As CEO of Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, Stella Whitney-West is committed to working to achieve more equitable health outcomes for all people.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, Whitney-West was brought up by a father who valued education and emphasized high achievement. She initially earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and went on to conduct research for the food industry at the University of Minnesota, but she sought more hands-on work that would more directly benefit the community.
After returning to school for an MBA, Whitney-West worked as a community health specialist and director at the Minneapolis Urban League as well as other organizations. She has one daughter and has raised her nieces and nephews as her own.
Whitney-West is a champion for preparing and empowering the next generation of leaders. “I think when people see—particularly BIPOC communities, African American communities—when they see another African American woman who is working at the level that I’m working, I think it has a major impact on the community.
“I think they see that there’s someone that’s working on their behalf, there’s an advocate, there’s a door that opens for them,” she continued. “I think the defining moment for me was when I realized that people saw me as a leader, as someone who could actually have a major impact.”
Through a partnership between Hennepin County and NorthPoint’s community board of directors, which is made up of patients and people who live and/or work in the community, the agency strives to improve the physical and socioeconomic health of North Minneapolis residents through an integrated model of health and human services.
Not surprising, given NorthPoint’s ambitious mission, Whitney-West’s journey as CEO has not been without its challenges. “I think my biggest challenge is my enthusiasm and passion and being able to know how to use my leverage in such a way that it doesn’t come off as threatening,” she continued.
Sometimes, when I’m passionate—which is most of the time about the work that I do—sometimes people misread it as threatening and aggressive.” She takes the role of developing community leadership and mentoring seriously, both professionally and personally.
“I would say my most impactful relationship as a mentor has been with my daughter,” Whitney-West said. “She’s the principal of Central High School, a job that was a dream job for her. Every morning we talk, and we talk about what’s going on in her career, what’s going on at her job.
“I’m always providing her with advice about being a leader. Being a principal is very similar to being a CEO—you are in charge. You’re in charge of providing guidance, inspiration and leadership for a lot of people. And the work that you do impacts a lot of people.”
As for the future, Whitney-West says she’s nearing the end of her career and looking to make the transition to new leadership at NorthPoint. Her goals, she said, are “helping NorthPoint and the community board define the next level of leadership. I’m at the stage now where I’m looking to retire. And I feel so strongly that part of my responsibility is to provide pathways and provide opportunities for that next level of leadership within this organization.
“The community, the people that I feel like I am serving and working for, continually inspire me. The staff here inspires me, my grandchildren and the next generation,” said Whitney-West. “I’m constantly feeling that I’ve got to continue to do this work for them.”
As for those who want to follow in her footsteps: “I would say be true to yourself. It is not so important that you follow in my footsteps, but that you establish where you want to go, what makes you, you. What’s important to you,” she advised.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are following in my footsteps, but that you have spent the time to really get to know what’s important to you, what makes you want to be a leader, contributor.”
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