Member Spotlights: Featuring JLN Members of Color

In celebration of Black History Month, the Junior League of Nashville sat down (virtually) with some of our prominent members of color to learn more about their league experience and advice for future members.

Featured Members:

Krystal Clark
Johari Matthews
Kristy Offitt
Sonya Hairston
Andreall Moore
Lonnie Hamlin-April and Dr. Carmen April-Washington
Dr. Kimberly S. Clay
Jocelyn Imani

Krystal Clark, Sustainer, JLN President 2017-2018

What year did you join the league?
I joined the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties in North Carolina in 2008 and transferred into the Junior League of Nashville in 2011.

What active year are you in?
I became a Sustainer in 2018.

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
I moved to a new city for a role at Vanderbilt University and I was in search of community. I didn’t know anything about Nashville except that it was the home of country music and Vanderbilt. I didn’t know anyone in the city and the only person I did know was my new supervisor, Kristin Torrey, and she’s an active member in JLN.

What prompted you to seek the position of President? 
My focus in JLN has always been membership and I felt as if we were in a place where our membership needed an engagement boost and we needed to focus on the people experience of our organization. I felt like my skill set was suited to that challenge. I wanted people to feel happy about and proud of JLN. I wanted our members to take ownership of their experience. You can make JLN into what you want it to be and that’s what I’d done as a member. I wanted to inspire others to do the same. I also had some trusted friends in the League who encouraged me to apply for the role. I contacted Past Presidents and a few Sustainers to get their insight on my pursuit of the Presidency. I knew that by putting my name in the running for this role that I could possibly be making history. I knew that there had never been a BIPOC woman as President of JLN. That possibility excited me and it also brought about real and assumed pressure. On top of being the first Black President, I’m also, I think, the second youngest to ever serve in the role. I’m also single and I was going to keep working full-time. That puts me on a short list as far as our Past Presidents are concerned. I know that the demographics of women and our members continue to change and we have to make sure that our leadership roles are accessible for all women. I believe in JLN and I know that it has had and will continue to have a positive influence in the lives of girls and women and in the community.

What advice do you have for others looking to achieve leadership positions with the League?
JLN is always in need of effective leaders. One of my life mantras that I learned from Gallup is that we are all “talented and imperfect.” Don’t hurl yourself into the constant roadblocks of, “I’m not ready” or “I’m too young.” Don’t place limitations on yourself. The world is already doing enough of that for you.  I would encourage you to connect with women who are in roles that you desire to get  insight from them. I’d also suggest that perhaps you learn what you don’t want from a leadership role because that can help you filter your list as well. If you desire serving on the Board or as the President, I would take on a variety of Placements so that you learn about all facets of the organization.  I’m all about the importance of self-awareness and getting clear on your strengths and also areas of challenge. I’m a Strengths Based leader and I encourage you to develop an understanding of how you can do excellent work with the best parts of yourself in any role within JLN. Above all, fill out the Willingness to Serve Form. Put yourself out there and remember that we are a training organization. You will learn along the way and for the vast majority of our roles, you don’t have to know everything about a particular subject matter to be effective. My personal belief is that you should let decision-makers know that you’re interested in leadership.  If that’s not your style, leadership keeps Placement and selection of leaders pretty guarded and confidential. Don’t be afraid that everyone is going to know what you’re pursuing in JLN. I think it’s great when you can be open about what you want and have people offer their support but if it makes you nervous to share this information publicly, just know that leadership takes your privacy seriously. Also, know that you can do a lot of great work and contribute well from any space in the League. You don’t to be Chair, VP, or President to make an impact and have influence.  The other thing I would say is that Past Presidents were very open with me about not being selected the first time they applied and for some they applied multiple times before they were chosen to serve as President. It’s okay to be persistent and know that a “no” is often a “not yet”.

How has the League’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion changed since you joined?
I would say that it’s gotten deeper and continues to develop over time. I’m happy about the current efforts I see being hosted by JLN. I remember discussing AJLI’s revamped Commitment to DEI Statement when I was on the Board. I wanted that statement to live in our building which inspired the piece that is on the wall by the front desk.  One of the initial meetings I attended that I think set me up for positional leadership was about moving away from having Sponsors which I believe were a barrier to inclusivity. Payment Plans for dues existed and there were other opportunities implemented to make JLN more financially accessible. We’ve done more training in this area and a bulk of my year as President was the Diversity & Inclusion Assessment and laying the foundation for the DEI Committee and now Council. I had the opportunity to take part in the larger AJLI conversation about DEI and was a part of  AJLI’s award-winning Progress is Plural campaign. I think like many organizations that have a deep history, it’s a slow ship to turn, but I do feel that we’re taking steps in the right direction.

What hardships did you face as the first Black President of the JLN?
Shonda Rimes discusses the blessing and the curse of being a F.O.D.- First. Only. Different. There’s a lot of weight that comes with that position. You can’t mess up when you’re a F.O.D.  and there’s not a lot of grace given to people from underrepresented groups who may have similar faults and failings to those from the majority. I was highly visible internally in JLN and externally within the city.  A part of me wanted to be highly visible because I wanted my presence to serve as an invitation to other BIPOC women. It can be quite exhausting and I don’t have any interest in being an actual famous person.  I’ve always been able to adapt to my surroundings or code switch and there was a lot of that during the year. There’s the constant question of, “how authentic can I really be right now?”  I remember questioning my self- presentation and I thought a lot about my clothes and my hair. Should I get braids or should I not? I know that if I get them, we’re going to talk about them. When I switch my hair back, we’re going to talk about it. That hyper awareness of self based on my race was a part of my experience and I would also say my SES. At the time that I was President, I was making a lot less money than I am now. I don’t come from an ounce of economic privilege. There are spoken and unspoken financial expectations when you’re President.  One knows when they’re a F.O.D that your performance is not just about you– it’s about everyone who is like you who may be your successors. Based on how I fulfilled the role, that could determine whether or not there would ever be another Black JLN President. There were moments when I had to be the voice and call out what was being avoided due to pretend or real ignorance. The truth is that things happen in JLN — decisions are made and even if you’re the President, some things are so far gone that you don’t get to have a say in changing them. There’s so much going on all the time and I remember incidents where I was smacked in the face with activities that are antithetical to our Commitment to DEI and I knew that if I hadn’t been in the room that those things would have continued to occur. You also have to meet people where they are and sometimes that meant that we were still having events at country clubs and we should not be having events at country clubs, we only thought about in-home meetings in the context of mansions in Belle Meade. We should never have all white speaker panels and so on and so forth. As a leader, you have to pick your battles and you have to plant seeds and do all you can to set the organization up for those seeds to bloom. At times, I could only do so much and my hope was that there were white women who would get it and support me. I will say that for the most part, that was the case. You have one year to be President. It’s not a long time at all. It can feel like a long time and still it isn’t.

What has been your favorite placement?
Provisional Advisor or Provisional Co-Chair

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
I loved COP– Community Outreach Projects. When I joined you could sign up for one-off service projects and it was the best way for me to meet members and learn about the city. I always did more than required because I loved the variety of opportunities and seeing JLN women out doing hands-on work.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
I mean, President was pretty cool. I’ll never forget the night of my Gavel Pass. It was epic and the energy in that room is a feeling I often return to when I need a boost. I had my friends, colleagues, family, and the community I’d built in Nashville from 2011-2017. The other thing I’m proud of is that I know the number of Black women in JLN increased during and post my Presidency. I’ve had Black women communicate that to me. I feel that we have an organization that could be and should be for any woman seeking Community, Connection, and Growth. Being a part of moving that vision forward is something I’m very proud of as a member of JLN. I’m proud that I broke that ceiling. The number of older Black women in Nashville who called me, sent me correspondence, and who would track me down at events to let me know how proud they are of me and that they never thought the day would come that JLN would have a Black President spoke volumes to me. Being the first is an accomplishment and I also know there’s a tragedy at still having firsts in the year 2017, in my case. It took us 95 years to have a Black person in this role. Like our new first Black/South Asian Woman Vice President Kamala Harris,  I don’t have any desire to be the last.

What is the best part of being a sustainer?
Being able to show up when I feel like it is what I need in my life right now from JLN. People seem happy to see me when I pop up out of the blue. It’s nice to be asked to support JLN efforts by facilitating training opportunities, giving the closing words at Rise Up! , and being seen as a resource for active members and current leaders. Before COVID, I was finding happiness in attending training sessions again and going to HQ and just being a member of the audience. Some people knew me and some people didn’t and that was totally fine. Occasionally, I would still have to help people lock up the building and I’m always willing to help with that process. I miss stopping by HQ and seeing Amy. It’s also just a nice place to take a pause when I’m in Green Hills and just need a place to be for a little while in between appointments. There’s something comforting about it to me.

Do you have any advice for other JLN African-American Members?
Go all in with JLN. We have fantastic women in our organization and  some strong internal opportunities that you should take advantage of as a member. JLN was the conduit that made it possible for me to get involved with a myriad of other opportunities in this city. Bring other Black women along with you on the journey. Encourage them and be their advocate and perhaps their co-conspirator to create change. Practice inclusivity and bring other Black women, if they desire, into the fold. Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to leadership. Your voice is powerful and needed.  There will be moments when you will have to say the unsaid. I want you to SAY IT. The repercussions of not speaking up are much harder than the repercussions of doing so. Also, have fun! The previous question asked me about hardship AND there are immense moments of joy in being a member of JLN and President of JLN. I have laughed so much with the women of JLN. We know how to have a good time. Members, from all backgrounds, have become real friends. Be present and be an engaged and active member of JLN. I’m all about getting a strong return on investment. I paid my membership dues and I honestly got way more than my money’s worth. Show up and show out!

 

Johari Matthews, RiseUp! Women’s Summit Committee

What year did you join the league?
I joined JLN in 2019.

What active year are you in?
I am rounding out my first year as an active.

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
A good friend of mine, Brittany Irby, encouraged me to join! I believe strongly in service and finding ways to uplift our community through it so naturally I was drawn to the mission of JLN. As a woman of color, a leader, a wife, a mom – I also loved the empowerment that JLN stands for in equipping women with the tools and resources they need to become better advocates for issues that impact the people around us.

What has been your most favorite placement? 
This year I was a part of the RiseUp! Women’s Summit committee and  although it is my first ever placement, I am sure that it will forever hold a top spot as being my favorite! The committee worked so hard to pull it off even after having to pivot due to COVID-19. Our committee chairs (Carmen & Kristy) were resilient and remarkable in how they led our group!

What advice would you give your first-year active self? 
I would say to be intentionally present. Your experience is what you make of it so if you aren’t giving fully of yourself then your experience won’t equate to that either. Take time to get to know people, make efforts to connect and speak up!

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
My favorite trainings would be anything around human trafficking. I always leave having learned something new that I didn’t know before and also with ways that I can better advocate or raise awareness. Recently, I really enjoyed hearing from Cyntoia Brown-Long and learning more about her story.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the amount of funding that we are able to award to our community partners. I work in the nonprofit world and I know firsthand how important and beneficial it is to receive funding to be able to continue doing the work that meets some of the most pressing needs in our city. Every dollar helps and often times there are too many nonprofits that do such good work but they’re unable to sustain due to the lack of funding so I am always proud to be connected to an organization that is able to see the need and fulfil it.

 

Kristy Offitt, DEI Communications and Messaging Chair

What year did you join the league?
I joined the Atlanta League in 2013 and transferred to the Nashville league in 2018.

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
Given that it had been several years since I lived in Nashville, transferring to JLN was an excellent way to expand my network and immediately plug in to the Nashville community and activities of interest.

What has been your most favorite placement?
Hard to choose, but probably the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

What advice would you give your first-year active self?
Try new things! Don’t stick with a placement or committee because it comfortable. Explore other options and challenge yourself.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
Tour of Homes (Atlanta fundraiser) and AJLI’s 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
Although not a personal accomplishment, I am incredibly proud of the work that JLN’s DEI committee.

 

Sonya Hairston, Sustainer

What year did you join the league?
2003, I think.

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
The mission and impact of JLN in our community.

How many other Black Members were part of the JLN when you joined?
One sustainer, Remizer Seals.

How has the League’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion changed since you joined?
We redefined diversity from working women to be more broad based.

What hardships did you face as a Black Member of the JLN?
I was frequently asked to chair committees, but never voted onto the board. I oftentimes felt alone because there was no one that looked like me to mentor me or provided a safe place to express my concerns. I expressed interest in being first Black president, but never qualified.

What has been your most favorite placement? 
Children’s Hospital entertainment committee and Show House docent.

What advice would you give your first-year active self?
Build relationships, enjoy yourself and keep your goals to yourself.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser? 
The friendships I made through the league and our time at La Paz after membership meetings are some of my fondest memories. Empty house party was most fun and a time for friends to come together before the hard work began.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of? 
JLN’s impact on the Nashville community. JLN sees a need and meets the need. JLN has touched so much of Nashville and spearheaded some of its most vital non-profits. One of my favorite being the Matthew Walker sickle cell program.

What is the best part of being a sustainer? 
It is the best and worst — no meeting or placement requirements (but those were the times your spent with friends, that fades after the consistent calendar times pass).

Do you have any advice for other JLN African American Members? 
Take full advantage of every opportunity. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t just sit at the table – bring your full self, voice and life experiences to the table. Be honest. And have FUN!!! You will make life-long friendships here.

 

Andreall Moore, VP-Elect DEI

What year did you join the league?
I joined the league in 2017.

What active year are you in?
I am in my third active year.

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
I’d recently moved to Nashville and I wanted to get connected and network with other professional women.

What has been your most favorite placement?
I have always been involved in DEI since inception. Currently being the VP-elect in DEI has been my favorite role, operating in a space where I am able to navigate the pivotal changes the org will be making in the next 100 years.

What advice would you give your first-year active self?
Always ask for clarification if you don’t understand what is going on. This organization has a lot of moving parts and things happening, it’s very easy to get confused and lose your direction.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
Honestly for me, it has been the personal development workshops, i.e. home buying, financial planning, and work/life balance type training.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
Being selected as the first EVP for DEI and VP for next year. Knowing that I am a champion voice in a space I am passionate about focusing on changing the landscape for other women of color is important to me.

 

Lonnie Hamlin-April and Dr. Carmen April-Washington, Mother-Daughter Junior League Members

What year did you join the league?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: 2018
Lonnie Hamlin-April: 1989

What active year are you in?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: 2nd Active year
Lonnie Hamlin-April: Sustainer

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I grew up a “Junior League kid” and participated in a lot of the service projects my mother was involved in with Junior League of Jackson (MS). I loved the longevity of the projects and the impact they made on both the League members and those being served. As an adult, I know that I’m blessed to be a blessing to others and the Junior League of Nashville is a wonderful organization to not only develop new professional skills, but also to serve the community in meaningful ways.

How many other Black Members were part of the JLN when you joined?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I’m not sure how many black women were members when I joined, but I will say that I’ve never felt out of place in Junior League of Nashville. I realize that as a black women I’m part of the minority in terms of cultural representation. However, I don’t leave my inclusion in any organization I’m a part of, including JLN, to chance. Being in the minority has never scared me away from anything.

Lonnie Hamlin-April: There were only 4 or 5 black members when I joined the Junior League of Toledo (OH) in 1989. When I transferred into the Junior League of Jackson (MS) in 1992, there were none before me. I was the very 1st Black member in the Junior League of Jackson.

How has the League’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion changed since you joined?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I’ve seen the commitment to DEI since I entered JLN. I’d also love to see more African-American women join the League because diversity matters in organizations such as JLN. Diversity matters in the work we do cultivating the potential of women and in how we serve the community. Next League year I will move into the role of VP-elect of DEI then into the VP role the following, so it’s certainly something I plan to be fully engaged in over the next couple of years.

What hardships did you face as a Black Member of the JLN?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: None. I’m reminded that I’m a black woman every time I walk into a room where black women are in the minority – there’s no escaping that. However, do I see it as a hardship? No.

What has been your most favorite placement?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I can’t say that I can honestly choose because both of my Active placements have been amazing! My 1st year Active placement was with the Human Trafficking Awareness Committee and that placement was literally life changing for me! I learned so much about such a pressing issue in our community and felt like I made a difference when educating others on the issue. Co-chairing JLN’s Inaugural Women Summit this year has also been wonderful! It definitely helped me develop new skill sets and set the standard for summits in years to come!

Lonnie Hamlin-April: Even though I really enjoyed my placements with “Rockin’ Mommas” in the hospital NICU and with the Sickle Cell Anemia Project at the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital, I really loved my placement with “Mirror Images”, a program we created to serve 5th & 6th grade African-American girls from Chastain Middle School in the inner city of Jackson, MS. We spent time with these girls every week to expose them to social activities and events such as the children’s theater, Thalia Mara Hall for fine arts performances, and the local cosmetology school to have pedicures and manicures. I think it was helpful for the girls to see a woman who looked like them as part of the project. I truly was their mirror image!

What advice would you give your first-year active self?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I took full advantage of my provisional and first active year – attending as many General Membership meetings, trainings, Members in Motion service projects, placement committee meetings and placement activities as possible! I would advise all provisional members and 1st year actives to take advantage of the many activities the League has to offer. Being involved is how you get to know other members and how others, including JLN Leadership, gets to know you.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I’ve really enjoyed the in-home General Membership Meetings! They are a bit more laid back than the traditional meetings at Headquarters. Members seem to let their hair down and socialize a bit more with the in-home settings.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: I truly enjoy so much of my JLN experience, but I’d have to say that being entrusted with the huge task of co-chairing & producing the RiseUp! Women’s Summit, an inaugural event for the Junior League of Nashville, will always stand out for me. The Summit will evolve year after year, but I hope the foundation we laid creating the first ever summit will leave a legacy.

What is the best part of being a Sustainer?
Lonnie Hamlin-April: I don’t miss having to attend every General Membership meeting. However, I love being able to select the projects I like to participate in. I still volunteer for our annual Mistletoe Marketplace and in fact, I’ve never missed a year volunteering at that event since I was an active member. It’s always on my calendar!

Do you have any advice for other JLN African-American Members?
Dr. Carmen April-Washington: Get involved! Don’t join the League to sit on the sideline and observe. There are so many ways to grow professionally and personally in the League. Once you get involved, share your experience with other professional African-American women you know and invite them. We as black women have the ability, just like anyone else, to invite professional women into the League for membership. Be intentional about doing so!

Lonnie Hamlin-April: My advice is to continue to give back to your community.  Make a commitment. Let the community know that you are part of their community. The Junior League of Jackson afforded me an opportunity to teach my children to give back to others. I brought them with me to many of the service projects I participated in. It was never simply lip-service with me, I showed them what it looks like to live a life of service to others.

 

Dr. Kimberly S. Clay, Sustainer

What year did you join the league? 
2011

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
I joined the Junior League while living in Dallas and, later, transferred to JLN in 2014.

What has been your most favorite placement?
My favorite placement was as a JLN member and, subsequently, chair of Kids in the Kitchen.

What advice would you give your first-year active self?
First year in League is all about building relationships and finding your way in terms of expectations and volunteer opportunities. While feeling connected may be especially difficult during the pandemic, I highly recommend that you not hesitate. Jump in and get active! The friends will come, and the requirements will be met if you’re doing the work. Have fun doing it. You’ll never feel like you’re working at all.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser? 
In my early years at JLN, I attended a training on reading financials with Kim Thomason, CPA, which was the best professional development session I’ve had yet as a nonprofit volunteer and leader. It proved to be most helpful during my time on the JLN board of directors.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of? 
My service on the board of directors is my greatest JLN accomplishment.

What is the best part of being a sustainer?
I get the most satisfaction from seeing the growth and accomplishments of active JLN members. It’s a full-circle experience for me as a sustainer knowing that I contributed to establishing the foundation from which so much good has come.

 

Jocelyn Imani, Provisional

What prompted you to join the Junior League of Nashville?
I was looking for a civic organization that could help reintroduce me to my hometown and expand my horizons. I left Nashville immediately after college and had been gone for a decade. I needed to find my way in the city as an adult professional. Someone I love and respect posted about recently completing her term as Junior League President in another city, so I looked into the organization. When I read about all that JLN does it seemed to be a good fit for me. The more events I attend and members I meet, the more I know I made the right choice.

What has been your favorite training, membership experience, or fundraiser?
I really enjoyed the Women’s Summit! As a young woman leader I gain so much insight from listening to women share their stories and lessons learned. I appreciated the community that was fostered despite being restricted to the digital sphere.

What JLN accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am really proud of the JLN’s work to end human trafficking. The leadership team has been quite thoughtful about engaging folks on the front lines of this fight to offer assistance where it matters most. I had no idea how serious this issue was in Middle TN. Through JLN I learned so much about what’s been happening in my own backyard and I’ll never be the same. It should be noted that the work on human trafficking could not be done if the leadership was not committed to taking a bold approach toward service that has tangible impact. With that in mind I would have to say that I’m very proud of the internal work JLN has done to position itself on the proverbial battlefield. It is far easier to give well wishes and charity from the sidelines, but it takes courage to get involved. I am so proud to call these ladies my colleagues in JLN.

Provide one lesson learned during your provisional year?
Never be afraid to reach out and touch someone. Initially I was somewhat nervous about joining. I wondered if I would fit in, if I would be understood, if I would have anything in common with the rest of the ladies, etc. However, I have found that speaking up in meetings or sending a message can lead to some enriching interactions. I am so grateful for the women I have been meeting in JLN! I have made some authentic connections with very thoughtful, kind hearted, and intentional women who are trying to live good lives while providing service to others. It’s the perfect alignment with my personal and spiritual goals.

What area of the JLN are you most interested in participating in?
I am still figuring that out so I can’t say for certain. Trainings interest me, but so does learning and sharing the history of the organization. Serving the membership could be awesome, but JLN has some great external service opportunities as well. I thought I would attend the meeting to explain the willingness to serve form and get a better idea, but I left that meeting with about 7 interest areas! I am going to keep talking to actives and attending events. Hopefully, I’ll narrow it down soon.

What advice would you give someone looking to join the JLN?
Bring your whole self. JLN is just like most things in life: you get out of it what you put into it. I am so grateful that I didn’t follow my first mind to refrain from commenting or withholding a question for fear that it wouldn’t be received well. I have been so touched by the beauty of the League. I initially was on guard because everything was new and foreign, but as I show up unapologetically as myself I am having more enlightening conversations and building more substantive relationships. There is room for everybody at the JLN table. So come and join us! Let’s break bread, share some laughs, and get about the business of building the world we want to inhabit together.