By Kara Thompson,
Special to the AFRO
On July 1, Diane Bell-McKoy announced that she will be stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Associated Black Charities (ABC). She has served in these roles for the past 16 years.
“At that time
[when ABC first launched
] 30 some years ago there was a very big deal in terms of an organization focused on the African-American community,” said Bell-McKoy. “I was very excited and I’ve always thought it was an important organization for the community of Baltimore.”
ABC is a nonprofit organization that focuses on education, policy design, and innovative strategies that work to eliminate the impact of structural racism and its economic influence in African-American communities. It was founded in 1985, and has been advocating for people of color ever since. Through investments and fundraising, ABC has worked to close the wealth gap that exists in Baltimore.
Before serving as CEO of ABC, Bell-McKoy had many different roles in giving back to Baltimore in order to make a difference. These roles include serving in D.C. Mayor Marion Barry’s administration, Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s administration, working for the Empowerment Zone, and working at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
When Donna Stanley left ABC in 2003 she was the longest-serving executive director at the time. Bell-McKoy decided to apply to be her replacement.
“I felt like I really wanted to make a difference. I want to see what I could do to take the organization to a different level,” she said.
Unfortunately, Bell-McKoy did not get the job. With support from those around her, she waited, applied again when the position was open just two years later, and got the job, which she officially started in 2006.
“The most rewarding experience was being able to have a board and the staff come together and decide we were going to publicly have a strategy that understood and talked about out loud the impact of structural racism in Baltimore,” she said. “We agreed as an organization that we had to put on the table, that the challenges for closing the racial wealth gap was structural racism.”
During her time at Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bell-McKoy had already been talking about the impacts of structural racism in Baltimore, and how it was a root cause for a lot of challenges.
Bell- McKoy said that addressing structural racism through her work there will always be one of her proudest moments. That work continued when she went to ABC with an agenda of growing Baltimore’s middle class, identifying systems that had to be changed, and providing services.
Although she is leaving ABC, Bell-McKoy is not retiring–she is simply moving on to the next chapter in her life, which includes work as an entrepreneur. She will be focusing on the business that she’s had since 2012—Opportunity Connection—which she hasn’t had much time to really develop.
Opportunity Connection will be a way for Bell-McKoy to give back to her community by sharing information and knowledge, donating to Black leadership and doing whatever she can to make a difference.
“I am not trying to build a huge company,” she said. “I am trying to use my relationship, my talents, my skills, my assets to help others and to partner with other companies.”
She also is in the process of co-creating Black Women’s Life Liberation Leadership Institute—the name of which she is still working on, and may change in the future.
“The idea is to create an institute that will actually be able to help Black women redefine leadership for them,” Bell-McKoy said. “I want to have space and be able to have those women design a curriculum that is about what works for them and what things are important as a Black woman.”
Bell-McKoy will also take many skills from her time at ABC into her future careers, such as the importance of listening, the importance of having a team and supporting each other, and understanding that she does not know everything.
“We must believe that together we can change the negative outcomes for so many Black and Brown people across this country,” said Bell-McKoy in an email announcing the end of her chapter at ABC. “These are challenging times, but these are also times where great work is being done by so many of you and others. It is that work that makes up our collective “hope” for a different future.”
John Frisch, CEO of the Shawan Leadership company, has worked with Bell-McKoy in the past, and has known her for over 20 years.
“When I think of Diane, a number of words come to mind,” said Frisch. “She’s incredibly steadfast. She has an absolutely unwavering commitment to exposing and addressing systemic racism. I think what makes her incredibly effective is that she speaks very difficult, hard truths for people with love.”
Frisch said that Bell-McKoy is a trusted confidant to him and many people and organizations across the city. She has a way of “calling people to be better” and “is a tremendous coach” no matter what she does.
“She has an extraordinary heart. I think she should lead and work from the heart and continue to be guided by what matters most to her,” he said. “I just think the world of her. She’s a real one-of-a-kind.”
Her coworkers passed on a message to her on social media after she announced her departure.
“There is no doubt that Diane Bell-McKoy gave her full self to the mission of ABC, and that she will continue to give her full self to the mission of an equitable Baltimore,” said a Facebook post on the Associated Black Charities page. “Thank you so much, Diane! You will be deeply missed as a member of our team but remain a highly-valued member of our community.”
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