“Great Vision Does Not Require Great Sight”
Kenyetta has worked to help others through the nonprofit sector for over 25 years, despite being diagnosed with Stargardt disease at the age of 31. Kenyetta is now the chief operating officer of REACH Riverside Development Corporation and has been recognized for her career achievements by many.
Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years to build organizations that bring out the best in her community.
In 2004, Kenyetta was a newlywed and was just starting to establish her career, working for West End Neighborhood House, one of Wilmington’s largest social service nonprofits. Kenyetta had taken the day off work to relax with her mother, thinking they could make a quick stop at the eye doctor for a new glasses prescription before going to the spa. But after looking at Kenyetta’s eyes, her optometrist was concerned he couldn’t correct her vision and called a retina specialist. They immediately visited the specialist that afternoon, and after a variety of tests, the specialist diagnosed her with Stargardt disease at the age of 31.
“The news of my diagnosis was so shocking, and it sounds silly, but it was hard to accept at first because it wasn’t something that I had caused, it just happened,” says Kenyetta. “I just had to figure out how to keep going, and I became more resilient with time.”
Kenyetta started researching, trying to connect with other doctors and support groups for retinal diseases. Kenyetta discovered she should be genetically tested and participated in genetic counseling, learning that her Stargardt disease is caused by mutations in the ABCA4 gene.
Since no one else in Kenyetta’s family has ever been diagnosed with Stargardt disease, she felt alone in the early stages of her diagnosis. But being the proactive person that she is, Kenyetta continued pursuing her passions in her life and career, which were so important to her.
Kenyetta grew up with a private catholic school education, which she remembers taught her about service to others. One of Kenyetta’s favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
“I really think my upbringing laid the foundation for my career in the social services sector,” says Kenyetta. “My career has allowed me a platform to advocate for myself and others affected by blindness. I want to show people that there is life after being diagnosed with a blinding disease.”
Currently, Kenyetta is the chief operating officer of REACH Riverside Development Corporation, which serves as the coordinating organization that leads revitalization strategies to promote economic mobility in Wilmington’s historic Riverside neighborhood. Kenyetta plays a central role in building this leading nonprofit from start-up to an alliance of three organizations, The Warehouse, REACH Riverside Development Corporation, and Kingswood Community Center (collectively known as the WRK Group). In this rapidly growing organization, Kenyetta establishes the culture and operational strategies that drive the WRK Group vision. This means that Kenyetta is responsible for all three separate 501c3 organizations, consisting of three boards of directors and eight committees.
Technology has hugely impacted Kenyetta’s successful and independent career since her diagnosis. Kenyetta’s first step into sharing her Stargardt disease at work was when she asked for ZoomText software. At the time, West End Neighborhood House, her employer, gladly provided the software and any other requests she made for accessibility. Kenyetta also discovered Ocutech Bioptics, a monocular scope placed over your best eye, which has enabled her to drive during the day.
“For several years, I didn’t share with anyone aside from close family that I had Stargardt disease,” says Kenyetta. “I wasn’t embarrassed to share; I just didn’t want people to look at me and think I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the essential functions of my job. But as I got more comfortable with myself and my diagnosis, I realized this isn’t temporary, this is permanent, so why not share and why not ask for help when I need it.”
Over the years, all of Kenyetta’s dedicated service has been recognized by Delaware Today (top 40 Most Empowering Women in Business), Delaware Business Times (Excellence in HR), Nonprofit HR (2022 Social Impact Women to Watch List), the Office of the Governor (Governor's Outstanding Volunteer Award for Education/Literacy), and the US Department of Labor (Excellence in the delivery of employment and education services).
In addition to her career achievements, in her community, Kenyetta sits on the Board of Directors of Cinnaire Lending Group, Wilmington Alliance, and Delaware Futures, as well as ChristianaCare’s Council of Advisors. To support the blind and visually impaired community, Kenyetta is a member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Philadelphia Chapter and the local Lions Club. Kenyetta enjoys connecting with other people that are also affected by blinding diseases, and she works hard to live by and share her personal creed: “Great vision does not require great sight.”
“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because it’s the only way to grow and continue on,” says Kenyetta. “I want to share my knowledge to help the next person with a diagnosis like mine that may be struggling. I’m so proud of the work I’ve accomplished, and being able to do it with a disability and as a black woman makes it even more rewarding.”