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My cultural biography. Who are you? In 5 minutes or less.

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Key Words: traditions, education, family values, religion, culture, heritage


I was born during turbulent times. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was in 1963, the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, and I was born in 1966. The turmoil continued as Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life was taken away in 1968, and years of anti-war protests against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War came to a head in 1969. There was so much going on in America that could shake your faith, yet my parents persevered and worked hard to provide a better way of life for the family. I am Lisa Coffey. The late John A. Coffey, Sr. and Mary L. Coffey are my parents. I was born on my parents’ first wedding anniversary, March 13, 1966, and I am the most incredible anniversary gift ever.

My Parents

My father, a veteran of the United States Air Force, was very disciplined. I lived a life with an abundance of rules, guidance, and love. The strict conditions in which I grew up make me the woman I am today. I was born into a Pittsburgh steel mill family in which my father was the breadwinner. My mother dedicated most of her life to raising her children and being a homemaker. Years later, my mother became an entrepreneur and her company is still thriving. As a steelworker, my father made "good money," as my mom would say. We were neither rich nor poor but comfortable. My family moved at the age of 10 from an all-black community to an equally diverse community. I attended Catholic schools until high school; I opted for the public high school because I wanted a change.

Religion & Ethnicity

Religion was a large part of my upbringing; as a student in the Catholic school system, I regularly attended religious classes and mass. Outside of school, I attended Sunday school and church with my family on a regular basis. I practiced two religions: Catholicism, during the week, which was very traditional with hymns and structure. On the weekend, I was a Baptist, with high fives, handshakes, tambourines, drums, horns, and a soulful gospel choir. Although each religion has different traditions, they both used the King James Version of the Bible; therefore, the principles were identical. Praise, worship, and prayer are a part of my life, not only on Sunday, but every day that God gives me breath.

My elementary school, St. Joseph, was 100% black. My principal, Sister Myrna Rosa Joseph, was from Nigeria. While in the first grade, I was introduced to the culture of "black" people the world over; I learned about the slave trade, African languages, scarification, and customs from the motherland in the form of dancing, music, food, celebrations, and attire. Although I was not born in Africa, early exposure framed my identity and allowed me to embrace my cultural heritage.

My middle/junior high school, St. Martins, was 99% white. My brother and I were the only two black kids above the fifth grade. The other students in the school experienced culture shock from our mere presence. In 1976, I wore an afro, which was common in the African American culture. The white kids, teachers, nuns, and priests could not understand how I got my hair to stand up, or when I wore cornrows how I got my hair to lay down and stay together. One student asked, "Did you glue your hair together?" and another asked, "If you don't take those (cornrows) out every day, how often do you wash your hair?" I felt as though I was "show and tell," most of the time. Nevertheless, I embraced the opportunity to teach those unfamiliar with my culture. By the time my eighth-grade year rolled around, I was captain of the cheerleading squad. Not too bad for a girl who was the oddball.

Cultural Experiences

I am 55 years young, proud of my heritage, upbringing, and life's journey. I love to travel, and while visiting, I go into the communities and absorb the people's culture. Resort life is fantastic, but the city is the heartbeat of the destination. Although the wine I brought back from Italy has long been consumed, I have artwork, prints, ceramics, masks, statues, glass, and other artifacts representing cultures from around the globe in my home, and they are excellent conversation starters. Diversity awareness is the springboard that allows our minds and hearts to embrace those most unlike ourselves, enjoy the differences, and develop a tolerance for others.

Employment & Education

Currently, I work in a family-owned business, and I am responsible for the organization's overall administrative tasks. In 2019, I launched my consulting company 4 Pillars 2 Power (4P2P) and my writings fall under that umbrella of work. I received an AS degree from Community College of Allegheny County in Business Administration and dual BS degrees from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Human Resource Management and Business Management. I also have an MS Degree from Duquesne University in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Sports Leadership. I also hold a Ph.D. in Instructional Management and Leadership Studies. My dissertation is titled Leadership

Accountability: A difference maker or not? An examination of NCAA male student athlete's moral disengagement in sport, flawed decision-making, and rule transgressions.

Food for the Soul

I love to cook; in the African American culture, food is an expression of love, a time for gathering the family for fellowship. Sometimes I cook soul food, and other times I do not. However, a good home-cooked meal will bring all of my sons home with extra guests on any given day.

Key Takeaway:

My purpose for sharing this biography is to prompt you to consider how your culture makes you unique/different and how those differences influence your interactions with others. Spend some time writing your cultural biography to understand who you are and how your heritage influences your life.

© 2021 Dr. Lisa M. Coffey

Me at 7 after an African Dance Performance



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