New Board Vice Chair Ready to Work

What first won Karen Boykin-Towns a major role with the NAACP, in part, was her expertise as an executive with a global pharmaceuticals firm. What’s kept the Harlem-born Brooklynite involved—since being tapped back in 1999 to join the NAACP’s National Health Committee—is her belief in the civil rights organization’s capacity to make critical, societal change and to adapt itself to changing times.

That requires, said Boykin-Towns, new vice chair of the NAACP’s national board, knowing one’s strengths and when, where and with whom to coalesce in an America where people of color are projected, collectively, to comprise a majority of the U.S. population by 2046. (Minority children are projected to outnumber White children in 2019.)

“It used to be that the NAACP was the leader, doing much of this alone and dictating what was needed and how things would be done,” said Boykin-Towns, vice president of corporate affairs at pharma’s Pfizer. “We’ve begun to understand that there are some things we should lead and some things another organization should lead, that this has to be collaborative if we are going to make even greater impacts.”

Her own imprint and impact follow a professional trajectory that began in the New York State Legislature. There, the Baruch College/City University of New York MBA—her undergraduate business degree is from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, N.Y.—had been a policy analyst and chief of staff to a state lawmaker whose father, a labor lawyer, was one of the first Blacks elected to the same legislature. From there, Boykin-Towns, a wife and mother of two daughters, became a legislative analyst and first-ever diversity officer for Pfizer.

When Boykin-Towns reactivated a then-dormant Brooklyn NAACP branch, one of the highlights of her tenure as president was a partnership with New York City public schools. The branch gave away thousands of supply-filled student backpacks. After a few years on the NAACP’s health committee, she was invited to join the NAACP Foundation board of trustees. Then, to her surprise, she was asked to run for the board of directors.

“I’d already looked at the name, city and state of each board member on that 64-person list and thought, ‘These are some of the most incredible people on the planet,’” Boykin-Towns remembered. “When you do the work, you want to do some more work and I believe I have an obligation to help.” There’s plenty of work remaining for the NAACP, Boykin-Towns said, and plenty of reason for her to stick around, bringing her knowledge and intention to a wide array of tasks ahead.

“I am really excited and optimistic about the direction we’re going in,” she said. “This new NAACP leadership is one that isn’t trying to deny anything or to look past our faults but to own them—without forgetting our history or negating our accomplishments—and, then, to address what we need addressed as we reimagine what our association needs to be in this 21st century.”

— By Katti Gray

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