January 2020

Building the Bench: The AALA is ‘developing the next cadre of African American leaders’

From Columbus Business First

Learn how the African American Leadership Academy is “developing the next cadre of African American leaders”

In 2003, several prominent African American leaders in Columbus got together to discuss a problem.

The well-known figures in the community had come to realize that they were perhaps too well-known and that other capable black leaders should be in the spotlight as well, ready to serve on boards, commissions and in other high profile roles.

“When well-meaning individuals and groups were interested in diversity, there were a handful of people of color, primarily African American, that they would call,” said Donna James, then president of Nationwide Strategic Investments.

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Stephanie Hightower, CEO of the Columbus Urban League and an AALA advisory board member, said at the CMC luncheon that it goes beyond “doing good and doing well.”

“It’s how do we begin to really look at our next generation of folks to help them understand the importance of being your authentic self,” she said. “That it’s OK to be black, that it’s OK to understand what your heritage is and from where you come from. That you don’t have to go into these rooms and have to ‘code switch.’ That our children can actually be themselves and be able to contribute in a way that is beneficial not only to themselves, but to this community.”

Hightower said that she had a leg up making inroads into the Columbus corporate community because of her ties to Ohio State University and the fact that she was an Olympic athlete. The Louisville, Kentucky, native was a track star at Ohio State and a four-time U.S. Champion in the 100-meter hurdles. She said even with that advantage, it wasn’t easy for her, showing the difficulty faced by most African Americans who don’t have the built-in networks of people in power that most white people can tap into.

“I think that many of you are in positions within the corporate or nonprofit community or in higher education, and you have a responsibility,” she said to the Columbus Metropolitan Club gathering. “You sit in your seats now because there was somebody else that helped you to get there. And sometimes we forget about that. … So you have a responsibility to not only help the next, but please don’t forget how you got to the room.”

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“When you look in boardrooms today and you look in the Suites in this community, and you do not see people of color … and you do not see African Americans of senior status that are sitting on these boards to help navigate in the corporate community, you see more and more why there is a need and why I am not only committed to but a strong proponent of making sure that we have programs such as AALA that can help empower that next generation of African American leaders in our community.”


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