A part of the series: Through Our Eyes: A Blog Series Centering Community Voice
By Rose Sall
We tend to view the world through a lens that has been tinted by our experiences. From family to our hobbies, these experiences allow us to simultaneously better understand those around us and ourselves. This stood out to be true for the career journey of Ciara Huff – the Executive Director for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Baltimore. Her experiences are set in West Baltimore where she was raised by her mother, who was a childcare provider. She also had a close-knit family that valued knowledge and attending church. As her life took her in many different directions, one thing that stayed constant was her compassion for those outcasted by society. Although she was known as the “quiet one,” Ciara had a family that always supported and uplifted her to use her voice. This then led her to understand the power behind her voice and wanted to ensure that others would be able to do the same. As Executive Director for CASA Baltimore, she assigns advocates to abused and neglected children. Those advocates help represent the children’s voices in the Baltimore juvenile court system to ensure reunification or permanent homes that’ll allow them to reach their full potential. In doing this, the experiences that have tinted her lens influenced her to serve underrepresented communities, leading her to CASA Baltimore.
Ciara’s academic path was anything but linear. She attended the University of Maryland, College Park, intending to become an engineer. After taking a course in criminology, she switched majors and earned her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a minor in Human Development. To Ciara, her B.A. allowed her to better understand the social and economic factors contributing to crimes and, more specifically, youth/juvenile crimes. Following her bachelor’s graduation, she attended the University of Baltimore. She obtained her Master of Art (M.A.) in Legal and Ethical Studies and a Master of Science (M.S.) in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution to narrow down how she can use her knowledge to serve. Throughout this pursuit, she strengthened her relationship with God and her religion. Growing up, her experiences in the church allowed her to understand how to serve, but it wasn’t until she left her family’s home church that she truly found herself. This new church provided a fresh perspective on what it means to serve through the understanding of fulfilling one’s “earthly assignment.” After some reflection, Ciara discovered her earthly assignment – advocating for youth and finding ways to provide reunification opportunities through CASA.
Ciara was introduced to CASA in graduate school while working part-time as a recruiter. At the same time, Ciara worked for the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City as the Grants Administrator and Policy Analyst. Although she witnessed the effort put into different projects that promoted community engagement, she still felt a sense of uneasiness about her passion for the job. As she excelled in both CASA and the SAO, she developed connections with people around the city, including the then Executive Director of CASA Nancy Blackwell. Being her mentor, Blackwell always pushed Ciara to “go for [what’s] next” and find roles that allowed her passions to shine through. Eventually, Blackwell stepped down and asked Ciara to replace her.
After some hesitancy, Ciara decided to jump in as the interim Executive Director of CASA. In 2019, while juggling both jobs, she officially became the Executive Director of CASA. To Ciara, her earthly assignment was advocating for those often minimized and ostracized, just as she saw her mother do as a childcare provider and many others in the church throughout her childhood. Ciara described the beauty of Baltimore as “caring people that want to help the community and don’t do it for show and fashion.” She finds herself surrounded by a city full of people who want to see change happen and are willing to put the work in to create it by addressing the gaps. Therefore, Ciara believes GreenLight Baltimore is an organization that can help, so she decided to become a member of their Selection Advisory Council. She stated that GreenLight Baltimore provides opportunities for the community to look at the gaps and collaborate on different ways to highlight and fill them. “CASA is an underdog organization…we have the wants and needs to fill the gap, but don’t have the resources,” Ciara expresses, but knowing that GreenLight is here filling these gaps allows her to pay it forward.
Ciara’s journey was filled with different experiences and perspectives that created the opportunity for her to discover her passion and earthly assignment. More importantly, those experiences allowed her to discover the heart of Baltimore and work towards bettering the City one day at a time. To conclude our interview, I asked Ciara what the growth of Baltimore means to her and she simply stated: “it would mean it was worth it.” The restless nights that stemmed from the fight to be seen, heard, valued, and understood would all be worth it. Furthermore, it would mean that she fulfilled her purpose, allowing her to pass the torch. She revealed that this journey turned her into “someone [she] doesn’t recognize today, but [she’s] proud of.”