Denise Moore

Councilwoman, City of Peoria
Photography by Kira Kwon

An entrepreneur, financial professional, volunteer and community leader, serving Peoria’s eclectic First District

In addition to serving Peoria’s First District as councilwoman, I am a financial professional with WestPoint Financial Group, an agency of Mass Mutual Financial Group. Prior to taking on this role, I served in various leadership capacities at State Farm Insurance for almost 17 years.

In 1995, I cofounded what would become the largest African-American gift store outside of Chicago and St. Louis. From modest beginnings in our home, my husband and I went on to own two store locations in central Illinois, Moore Cultural Expressions in Normal and Moore Art on Water in Peoria.

The following year, I founded the Black Business Alliance in McLean County. The community yearned for a professional organization that would provide hands-on information and training on starting and growing a business to the minority community, and I answered the call. It was also during this time that I founded a monthly newsletter called The Griot. For three years, it provided more than 350 households in the community with practical tips on running a successful business.

In 2005, the BBA asked me to create Bloomington/Normal’s first African-American-owned radio station, and I served as the first general manager of WXRJ-LP 94.9 FM. Today, the station operates 24/7 on the strength of volunteers alone. It provides culturally-rich educational programming, talk shows and music that connect the area’s communities to one another. I have since been asked to start a similar radio station in Peoria, with its launch anticipated to take place during the second quarter of 2014.

I have previously served on the Proctor Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, as well as a committee that helped to install a rain garden adjacent to the Valeska Hinton Early Education Learning Center. Since 2002, I have been a part of various City of Peoria development meetings, and I am currently in my third year as a member of the Peoria County Minority Business Ad-hoc Committee. I am also a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Women in Leadership and St. Paul Baptist Church.

I am a past Toastmaster president in McLean County, and served six years as the keynote facilitator of Peoria’s annual Women’s Business Expo. In 2009, I was named one of the 25 Women in Leadership by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, WEEK-TV and The Marketeer magazine, and I received the Women Making Modern History Award from AfraVictoria magazine in 2011.

I am a licensed insurance agent and notary public, and have attained the coveted Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter professional designation. I continue to volunteer in the community, serve on various boards, and educate individuals and business owners on methods to take control of their finances while leaving a lasting legacy for their families.

I am also a wife, mother and grandmother. The eldest of four children, I was raised and attended public schools on the south side of Chicago and in the adjacent southern suburbs. I graduated from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, and went on to attend the University of Illinois, majoring in engineering. However, I found my love in providing service to others in the retail industry, and I completed my bachelor’s degree in business administration at Illinois State University.

Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2013.
Being elected to the Peoria City Council is by far my greatest accomplishment of 2013. In my first attempt at public office, enough people agreed that I was the best person to represent their interest in Peoria’s eclectic First District. The district has distinct and defined areas and neighborhoods, all facing similar concerns: developing or reestablishing a commercial base and revitalizing the residential availability of the housing stock, while also trying to creatively encourage some to be part of the solution.

What is your leadership philosophy?
I am a firm believer in empowering people. That means it is important for me to develop a relationship with those I lead to first learn what motivates them and what their vision of success looks like. Taking what I learn, together we map out a success plan that incorporates what they have indicated they are willing to do to be successful with what my organizational needs are. The result reveals what tools are needed to accomplish the agreed-upon metrics. Those tools may include technical training to become more efficient or soft skills training to elicit support from others. The realization that each person may require a different level of empowerment is what has made my philosophy successful. A company that demonstrates respect for the individual is rewarded with greater efficiency and a higher-quality product.

What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
That my success has to be more important to me than to anyone else. As children, we are often raised to perform so others can be proud of us: Eat all of my vegetables so I can get a treat. Score well in sports to win the game. Read the dictionary to help me win the spelling bee. All of these goals are admirable, but it wasn’t until I realized that the emphasis was misplaced did I begin to realize how much I was in control of my own success.

Eating my vegetables would keep me healthy and strong to do the things I aspire to do. Scoring well in sports was a function of my physical preparation to keep my energy high as I performed. My love of reading would take me further than the spelling bee; it would be the foundation of my love of reading and learning today.

What is the best advice you ever received?
Don’t try to be all things to all people. In other words, focus on my goals and what I feel is the best way to achieve them. It can be quite complimentary to be asked to serve in one capacity or another, but it’s up to me to make sure that the service to others is educational, enriching and fulfilling for me as well.

What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
To get self-defeating thoughts out of your head. Too many times in my past I allowed myself or others to talk me out of pursuing a certain goal. Mistakenly, I believed that the time was not right, money was not right, or worst yet, that I was not right, delaying me from reaching some of my goals sooner. I decided that I first had to determine if the goal ahead of me was mine, or one others thought would be good for me.

I now recommend that others not overthink an opportunity that awaits them. Make a simple pros and cons list. Think very critically as the list is being developed. Ask yourself, “Is this what you really want to be doing?”, even if it is what you have already spent part of your life doing. “Or would you be happier doing something else?” Most of all, don’t be afraid of what the answer might be. The result will often amaze.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
In 1963, at the age of five years old, I remember growing up on the south side of Chicago. It wasn’t the ghetto; it was our neighborhood, where people knew each other and watched out for one another. Just because my divorced mom, my brother and I slept in the same bed in a studio apartment, it didn’t mean we were poor; rather, we were close. And due to childhood nose bleeds, I was often kept indoors, watching other kids play. But that didn’t make me a recluse; rather, someone who developed a love of reading, mostly the World Book Encyclopedias.

I cite those instances to convey the optimism I have when interacting with all parts of the First District. From Averyville to the south side, I find situations that remind me of my upbringing. I encounter neighbors, some who have not yet realized their potential and others who are rich in experiences vital to our community. These are not views through rose-colored glasses; rather, the realization that given the chance, somewhere in my district there may be another five-year-old girl or boy who just wants to be given the opportunity to grow up—to not have her current station in life be a scarlet letter she wears that will determine the level of her accomplishment, to take the circumstances she finds herself in and use them to serve her community.

I am honored to have been blessed with the opportunity to serve the First District as its councilperson. iBi