Desiree Peterkin Bell | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Desiree Peterkin Bell

Background:  

Desiree Peterkin Bell leverages her expertise in crisis communications and strategic counsel to help build solid brands and legacies for clients of her boutique public affairs firm DPBell & Associates. Her firm has team members in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York City, Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C. Peterkin Bell previously served as director of communications for the City of Philadelphia, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and former Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. She recently co-authored the book “Women Who Inspire,” which will available for purchase on Amazon Sept. 26.

The Mistake:

Thinking that people, particularly those in politics, are all driven by purpose and making an impact.

When I was younger, I wanted to be in the legal field; after bit of dabbling, however, I decided it wasn’t for me, and went back to school to get my master’s degree in public policy. I wanted to understand everything about it, and the relationship between government and its constituencies. Once I followed my passion, however, I quickly learned that there were people who weren’t driven by the same sense of purpose that propelled me.

I remember working for [former] New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, standing in the Council Chambers, when Councilman James Davis was shot and killed on July 23, 2003. That day completely tested my resolve and almost shattered me; after finding my passion in public policy, I had borne witness to a councilman being shot to death by a rival who was driven more by his own ego—as well as his own idea of what the position should have been—rather than a purpose to serve.

Part of what keeps me going is how I was raised.

The Lesson:

Some people are simply self-serving, and not driven by that same sense of purpose that drives people like me. That should not, however, deter purpose-driven individuals from making an impact within their chosen vocation.

That shooting was one of the darkest moments of my life and my career in politics, but I found a great power in knowing that despite other people’s desire to be impediments to progress, I had to keep going. I could not allow those people to influence my desire to make a difference. This resilience is something I’ve had to exercise throughout my 20-year career in government and politics.  

Part of what keeps me going is how I was raised. I come from a family of activists who paved the way for me in this world, so when the shooting happened, I couldn’t just sit back and throw in the towel. I didn’t have that luxury. I come from a legacy of strong women: My mother was a community activist and my great-grandmother was one of the first black women to own a house on her street in Brooklyn after saving up enough cash from cleaning white people’s homes. Knowing that, and having that in my blood, I knew I couldn’t let people sway me.

Follow DPBell & Associates on Twitter at @DPBell

​Photo courtesy of Desiree Peterkin Bell

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