2022 Onyx Woman Leadership Award Honoree Lisa J. Perry


Name: Lisa J. Perry
Title: Executive Director
Company: Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR)
Industry: Nonprofit

What role has the support of other women played in your success?
While some may have us believe that women, especially Black women, can’t be there for each other, the truth is that for me, my anchors have and continue to be the amazing women in my life and career that helped scaffold my success. From my mother’s unconditional love to so many women who were leaders and change agents throughout my career, and to my daughter, who cheers me on and encourages me to be bold and unapologetically fierce. I am blessed to have had models for what success could look like and especially blessed that I’ve had many Black women who paved the way for me.

Are you where you thought you’d be, and how did you get there?

Who I am today and where I’ve landed in my life and career have not been a straight path. I have embraced the available opportunities and worked hard to acquire new skills and roles that would give me the flexibility to shift and change as I grew personally and professionally. Success takes hard work, leading from whatever place you find yourself, and always being a student of life. I graduated with a communications degree and thought I would be the next Oprah. But there’s only one Lady O. I had to create my dreams. I began in higher education administration and then taught and worked in private boarding schools in New England for several years. Following my divorce, I found myself searching for my next steps and shifted my skills and interests into the nonprofit sector where I began as a project manager and now serve as Executive Director of one of the oldest rape crisis centers in the country. None of my experience has gone to waste. I’ve curated a life service.

What would you tell other women about overcoming obstacles?

We will always face obstacles and challenges in life, but you have to ask yourself, “how will you show up?” Determining how you will respond to the things we face is critical. Choosing faith over fear means that obstacles can turn out to be amazing lessons and blessings along our journey. You should also be kind to yourself along the way and know that “trouble doesn’t last always.” Our mother-sister-friend, Maya Angelou, stated, “When it looks like the sun wasn’t ever going to shine, God puts a rainbow in the clouds.”

What does the phrase “Sis, I see you!” mean to you?
I love the phrase “Sawubona.” It’s a South African Zulu word for “I see you.” I live my life by this phrase because it speaks to the deep and powerful impact of being a true witness to someone’s life, inviting them to show up fully as they are. It’s an agreement centered on being present and honoring someone’s authentic self. When I think about the phrase “Sis, I see you,” I think about just how important it is for Black women to honor one another by showing up, being supportive, celebrating, and caring for each other.

Many women have been beacons of light to show me how to navigate in new and different environments. The women in my family have cultivated my work ethic. My success is rooted in the women who have impacted my life.

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