Marimba Milliones is a Woman on a Mission

Marimba Milliones, President & CEO of the Hill District Community Development Corporation

How many years have you been in your industry?

I volunteered in community development for over a decade before assuming a position in 2011.

What has been your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration in my work is the comprehensive vision that the Hill District community created for itself.  The sheer will and determination exhibited by the people of the Hill District to realize a vision in spite of the repeated trauma and disinvestment of the area is inspiring. I am inspired to discover what is next. I’m always so excited about what awaits!

Name one person you consider to be a great role model and tell us why.

I consider my parents my most important and greatest role models;  Margaret and Jake Milliones and Barbara Sizemore (Stepmom).  I am unable to name only one of them because they have each impacted me at my core in fundamentally different ways.  They each had their own style and approach to parenting, leadership and community building and that molded me into the person I am today. I most admire their determination to follow their values in the face of adversity.  The more I grow in my own leadership journey, the more I appreciate how much courage, love and determination they demonstrated.

What advice would you give to any one about following their dreams?


Generally speaking, I believe that our hopes and dreams are glimpses of our life’s purpose and that they are divinely imparted inus — and that we are uniquely designed to carry them out.  With the right investment of time, energy and effort, we are able to achieve tremendous accomplishments.  Assuming that our dreams are in fact connected to our purpose, it is not only a matter of what you want, but it is also a matter of what the world needs of you.

You are the only person who can fulfill your dream and/or purpose perfectly; you should get busy doing so.  The world is waiting.

What is the biggest career or business mistake that you have ever made?

My biggest challenges and mistakes have been linked to my insatiable appetite for authenticity and truth.  Basically, I just want to be able to lay things out in the spirit of working through challenges with all involved – even if that is difficult and scary.  I have learned that everyone is motivated by different things; some by achievement, others by efficiency, some by money, some by recognition etc.  I have had to learn how to listen for clues into what motivates other people/partners/colleagues so that progress can be made irrespective of motivating factors.

I have also come to realize that I tend to be attracted to solving complex problems that can be overwhelming to some, and that I have to communicate it in incremental steps instead of the whole vision.

What was the best thing that you have ever done that got you where you are today?

The biggest thing I did was walk away from my own business to run a non-profit.  I volunteered for over a decade for the Hill CDC as Board Chair; leading the restructuring of the organization. I loved working for myself and love entrepreneurship because I am a creator at-heart.  When the opportunity to serve the organization came, I knew I had to respond to the call because it is connected to my life’s purpose and it resonated in my spirit as such.  The most important thing for me in life is to know that I have used my gifts and skills in a way that contributes to the uplifting of others.  For me, the drive to help extends beyond the walls of my home and into the broader of the world. We all have a destiny, but it can be thwarted if we are non-responsive to the call.

Each person has to define how they want to respond to their call, but don’t just let that phone ring.  Pick it up.

What would you tell your younger self?

Two things:

  1. Haters goin’ hate. Or more eloquently stated by Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
  2. Do your very best and leave the rest to God.

What would you do differently in your career or business?

Since I am an outcome-based person, I generally focus on how to achieve outcomes through sound strategy and hard work.  I have learned that it is critical to also focus on building quality relationships -as trust, understanding and respect are foundational to achieving goals and are only attainable through relationships. I learned that if people do not know who you are, they will create a persona anyway.  Being accessible and allowing people to connect through relationships is important, however, we must all be careful not to hang our self-esteem and self-concept on other’s opinions, lest you may be “eaten alive”.


When did you first become aware of your purpose?

First, I’m still discovering my full purpose, but I know that a part of it is wrapped up in tackling complex challenges that, if solved, unlocks something powerful. This applies to people and projects.  So for example, I believe that the redevelopment of the Hill District as a community that centers and celebrates its African American cultural legacy will unlock Pittsburgh’s ability to become a world-class city.  Or for example, I am a certified Gallup Strengths Coach and I believe that helping people to understand their natural talents can unlock their full potential to operate in excellence, which could possibly change the world.   If I’m not helping something to shift, I’m pretty unfulfilled and that’s a space I know is counter to my purpose.

My earliest memory of walking in my purpose was at 7 or 8 when I was in 3rdgrade.  I remember being sent to the principal’s office for holding my ground on an issue that I knew to be factually correct around race.  I remember picketing stores when I was in grade school about apartheid in South Africa, and while it was my parents’ choice for meto picket, I do recall being ok with having to do it.  I was punished in high school for launching my own Black History program since the school had nothing planned.  I have been negotiating the terrain of saying/doing things thatother’s felt, but would not say for my entire life.  It’s a blessing and a curse, and I am still learning how to manage this trait particularly in spaces that lack diversity along racial and/or gender lines.

Marimba will be honored at the Onyx Woman Leadership Awards on Saturday, October 6, 2018, at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg from 6-9:00 pm. Click on the link to register.

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