Collin Gehl

Human Resources Director, Say Yes Buffalo

Name: Collin Gehl

Current title: Human Resources Director, Say Yes Buffalo

Age: 43

Collin Gehl has carved out a relevant occupational niche. This month, the forty-three-year-old Buffalo native becomes the first human resources director for Say Yes Buffalo, the burgeoning education-based nonprofit that also supports workforce development. There aren’t many men of color in the human resources field, notes Gehl, a graduate of City Honors, University at Buffalo, and Medaille College, where he earned a masters in organizational leadership. After five years as a talent acquisitions specialist (recruiter) and development manager for Child & Family Services of Erie County, a job that involved working with Say Yes and other partners to address community needs from mental health counseling to domestic violence shelters, Gehl was eager for the opportunity. Growing up in a household where social justice underscored career—his father, Scott, was longtime executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal and his mother, Danis, was associate director of the Educational Opportunity Center at UB—Gehl gravitated toward work with a purpose. He sits on the boards of the Buffalo Niagara Human Resources Association, Just Buffalo Literary Center, and Tapestry Charter School. The Elmwood Village resident is excited to embark on a new venture, where he sees himself as a “younger person in a newer career.”

Tell us about growing up in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood of Buffalo.

My mother is Black and my dad’s white. Being biracial in Buffalo in the 1980s, with my parents in an intact marriage—it’s forty-eight years for them!—was definitely a challenge.  I remember a lot of stares when we went out as a family.  My parents were very clear about what was happening. I identify as a person of color, have always identified as Black. Now, as a society, and in Buffalo, there are many more families like mine. It has shifted and evolved. Is racism over? No, certainly not. But people are beginning to recognize systems are not as fair and equitable as we thought.

You are in the second cohort of the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color; what’s this?

This is nonprofit leadership development presented by people of color for emerging leaders of color. Many of us are “the only” or “one of” in our organizations. There are micro-aggressions to deal with every day, and a lot of unconscious bias. In pre-pandemic days, when I traveled to a  lot of job fairs and health fairs, it was important for others to see someone who looked like me. What motivates me now is creating an opportunity for others, and to be able to leave a legacy, more versions of people who look like me so this is no longer an anomaly in the human resources field.

Your outlook remains positive, even with all the distressing recent events.

I used to go to the gym a lot  to decompress and recharge. Gyms closed and I work out at home now. I do a lot of reading and listening to podcasts. I used to run every morning. I don’t anymore.  Watching people harassing people of color has been extremely challenging. I have really had a lot of anxiety about interactions with the police. Multiple times, I have been pulled over, fortunately just getting away with a ticket a couple of times. Mostly this happens in suburban communities, when I may be stopped and asked where I am going.  Now, anytime I see police, I get anxious. I can’t think about this all the time or I wouldn’t go anywhere.

That is so disturbing, not to mention depressing.

Well, there are a couple of things that give me hope. My mother was one of the students who helped integrate schools in Buffalo back in the day.  And I do think things are evolving here. People are now recognizing there are a lot of systems set up to promote white supremacy—and using that term!  I never thought I’d see that. I am working with people who are helping to make this world a better place, who are committing to racial equity. So I am hopeful. As long as any of us are able to draw breath, we have hope and can make an impact. I choose to make a positive one.

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