Attorney Charles Montorio-Archer, 46, is the first African American CEO in the 124-year history of Chicago’s One Hope United, a social services organization with a $52 million budget. OHU provides education, foster care, adoption, counseling and other support to over 9,000 children and families annually in four states. Montorio-Archer, who took the helm in January, is married and lives in River North.
How does it feel to be One Hope United’s first black CEO?
Failure is not an option for what my leadership represents to our clients and staff.
What was your childhood like?
In certain ways, my family was like our clients here. We had one foot in poverty and one foot in the middle class. I grew up in Brooklyn, the oldest of eight. Both my parents worked, and we had all the necessities, but it was still a struggle. At one point, we lived in the projects.
How did that affect you?
I had a fear that my life would be like that forever.
Your turning point?
I had to repeat fourth grade, and that changed everything. I realized that if I didn’t achieve educational advancement, I could be trapped in that situation.
What major hurdles have you overcome?
Accepting myself for who I am. As an African American growing up in a Christian home, sexuality was heterosexual, and that was that. I didn’t fully live my life as a gay man until four years ago, when I met my husband (Paolo Montorio-Archer). That transformation is particularly important at One Hope.
I expect our clients to be open about their lives, so I must be, too.
A time you struggled hardest?
When I was getting my bachelor’s at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, I ran out of money. I went back to New York and got a job at a nonprofit working from 4 to midnight. I slept a few hours and at 5 a.m. drove back to school.
What has been most difficult about moving from New York to Chicago?
Being away from Paolo. He is a vice president at (fashion house) Lanvin in New York, so we see each other on weekends.
On what do you splurge?
Art. We like emerging artists who do abstract, message-driven work and really powerful pieces, such as Jonathan Rosen and Guy Stanley Philoche.
Who are your heroes?
People who don’t have as much as I have and still make life work, especially single mothers. Drag queens are some of the most courageous people in the world, too. To walk out publicly knowing that you may not be accepted takes strength.