Henderson-Rivers worked at the councilman’s office for three hours every day after school and on Saturdays, all without receiving a paycheck. At home, she balanced the struggles of growing up poor in New York City with following her dreams of fostering social progress.
“We lost everything due to fires three times,” recalled Henderson-Rivers, who grew up with her mother and three siblings, two of which her mom adopted.
The family moved into a hotel for nine months, and a young Henderson-Rivers was struck by the generosity of those around her. Neighbors cooked for them, or opened up their kitchens; the hotel manager worked with the insurance company to make sure they could stay there as long as was necessary.
Henderson-Rivers describes her mom as the “neighborhood mother” with a huge heart, opening her doors to the community despite not having much economically. It was the kindness she observed growing up that left a lasting impression.
“It makes you want to figure out how to give back,” Henderson-Rivers said. “These civic leaders, these pastors, they have all been a part of raising me. Any time something happens in this community it’s not just a win for me, it’s a win for them and an acknowledgement to them, because they poured in me just about my entire life.”
In college, Henderson-Rivers was promoted as White’s legislative director at City Hall. By 1998, she was working on statewide gubernatorial races for then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr. After five years of being involved at various levels of government, Henderson-Rivers was hired by her lobbying mentor, Joni Yoswein, in 2003. At Yoswein’s firm, she represented clients such as IKEA, SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn Philharmonic and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
In 2008, Henderson-Rivers decided to take 16 years of political experience and go into business for herself. Connective Strategies Associates allows Henderson-Rivers, a passionate, hardworking professional, the freedom to decide which clients to invest her time and energy. Throughout her career, Henderson-Rivers kept her first mentor Thomas White’s words in mind as a mantra, informing her initiative each step along the way.
“I’ve spent my life learning the system and then teaching it to other people,” she said. “I’d rather be behind the scenes, crafting the message and really working to put people in office who I believe want to make a difference in my community.”
Of all the local races Henderson-Rivers has been involved in, she is most proud of the last. She was instrumental in Melinda Katz’s successful campaign to be elected Queens district attorney. With mass incarceration disproportionately affecting communities of color, it was critical for her to work with a candidate she believed would regard her community equitably. As president of one of less than ten black-owned lobbying firms in the state, Henderson-Rivers has fought equally diligently on her own behalf.
“Being black in the private sector is not easy,” Henderson-Rivers explained. “We work twice as hard, twice as long, and we don’t receive equal pay.” Compound that with being a woman, and not only is the pay gap even more disparaging, but Henderson-Rivers is also left with the feeling that she is constantly competing with the men – particularly white men – who dominate the political sector.
“There’s this never-ending fight where you’re always protecting what you have and trying to grow,” she said. Finding support in her faith, as well as a reliable network of friends, family and fellow businesswomen, Henderson-Rivers is driven to continue her mission of lifting up those around her. In addition to being an ordained minister specializing in grief and death,
Henderson-Rivers uses her business as a platform as well. Connective Strategies hires anywhere between 15 and 20 people each year, making a point to select from hard to employ populations, such as those formerly incarcerated and aspiring young professionals looking for that first experience to jump start their career.
Henderson-Rivers brings her story full circle through giving young women and girls an experience of mentorship, much like the one that began her own journey (except she says everyone gets paid).
“The best advice I can give to someone is that they need to develop this thing called ‘stickwitit.’ People sometimes get discouraged and they abandon what it is that they really want to do, because they can’t figure out how to make their path,” she said. “You have doors shut in your face, you don’t have a cheering squad, but nobody is going to cheer for you and encourage you until you figure out how to do it for yourself.”