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This Is My Hartford is a series from the MetroHartford Alliance where we connect with local business owners, community drivers, residents, and employees to find out how the Hartford Region has shaped them throughout their career, and how they have contributed to our city and region.

By Nan Price, Content Manager MetroHartford Alliance

Next in our series, Andréa Hawkins, Founding Partner at Leading Culture Solutions and co-owner of Berkins Blend Café and Berkins on Oak.

WHY HARTFORD?

ANDRÉA HAWKINS: I am a Hartfordite. I grew up in Hartford. I’ve lived in the Hartford area since I was two years old and I’ve always considered it my home and where I am most comfortable.

I went to college in Hartford. I got my associate’s degree at Greater Hartford Community College (which later became Capital Community College). I went to Central Connecticut State University to obtain my bachelor’s degree in business and received my master’s degree in organizational behavior from the University of Hartford.

I’ve held leadership and executive roles at many Greater Hartford companies: Aetna, CIGNA Healthcare, MassMutual Financial Group, The Hartford UnitedHealthCare (at Optum), and Prudential. So, my office has been located in Hartford.

HOW HAS HARTFORD BECOME A PART OF WHO YOU ARE?

ANDRÉA: I’ve always appreciated the diversity of experience Hartford has to offer. I think things get under your skin and they become part of your DNA and who you are.

HOW HAVE YOU BECOME A PART OF HARTFORD?

ANDRÉA: I started volunteering for The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, which is an African-American arts and culture museum located inside the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. I did that to create an opportunity for kids to really understand their history and have a place to go that felt like home for them. And I love that it’s in the heart of downtown and is located in the oldest museum in the country.

I also became part of the board for the YWCA Hartford Region to support their Young Women’s Leadership Corps, which has a mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. I think that’s an important goal for everyone in this day and age.

I will help anyone who needs help because so many people have helped me. If I have time and I can give it, I want to do that. If I have money and I can give it, I want to help. If there is some talent I have and I can offer it, I’m happy to do that as well. Helping others brings me joy.

My biggest regret is that I’m not going to live long enough to pay back everything that’s been done for me to get to the place where I am. The most I can do is pay it forward by helping others and being involved in my local community.

My husband and I own two cafes, one in Glastonbury and one in Hartford. The main reason we do that is so we can create community. We want people to feel responsible for one another because we feel responsible for the people we encounter.

WHAT MAKES HARTFORD UNIQUE?

ANDRÉA: I would say the diversity of what you can find in Hartford. I feel we’re a microcosm of the world. There are all kinds of sections in Greater Hartford: Italian, Polish, Jewish, and historically Black. You can find everything in Hartford. It’s all here.

And there are so many cool things happening, especially in the last five years or so. I love the trend we’re seeing in Hartford.  It was great to see the Yard Goats Stadium, Capital Community College, and UConn all come into the city.  There is more to do—but the trend is certainly moving in the right direction.

HOW DO WE TELL THE STORY OF HARTFORD?

ANDRÉA: I think doing blogs like this one makes a huge difference because a lot of people will read a positive message. That’s one way.

I mentioned there are so many cool things happening; however, that I guarantee you most people have no idea about them. I think part of us being responsible for each other is reaching out and telling people and talking about it. When something cool happens, show your excitement. Post your pictures. Share in ways that you can share.

For example, my husband and I attended the recent Le Dîner en Blanc on July 28. Who goes to downtown Hartford at 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and hangs out until 10:00 p.m.? Well, 600 people did.

I was also invited to speak at a Hartford F*uckup Nights event that took place on a Thursday night. People filled up the room. It was so encouraging and so much fun. And how many people knew about that event?

I’m hoping things like that continue so they can grow. And I’m sure there are tons of other things happening that I don’t even know about. Places like MakerspaceCT and Upward Hartford offer something to do almost every day or night. There’s just a lot going on. Hartford really has it!