Kristi Booker has built a career helping companies and organizations connect with diverse consumers and navigate issues related to race and ethnicity. So when Charlotte Country Day School, her alma mater, invited her to join its efforts to build a more inclusive campus…well, how could she refuse?
Booker, who was born in Charlotte, was one of seven Black students in her 1998 graduating class, and one of only two Black females. A lot has changed at the independent school since then.
This year, about 27% of Country Day’s newly enrolled students identify as students of color, and their re-enrollment rate is about 97%.
Still, Country Day officials say more can be done.
And that’s where Booker comes in.
As co-chair of the County Day BIPOC Alumni Committee, she and other Country Day graduates of color are working with school administrators to reinforce a campus culture that values diversity and inclusion.
“It’s not a perfect process,” she says, “but the fact that sincere efforts are being made is definitely a very positive step in the right direction.”
Connecting through culture
After graduating from Country Day, Booker embraced her love of travel and foreign languages. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and romance languages at UNC Chapel Hill and later moved to Europe, where she spent time in Florence, Italy, and lived for a year in Spain (she’s fluent in Spanish).
Upon returning to the U.S., Booker worked for various marketing agencies. While working as a director for the Lowe’s Home Improvement account for LatinWorks account, she helped guide the overall strategy and management of all Hispanic television, radio and print advertising. Later, at Pace Communications, she managed the firm’s full-service multicultural practice.
She currently works as director of accounts for AC&M Group, a cultural marketing agency that, according to its website, “connects brands with consumers using cultural insights.” There, Booker develops marketing strategies that connect primarily with Black and Hispanic audiences. She also advises companies looking to connect with Asian and LGBTQ consumers.
Booker also serves as principal and chief marketing officer for CARA B Naturally, which she founded with her sister, Landra Booker Johnson, another Country Day alum. The company produces a line of personal care products for ethnically diverse babies and children — products certified natural by the Natural Products Association.
Booker’s mother, a public school teacher at the time, enrolled her daughters in Country Day when the family moved to Charlotte from Virginia Beach. She wanted to give her daughters a more “hands-on” experience, Booker recalls.
Booker was in 5th grade when she started at Country Day. She remembers her school in Virginia Beach as having a much more diverse student body. But once enrolled at Country Day, she said, she made good friends and received a quality education.
“I was very aware of the fact that I was a Black student in a very majority-white space,” she said, adding that her parents made a deliberate moves to keep her connected to the Black community away from school. “They did a good job of making me very proud of my culture, of my heritage,” she said.
In some ways, Booker said, her time at County Day “made me prouder of my culture and heritage,” she says. “It made me embrace it even more.”
A step in the right direction
The County Day BIPOC Alumni Committee that Booker is co-chairing is in its infancy, still determining the best way to support students of color and contribute to the school’s ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion plans. (Eric Law, Country Day Class of 1976, is the other co-chair).
Booker said her agency experience will prove useful as she helps guide others in learning how to work toward a common goal.
“I work for a very diverse agency. But some clients are not, “ she says. “We bring up issues and talk about how they should navigate and respond to them. It’s about having a spotlight on you and knowing how you should react, how we can communicate to people, and how we don’t alienate people.”
Ultimately, she says, she is excited to help Country Day build on an environment in which students of all backgrounds can thrive.
Booker said she decided to re-engage with Country Day after attending a listening session sponsored by the school. Held virtually in October 2020, the session hosted about 300 people — students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff — all talking about their experiences at the school.
Some of the stories she heard triggered strong emotions, she said, but when the school called afterward and asked her to help lead the BIPOC Alumni Committee, she agreed.
“I was very comforted to see how Country Day is tackling diversity and inclusion,” Booker said. “Progress has been made.”
Kristi Booker, ’98
Director of Accounts for AC&M Group and Chief Marketing Officer for CARA B Naturally
On what inspires her:
“I love different cultures and different languages. I love to travel, that really feeds my spirit. My family is a huge huge inspiration and driver for me. My parents have incredible stories, having grown up in rural segregated Alabama. From them experiencing their own racial trauma which affected my mother at a very young age, to their crafting beautiful and successful lives and a family, that truly inspires me to do the best that I can and be the best I can be.”
Her message for students:
“You’re going to find yourself in difficult environments your whole life, good or bad. And whatever environment you’re in, never feel you have to make yourself smaller, never feel like you have to apologize for who you are and what you represent. Embrace the uniqueness of yourself.”