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Spotlight: CFC Arts new CEO talks diversity & leading by example

Central Florida Community Arts staff at a recent 12th anniversary event, wearing shirts they had made for their march in 2022 Orlando's Come Out With Pride parade. New CEO Terrance Hunter is center.

Central Florida Community Arts has a brand-new leader. CEO Terrance Hunter is the highest-profile gay person of color heading up a major arts organization in our area…and he says there’s some conversation that needs to happen around that.

First, a look at CFC Arts – it boasts the largest community choir and symphony orchestra in the country, a theater company, a dance company, tons of classes, and a special School of Arts and Health that serves kids as young as six weeks old up to adults experiencing Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In short, it’s a huge organization.

And uniquely, it’s open to everyone.

Terrance Hunter’s goals are in harmony (ahem) with the group’s mission. He tells WMFE’s Nicole Darden Creston that he wants to bring more diversity to Orlando’s arts community, and lead by example.

Terrance Hunter:
For years, I have looked around this community and wondered where the other Terrances are. I have said for a long time, I can’t be the only Terrance. But I haven’t been able to look to other people like me across our cultural sector. Orlando is the community that raised me. It’s where I’m from. I’m born and raised here in Orlando. And so I like to think that I’m intimately familiar with our organizations overall, but particularly our cultural organizations. And I haven’t had a direct counterpart that looks like me. And to have gotten to this point in my career – early in my career (I say “early in my career” I’ve been doing this for the last 14 years, I’ve worked in the cultural sector here)’s an incredible honor. And what I wasn’t prepared for was the tidal wave of support that I have received, what I wasn’t prepared for was the way in which the community would see this as an achievement for themselves as well, for friends and family and strangers to feel like they are somebody because they know somebody that is “somebody,” in air quotes, as I put it, has been powerful. It’s been powerful, it’s been overwhelming at times, the response and the responsibility that this position, this elevation comes with – this level of representation, this level of reflection comes with. But it’s a really great opportunity to be an example for the next Terrance so that when they come up, they can look to their left or to the right or above them and see that someone else has done it, and that they don’t have to be the first. I have been the first or the only person of color at other organizations I’ve worked at. And people talk about wanting to increase diversity on their staff or on their board. But those organizations also have to be ready to welcome those people and wrap their arms around them and support them in all of the ways that communities of color need to be supported. And CFC Arts has been open and accepting and affirming of me, in all of my identities, from the day I stepped foot on the job. And so I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m even more grateful for the opportunity to be here in this moment, and to be able to support future leaders who look like me – or who look different than me, but support them nonetheless!

Nicole Darden Creston:
You mentioned the responsibility of the representation and reflection that is inherent in your role.

Terrance Hunter:
Someone said to me, when I shared the news of my promotion with them, someone shared an African proverb with me that says, “When one of us enters, it’s as though the entire race has entered.” Intellectually, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I thought I understood what that meant. I’m still processing what that means. I’m still coming to wrap my arms around what that means. What I have learned in the past month is that my job, my job is to be me, and all of who I am. Because I’m not alone. And I’m not the only one, there are hundreds and thousands of people behind me, pushing me forward, helping me lean into this incredible moment where we are. It means that when I am in a room, I opened the door for others to come along with me. It means that we are supporting small Black businesses and small businesses in general because CFC Arts is a small business, and it’s other people’s support of CFC Arts that allowed us to reach this point. It’s that support of CFC Arts that allows us to be at this point in our organizational history where I can be the first CEO of the organization who also happens to be a gay black man. Right? The responsibility is mine to reinvest in the community, to reinvest in the people who invested in me, the responsibility is mine to support those in community centers where I have served in a volunteer capacity or in other capacities. The responsibility is mine to ensure that I continue to create opportunities for other young leaders, of every race, of every background, of every ethnicity. The responsibility is mine to ensure that I am so successful that no one questions whether or not I’m a diversity hire. The responsibility is mine to ensure that the community continues to see the CFC Arts that they have grown to love, but that I carry it forward and open and create more spaces for people to enjoy all that the arts bring to us both in participatory and observational capacities.

Nicole Darden Creston:
You made a reference to being certain that you could make it clear for the community that you are not a diversity hire. The fact that that has to be in your mind with all of the rest of it sort of angers me, and I’d like to know how you balance that with everything else, which seems uplifting and inspiring and supportive from the community and the people pushing you forward, and seeing your success and wanting that success for you. But then there’s that other “diversity hire” misperception thing. Tell me about that thing.

Terrance Hunter:
It’s a really interesting feeling to have, to know that you are qualified for a role, experienced, have the support of a board and staff and the community and donors…and still know that regardless of your resume, people will question why you were the person (hired). I have, and I am still preparing myself to be tokenized. It hasn’t happened to my face. But what I know is, my experience can’t be taken from me. What I know is that for every conversation that is had about me, in a pejorative sense, there are more conversations happening, that cancel those conversations. What I know is that my responsibility is first and foremost, to me and this organization. And so I will do my job. I prepare myself to be tokenized. I know it will happen. And the way that I deal with it primarily right now is with my closest friends. There are days where things happen. And you just need to call someone and say, Can you believe this? And so that’s what I do. There are people who I can call that pour into me that refill my cup when I have nothing left to give and yet the only option is to keep going, because the people are looking at you and wondering what is next? Where do we go? How do we get there? Will you help us? And so it’s at times frustrating, at times infuriating. But more than that, it’s motivating. It’s motivating, because I like to prove people wrong. I like very much to prove people wrong. And I have always been a person who stays away from the spotlight because I do not like to be the center of attention. But I would also share that there are times where you have to be and for as much as I don’t like to be the person that everyone is focusing on right now, there’s power in being seen. There is power, and leaning into all that you are, and my job right now is to reflect that.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy. When local issues have received international attention, Nicole has reported worldwide for TV news outlets such as CNN, HLN, ABC, Fox News Channel, and BBC News 24.<br><br>When she’s off duty, Nicole can often be found performing with one of Central Florida’s many theatre companies, or taking in local arts, culture and music.