“My mother [Joyce] and late father, Melvin, always believed that I was meant for something greater, and that there would be room for my leadership, my Blackness and my approach. They instilled in me a relentless belief that I belonged at the table—and, trust me, I needed their unconditional love and support,” says Melva LaJoy Legrand, CMP.
Legrand is the founder and CEO of LaJoy Plans, a Washington, D.C. event planning firm that organizes custom events for mission-focused organizations and individuals.
Becoming an Event Professional
While her formal education background is centered around history, education and administration, which she originally studied with the goal of entering a career in academia and research, Legrand quickly found it was not her most authentic space. “I set out to figure out who I wanted to be in the world. When I did that, event planning and I found each other.”
She attributes much of her present success to a number of incredible mentors who taught her to navigate the professional world. “While it is not easy, through their example, I was trained to navigate a workforce that still, sadly, has remnants of racism, sexism and what we now call microaggressions,” she says. “Because of them, I am poised and prepared…I am a better manager, writer…a comprehensive and well-rounded events professional. As the phrase goes, ‘I Am because of Them.’”
Advocates and allies played just as important a role. “Despite pressure to hire someone who does not share my racial identity, [they] gave me a fair chance to win work. I cannot say thank you enough to allies who opened doors for me because they believed in my talent.”
Preparing for the Exam
Legrand had known about the CMP designation for years as an event professional. But she struggled to make time to study and prepare. Finally, she came to a key understanding: “Ultimately, if you want to thrive in this industry, you cannot rest on what you know—you have to work to become a constant learner and student, because our industry is always evolving.”
It’s all about getting out there and putting in the work to get where you want to be. Legrand says, “Do not delay your continuing education because of the busyness of work. Work will always be there. One of the best ways to become more efficient in your work is to study and gain a deeper level of mastery.”
As she studied for the CMP exam, Legrand found indispensable “the encouragement of others who had already achieved the milestone.”
She says, “I want anyone who is reading this to know it is okay to study with others, ask for help and ask for guidance from current CMPs. If you don’t know anyone,” she says, “No problem.” She offers that interested future CMPs can reach out to her.
She loved studying in groups, and when she needed to study by herself, she read and made cue cards to test herself. “I do not think there is value in over-studying or ‘analysis paralysis.’ Rather, it is perfectly fine to say, ‘Okay, I understand this,’ and then work on where you may be weaker,” she explains.
The Value of the CMP
Legrand says that there are countless parts of the events industry that inspire her. New and emerging professionals, whose new ways of thinking and approaching work, push her out of her comfort zone and drive her to grow. The industry remains courageously committed to DEI. Events allow organizations she cares about to reach others.
As the events industry continues to evolve, she imagines the CMP will drive further growth in sustainability efforts and professionals’ understanding of how to use emerging technology tools like AI.
When it comes to her CMP designation, Legrand says, “Credentials are a bonus.” The CMP designation adds validity to her professional prowess. “Even though I have graduate degrees in another industry, [the CMP designation shows] that I consciously made the choice, despite decades of experience, to pursue this and other credentials. I want people to know that I am not relying on my tenure in the industry. I am still very curious, and I still have a lot to learn.”
Where Is She Now?
She started out in the lowest of roles, unpaid, doing production, festivals, exhibition and concert stage management for a radio station—and says that it gave her a unique perspective and the opportunity to learn every job, “to make mistakes and to really find out and define my specialty.” Now, she operates her own company with a passionate team. “For me,” she says, “events are a way that I can contribute to the world and leave it a little better than I found it.”
“Unfortunately,” she says, “I am a coffee addict.” With her coffee in hand, on an event day, Legrand uses WhatsApp to keep in touch with her team on a moment’s notice, but they’ve already prepared with a Know-Before-You-Go meeting, where they cover all internal event materials, critical logistics and a briefing packet about the client and key stakeholders and insight into their personalities, wish lists and hot buttons. After closing an event, her team assembles a detailed after-action report that involves sending thank you notes to clients, summarizing areas to celebrate and noting lessons learned for the future.
Events with LaJoy Plans
She has been an event professional for over 20 years, and, she says, every year brings something memorable. “I am humbled by the equity and advocacy of our New York-based client, Avenues for Justice, who have been doing advocacy work for over 41 years.” Just recently, her company organized one of its events that raised college tuition funds for a young man who had recently lost his parents. “You could not leave this event without feeling like this gathering was something bigger.”
She also recently served as a creative partner for D.C.-based school, The VIVA School of Dance, at its Envision Gala, held at the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture. “This event was an immersive experience in Black joy, Black excellence, diversity of art and the power of art in reconciliation and healing,” she says. “These two events remind me how important it is to use my gift of event planning to help mission-forward organizations thrive.
“Then, when I consider that I get to do this work as a mature, Black, female, independently funded business owner, I hope it sends a clear signal to the next generation that representation matters and that there is space for all of us in this industry.”
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