Phyllis Nichols retires on top of her game

Phyllis Y. Nichols, right, with Knoxville City Council member and Urban League board member Gwen McKenzie at a reception prior to the Urban League Gala last week. McKenzie’s father was the first president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League.

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.

Phyllis Nichols, left, was surprised at the Urban League Gala last week when it was announced that a scholarship had been endowed in her name. At right is her daughter, Allison Nichols Toich, visiting from Atlanta.

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.

Members of her family at the reception prior to the Gala. From left, in-laws Alvin and Denise Nichols; husband Jim; Phyllis; brother Howard Young; sister, Charlotte Maxwell; daughter, Allison Nichols Toich; and sister Karen Gonzalez.

From left, Knoxville Area Urban League board members Anthony Wise, Gabriel Bolas and Tyvi Small with Bolas’ wife, Tarah Bolas.

From left,  Knoxville Area Urban League board member Rosa Mar, Annie Haslam Colquitt and board members David Colquitt and Gwen McKenzie.

From left, Theotis and Jonida Robinson with Knoxville Area Urban League board member Harry Boston.

Knoxville Area Urban League board member Orlando Diaz and his wife, Donna.

Phyllis Nichols, right, at the reception with Terry Vo, a Knoxville Area Urban League board member.

Board members Al Pirie and Ursula Bailey at the reception.

Board member Harry Gross with Nichols.

Board member Delnise Moore, left, with Nichols at the reception.

Urban League board member Tyvi Small and his wife, Tammi.

Prior to dinner, the Moxley Carmichael crowd gathered for a pose. From left, Charley Sexton, Maria McHale, Chris Weathers, Lauren Miller, Shaun Fulco, Allie Clouse and Scott Bird.

From left, Kelly Headden, Faris Eid, Doug Kirchhofer and Steve Lucas.

Terrence Carter, vice president of economic and business development at the Knoxville Area Urban League, left, with Jim Nichols outside the ballroom.

Carmen and Harold Hicks.

Charles Lomax, left, chatted with Gene Thomas, general manager of WJBE.

Board member Nikitia Thompson, left, with Ron and Gwendolyn Brown.

Quineka Moten and Chris Weathers.

Joe and LeTonia Armstrong.

Anna Dirl, left, and Cynthia Finch.

These folks are all in the current Leadership Knoxville Class together. From left, Elba Marshall, Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel, Angela Dennis and Shaun Fulco.

DJ Sterling Henton got the ballroom crowd in the mood.

The ballroom was crowded — and festive!

Main course was chicken Asiago, top, and it was delicious. There were two fantastic dessert options: sea salt caramel cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake with strawberry sauce.

And then, the program!

Backstage, Tyvi Small was using the flashlight on his cell phone to study his script.

Rev. Charles Lomax was introduced as the new president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. Behind him from left, board members Cavanaugh Mims, Al Pirie, David Colquitt and Terry Vo.

He got a hug from Tyvi Small.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon declared it “Phyllis Y. Nichols Day” in Knoxville. There also were proclamations from Knox County and the state of Tennessee.

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.

And then, Will Downing and his band took over.

It’s always a dancing crowd!



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4 Responses to Phyllis Nichols retires on top of her game

  1. Alan Carmichael, on November 4th, 2022 at 11:34 pm said:

    Phyllis has done a great job for the KAUL and the Knoxville community.

  2. Carolyn Kincaid, on November 5th, 2022 at 10:43 pm said:

    So glad to see her hard work recognized!!

  3. Terry Holley, on November 6th, 2022 at 12:51 pm said:

    Congratulations Phyllis! You have been a true rockstar with endless accomplishments. As a driving force to ensure equality through your work at the Urbana League, your kindness, and wisdom have been a blessing to our community. Thank you!!! Always an admirer and your friend, Terry Holley

  4. Cile Mathews, on November 7th, 2022 at 9:21 am said:

    A very nice and well-deserved tribute to a fantastic executive and person. We need more like Phyllis.

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