Spotlight on Tony Tukai

Our member spotlight is on Tony Tukai (he/him)! Excited to be part of a community of great individuals in Vermont, Tony was born in Kenya and relocated to Burlington in 2022. He currently works as the Outreach/Case Manager for the Homeless Care Program within the Community Health Centers.

In this spotlight, Tony offers insight into his background, his experiences, and the challenges and opportunities he has observed as a relatively new professional of color in Vermont.

Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT and what brought you to the state.

Prior to moving to Vermont, my background is rooted in both Kenyan and American culture. I was born in Kenya, belonging to the Maasai pastoralist tribe, and I am the fifth child among seven siblings. As the first in my family to achieve a university degree, I pursued my undergraduate studies in social work at Rutgers University in New Jersey, followed by a master’s degree in public health from Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK. My professional journey encompasses diverse roles in non-profit organizations and governmental institutions, focusing on serving vulnerable populations both nationally and internationally. My relocation to Vermont was motivated by my partner’s employment opportunity in Burlington.

Why are you a member of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network?

I am a member of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network because I deeply resonate with its vision, mission, and values. Joining VT PoC has allowed me to connect with like-minded individuals and has provided me with a sense of belonging and community. The network’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and supporting professionals of color aligns with my own values and aspirations, making it natural fit for me.

What do you enjoy about living in Vermont? What do you enjoy about working in Vermont?

Living in Vermont offers me numerous joys. The lush green spaces and strong sense of community create a welcoming environment. Residing in Burlington allows me the convenience of walking, utilizing public transportation, or biking to work, which enhances my connection to the city. Secondly, the accessibility to my state representatives is a notable advantage, enabling me to engage with local governance effortlessly thus enriches my professional experiences, contributing to a fulfilling work environment.

What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT professional of color before arriving?

Firstly, I would have appreciated guidance on navigating Vermont. Secondly, insights into building supportive networks with the professional community, particularly among individuals who share similar experience would have been invaluable. That said receiving guidance on these aspects would have better prepared me for navigating and thriving as a professional of color in Vermont.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced on a professional level since living in VT?

Having been living in Vermont and working at my current workplace for slightly one year, I’ve been fortunate not to encounter significant challenges personally. My workplace has been supportive and has made me feel welcome as it has Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in place. However, through conversations with other professionals of color, I’ve gained insights in the hurdles they have faced. These challenges include feeling isolation, lack of representation among individuals who share similar backgrounds or experiences, and unequal access to career development opportunities, networking, and mentorship initiatives.

Additionally, cultural differences between minority employees and their counterparts have sometimes led to misunderstanding or conflicts in the workplace. Lastly, there’s the issue of tokenism, where individuals may be hired or promoted solely to meet diversity quotas, rather than based on their skills and qualifications. These discussions have deepened my understanding of broader professional landscapes in Vermont and highlighted areas where continued efforts towards inclusivity and equity are crucial.

How have you overcome the challenges?

Being a global citizen and someone who is aware of these challenges I stay proactive in creating an inclusive and supporting professional environment by e.g., establishing support network, fostering cultural competence, welcoming allyship, advocate for equity, cultural awareness and sensitivity and led by an example by promoting inclusivity, respect, and collaboration in my interactions with Vermonters.

Tell us about the work you’re doing!

My employer is Community Health Centers in Burlington. I work as an Outreach/Case Manager within the Homeless Care Program. My primary responsibility is to enhance the health and wellbeing of homeless individuals and families. Through diligent case management, I focus on improving access to primary health care and mental health/substance abuse services. My work directly contributes to addressing the healthcare and social needs of our homeless population, promoting their overall stability and quality of life.

What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future?

Community collaboration, public awareness, housing stability programs, access to supporting services as well as addressing systemic inequities. I see opportunities for mental health counseling for BIPOC community in Vermont which hopefully I too can offer at some point.

In what ways could the state better support BIPOC living in Vermont?

The state can help BIPOC living in Vermont by providing access to funding, community empowerment, healthcare access, education investments, criminal justice reforms, economic development programs. This will address systematic inequities, promote social justice, and create more equitable opportunities and outcomes for BIPOC living in Vermont.

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