Public speaker, Iraq war veteran, forensic criminologist and active humanitarian are the different labor hats Denise Manning, 31, wears from day to day. She managed to snatch success despite her “rough upbringing” in Oakland, Calif.
“I would look around and see people getting pregnant, on drugs or in gangs,” said Manning. “I came from nothing and I define who I am. I’ve been doing so ever since.”
Manning recalled on one hand the number of relatives she had in her life, and out of those select, few to none of them supported her.
“My father was a drug king from Watts and my grandmother was a pimp who owned whore houses throughout California,” she said. “The family I have said I would never make it.”
The lack of encouragement gave her the incentive to prove them wrong. She used education as a ticket out of her hometown; to her, it was a way to prove to herself and others that she was intelligent, independent and capable.
“In Iraq, I realized that I have more certificates and certifications than I can count because I was told I wasn’t going to be nothing,” said Manning. “I let my work speak for me rather than what is behind my name.”
Mary McLeod Bethune and Dorothy I. Height, pioneer leaders during the civil rights movement, became her idols.
“They were visionaries,” Manning said. “They believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves.”
Manning has been busy in the eight months she’s lived in Tallahassee. She is a transition coordinator and mentor coach supervisor at the department of Juvenile Justice. There, she created a mentoring program for the youth placed in the system, who are then paired with someone who can coach them to success.
Manning also serves as the fundraising chair for the Leon County Juvenile Justice Council, a neighborhood accountability board member for Palmer Munroe teen center, and a coordinator for the juvenile justice research Institute at FAMU. She is working to establish a Girls of Power mentoring program.
“Ms. Manning has a conviction to serving the community and I have the upmost respect for her,” said Dale Landry, NAACP president.
She is the current president of the National Council of Negro Women of the greater Tallahassee section, a Sigma Gamma Rho top leader for 2006 and 2010 and community coordinator for the Tallahassee NAACP.
“Ms. Manning is driven, a self-motivated woman and true entertainer,” said Tiffanie Ingraham, 22, criminal justice student from Polk City.
She has been on several panels, facilitated female empowerment workshops, fed the homeless, and created an event called Buckle up Tallahassee, which educates children on safety. This event was proclaimed Buckle Up Tallahassee Day by Commissioner Bill Proctor.
While in Iraq, she created the first recycling program for soldiers and Iraqis. Shortly after her deployment from Iraq in 2010, she has been giving back to the community.
“I was that little girl who was hurting, traumatized, molested and abused,” Manning said.
Manning said her motto is failure is not an option and success is the best revenge.