It’s been a big couple of weeks for Phyllis Y. Nichols, the longtime president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. Nichols, who announced last June that she would retire in the fall, has been the longest-serving CEO of the five leaders in the organization’s 54-year history in Knoxville.
In December, she will officially turn over the reins to Rev. Charles Lomax, who will take over after serving for three years as the City of Knoxville’s director of community empowerment. He was selected after a nationwide search. The decision by the Urban League’s board of directors to hire him was unanimous.
Last week, during the Urban League’s annual fundraising gala, which attracted over 800 attendees to the Knoxville Convention Center, Nichols took a final bow and was surprised by the announcement that the Urban League would endow a $250,000 scholarship in her name. She also received the Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, the most prestigious of all Urban League awards.
And, just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any better, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced that she was donating $1.5 million to the Knoxville Area Urban League, the largest gift in its history.
Nichols will stay on a short while as a consultant to help with the transition, but we understand that travel plans are being made.
Here are a few of her accomplishments at the Urban League:
- She has been an advocate for economic and social equality, bringing national attention and support to the Knoxville Area Urban League and the National Urban League.
- She has expanded the Knoxville Area Urban League’s reach to serve nearly 12,000 people each year.
- The Knoxville Area Urban League became a Community Development Financial Institution and can provide loans and capital to those who deserve it but have been unable to get traditional financial support.
- The organization has established a workforce development program, connecting hundreds of individuals to top companies for job placement and receiving recognition for an expungement clinic that puts people back into the workforce.
- Under her leadership, the Urban League was contracted as the lead organization to ensure minority inclusion in the construction and operation of the new multi-use stadium coming to downtown Knoxville.
- She has been named a senior fellow and was honored as a “Woman of Power” by the National Urban League. She earned the 2019 Distinguished Service Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission and the 2019 Equity Champion for Tennessee by the Tennessee Education Equity Coalition, and she was recognized by the Tennessee Human Rights Commission for her advocacy for civil rights and social justice.
- She helped create a thriving National Achievers Society program in Knoxville, with over 2021 students earning more than $1.2 million in scholarships.
- She created Shoes for School, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, by giving thousands of children the shoes, supplies and confidence they need for the school year.
And then, the program!
In addition to Nichols winning the Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, others honored were radio station WJBE with the Minority-Owned Business Award and the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Engagement with the Corporate Leadership Award.
It’s always a dancing crowd!