Desiree Peterkin Bell is a 2x Best-Selling author, award-winning seasoned public affairs and brand strategist, speaker, and advocate who seeks to lead movements, not moments. With over 20 years of experience, Desiree has served as a trusted advisor and brand builder to some of the nation’s most influential thought, cultural, and world leaders of our time. Today, she operates in her purpose despite her change in position, to champion causes designed to amplify the voices of people of color and other marginalized communities.
With an accomplished career that is battle-tested and proven, Desiree has cemented her role as a key fixture in political, public affairs, marketing, and strategy circles around the world. Recognizing that she drinks deeply from wells she did not dig, Desiree Peterkin Bell is passionate about engaging with people, brands, and projects that are positioned to make the greatest impact.
Recognized as one of the best and brightest in Public Affairs and the PR industry, Desiree has been recognized nationally and globally by PR Week’s “40 under 40,” Black Enterprise, The Obama Administration, For(bes) The Culture, Essence Magazine, and Pope Francis.
Desiree is the Founder and CEO of DPBell & Associates, a firm that serves both national and international clients, with team members in Washington, D.C., New York City, New Jersey, Mauritius, Tel Aviv, and Los Angeles. They specialize in public relations, brand management, innovative tech and positioning, strategic counselling, crisis communications, media training, digital organizing, event production, political consulting, content development, and strategic partnerships.
Hi Desire, Thank you so much for coming to the Leader Show. It is such an honour to have you here, and we would love to know more about you. You are a strong woman and a strategist speaker. I’ve heard many of your talks, and the conversations you’ve had have helped people activate compassion while also empowering them, particularly young women. But I would like to know more about you. Who is Desiree in your own words?
Thank you. I am so excited to be here. How do I describe who I am? Desiree Peterkin Bell is a fierce warrior for justice; she is a protector; she is a mother, a wife, a sister, and a daughter; and she is a purposeful, determined woman on this planet, living with a desire to make the world a better place and a better place for her daughter. She is also soft, and she also loves to laugh. She is also learning to be vulnerable every single day. That is who Desiree is.
You were named communication advisor for the Chicago-based American campaign in 2012. You managed to advise the campaign’s communication strategies, keeping them in-formed. Can you talk more about this experience if you can share a little bit more?
I had an amazing career and a great opportunity to work with amazing folks, one of whom was former President Barack Obama, helping to lead Pennsylvania. Also, prior to that, I was helping as a field organiser for his first run as president. That experience helped to make me hopeful about change and about the right people in the right place at the right time.
How was it to meet the 44 presidents of the United States? How important was this to you?
It was very important to me as a black woman to have the opportunity in my lifetime to see my country have its first black president, to be able to work hard to make that a possibility, and for my daughter to see that as well. From a representation standpoint, this is amazing. From a policy standpoint, it was invigorating. It was fresh, and it was impactful. I also made lifelong friends along the way, people who are also committed to purpose and impact.
Even though we are in the 21st century, there is still a lot of concern about mental health. People try to depress their thoughts and emotions, and of course, this need means distractions such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, and many other things. According to you, what steps may be taken to increase mental health awareness, and what can we do about it? How important is this?
Mental health is extremely important. I have had my own mental health journeys, and what I have learned is that there is power in vulnerability and sharing. As a black woman in the USA, there are certain stereotypes and microaggressions that are unfortunately more likely to be experienced simply because we are black women. I think there is something to be said about how this impacts our mental health. How we show up in the world; how are we allowed to be vulnerable, and how do we challenge the unfortunate stereotypical, discriminatory trope of the strong black woman, which says: “As a strong black woman, we cannot be vulnerable; we cannot be soft? ” We cannot hurt; we cannot feel. And we must almost always be this stereotype.
I think this impacts the mental health of black women disproportionally, unfortunately. And this is something I work hard to address in the black community in the United States by providing a safe space for black women to speak their truth, assert their power, be vulnerable, connect, and build with one another. The German philosopher once said, ‘He who has the try to live can bare almost anyhow.” According to you, how important is the purpose in life and how can people find it?
Purpose in life is extremely important. How people can face different struggles in life and find purpose. Well, I always say, I dream deeply from wells, I did not dig. What this means is that there are people who have had a stronger, longer, and sometimes more difficult journey than myself. My ancestors were brought to the United States in chains as slaves through the middle passage. The other part of my ancestors were moved off their land in the United States as Indians. That is what it is in my veins. That is why I do the work that I do—purposeful work, a global impact work because I have people in my past who paved the way for me so that I get to stand up and do the work that I love to do. I believe everyone has a purpose in their life to be impactful. How important is compassion in the world? How do you activate compassion in the world?
I do believe that we are all interconnected, and it is important to understand that if one of the people next to us is hurting, ultimately that is going to impact us too. Therefore, we cannot live in these bubbles that allow us to fracture or only focus on our communities, our neighbourhoods, and our coffee tables. We need to take a broader approach because that is only possible when we grow. I do believe in being uncomfortable; I do believe that you only grow and learn when you are uncomfortable. You also get to be a better person when you are uncomfortable because you allow yourself to be put in a situation to grow and learn things that you have not known. Could you provide some additional insight into some of the subjects that are discussed in your best-selling book ‘’Women Who Influence’’? And what do you think are the most essential things that readers should go away with after reading this?
A few years ago, I was a contributor to a book called “Women Who Influence” which became an Amazon bestseller. Some of the most essential things that the readers should take away from that are having uncomfortable conversations. I started a mission in 2016 called “Pur-pose NOT Position. Chat and choose” where I sit down with women all over the world, breaking bread and having some heart-to-heart conversations. Also, with women who seem very different from the outside, we find that after breaking bread and after spending significant time together, we have a lot more in common than we have differences. That does not mean that everyone walks away becoming friends, but what it does mean, is that people walk away understanding a world much greater than themselves. I wrote about this in my portion in “The Women Who Influence” and what I found out in my journeys and the power of people’s stories and the respect that we can garner and get from here through people’s experiences and through people's stories to build a better world.
Tell me a leadership quote that has inspired you in your life.
One leadership quote that I love is “If they don’t invite you to the table, grab a folding chair’’. It means that you don’t wait for your invitation to happen. You have to find your place at the table, and you may elbow yourself in and get a folding chair. In some cases, you may have to bust that door down and get in the room. Because if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu.
Thank you so much for your interview. It was lovely to have you here at The Leader Show.