding Thompson has for where people are in their journeys help Thompson not feel drained when working with her mentees. “I actually do that for me as much as I wanna be helpful to them. It fills my tank,” she added.
She loves bringing things to life.
Consuming information through reading is one of Thompson’s favorite pastimes. However, this Midwesterner loves being outdoors in her garden when the weather is warm. Just like how she enjoys pouring into others, she enjoys giving that attention to her plants. “I love being in my backyard, watering my plants, pruning my plants and just making it beautiful,” Thompson said.
Cabo & Paris are her favorite place to unwind.
Unplugging from work is what Thompson admits is not her superpower. Therefore she leans on her husband to enforce rest and relaxation. Twenty years ago, a work trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for her husband became a place the couple liked to visit every year. “It is absolutely paradise. It is one of the most beautiful places around. We love the people, they have become part of our family, and there’s such a culture of family and closeness,” she shared. Thompson and her husband are members of Exclusive Resorts and have been staying at its Punta Ballena property every time they vacation there. Depending on the couple’s vibe, they alternate between staying at the hotel or the available private residences.
Another place that Thompson feels loves to visit is Paris. “I feel like somewhere in a different life, I may have grown up in Europe or something because when I go there, I feel like I’m home,” Thompson said. Paris feels like it’s a part of her soul. From the architecture, the restaurants, shopping and the people. “We settled on one place just in recent years that we really like. It’s called the La Réserve Paris,” she shared.
Working on prioritizing herself.
Thompson admits that prioritizing herself has been challenging, and she finds herself slipping back into old patterns. “I think it’s because the work that I do is at the intersection of what I love and what I feel like I’m good at, so it’s real easy for me to just go, go, go because I love so much what I do,” she explained. Being an education advocate has been purposeful work for Thompson because of her respect and admiration for teachers since she was a young girl. She always knew that she wanted to elevate and uplift educators, and when Thompson found her path, she brought her whole self to the organization. “It means that I’m just in it, and I’m in it all the time, so I’m not that great at prioritizing ‘me time’ because somehow I feel like it’s all ‘me time,'” Thompson said. Despite the difficulties of maintaining business boundaries for herself, Thompson does credit her executive assistance for helping her manage her time more efficiently. “[Lisa helps me try to maintain some sanity in my schedule and make sure that there is some time as little as it might be for me to kinda exhale and replenish,” she said.
Why is being off the clock important?
Mentoring is how Thompson spends her time off the clock, and despite how unconventional it may seem, pouring into the next generation fills her cup. However, it’s also essential to her as a woman who grew up in the Cabrini–Green Homes in Chicago to holding her own in the C-Suite, sitting on boards and being presidents of organizations. “The reason that it’s so important for me to spend me-time helping others along their journey is because I don’t want them to fall into some of the traps that maybe I did to step on some of the landmines that maybe we did to have to clear forest path that has already been cleared,” she said. Thompson is reminded of the times the path was cleared for her to be where she is today. “I feel like I am absolutely obligated, but it is my true honor to be able to pay that forward,” she said.