Fun loving, driven describes Citizens Bank’s senior vice president of public affairs
Her 22nd floor windowed-office at Citizens Bank in Center City holds a selection of some of the business and personal books and photos that are near and dear to her. As senior vice president and director of public affairs (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) with Citizens Bank, Henri Gilliam Moore is responsible for the preservation and enhancement of the bank’s brand and reputation. In this position for the past three years, she manages public relations, media relations, special events, charitable contributions, philanthropic activities and community outreach activities, supervises eight people and travels throughout the region.
Prior to this position, she served as national sales manager for Comcast Corporation, developing and managing strategic partnerships. She also worked with HBO where she managed corporate marketing campaigns.
“I’m so glad to be in this position at this time,” says Moore. “It’s like a dream job. I really enjoy visiting the programs we fund such as the gardening program in West Philadelphia. The residents plant the food, harvest it and then sell it both in their own neighborhood and in Rittenhouse Square. It’s most rewarding to see the fruits of my labor and having the opportunity to give back. It’s get out and give time.”
Fun-loving. Content. Driven. This is how Henri G. Moore describes herself. She thinks others would suggest: aggressive, fun loving and focused. Not inconsistent, at all!
Being able to see the goal, to have a photo of the end motivates this conscientious manager. Communication is paramount to getting things done, and she personally prefers direct verbal communication to electronic. “I will get up and walk to someone’s office to discuss an issue to make sure we are communicating effectively. I think the personal touch is important.”
When asked how she solves problems, she indicates that she prays.
Among her many and varied community and civic activities, Moore serves on the board of directors of the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center; is chairperson of The Links Inc. Penn Towne Chapter fundraising committee (a position she’s held “it seems like forever”); and as a long-time member of Jack and Jill she is chairing the national convention that comes to the city this August celebrating the organization’s 75th anniversary. Additionally, she is a member of Project H.O.M.E.’s Public Relations and Development Committee.
Moore has a bachelor of arts in business administration from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where she majored in marketing, with a minor in economics. As a very industrious young woman, her first job (which her father assisted her in obtaining at age 18), was in a juvenile detention center. She worked every summer in such varying positions as a receptionist, florist and staff for the department of transportation.
Being reared in a family where one’s mother, father, aunt, uncles and grandfather were lawyers, one would most assuredly aspire to the legal profession. So, Moore wanted to follow suit and become a lawyer. However, as her father suggested, she “wanted to be a lawyer, but didn’t want to study law.” It’s clear that she walked a different path. However, she proudly shares that her grandmother, mother and aunt are alumna of Howard University.
Her father Daniel L. Mann, a track star in high school, died last October. Her mother, Shirley Mann, still lives in Ohio with plans to relocate to Philadelphia within the next three months. Her older sister, Dawne Mann, lives in New York.
Moore’s fondest childhood memory is of family trips to French Lick, Ind., and summer visits with her grandmother in Welch, West Virginia, where she played hide-and-seek, ate Dairy Queen and had a lot of fun at church picnics.
She has a deep sense of fulfillment and pride with respect to her three children: Keil, 26, Danielle, 24, and Alexandra, 12. “They are really nice people.”
There’s a noticeable softness to her tone and persona as she speaks of each of them. The youngest member of the family attends Springside School and is a very caring person who likes to mobilize the family to get involved with causes. Danielle is a legislative aide for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Keil scouts high school girls for college basketball and writes for ESPN.
Jamaica is her favorite vacation spot where she journeys at least once annually, and if she gets the opportunity, she’ll make the trip a second time. Listening to lots of music and gardening are her favorite pastimes. Moore says that she really likes food — any kind of really good food. “While I’m not generally a game player, I recently attended a game party and enjoyed it very much especially games similar to charades. I would love to learn to play bridge — my mother plays and it helps keep her mind active-as does being a docent at the Art Museum.”
Henri acknowledges Barbara Gee, Charisse Lillie and Scheryl Glanton as mentors who have all been of great support to her. She smiles warmly as she notes her mother (whom she still calls “Mommy”). “She taught me how to be a woman.”
For the most part, her mentees have primarily been young women at Comcast and Citizens Bank. “Barbara Gee stressed the responsibility to help young people, and I find it rewarding because they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s great to be able to impart wisdom to young women,” says Moore who also chairs a mentoring program attending the Russell Byers Charter School.
Notes Barbara Gee, vice president of online sales alliances, Comcast Corporation, “While Henri considers me as a mentor, I’ve learned equally as much from her both professionally and personally. Henri is a fearless leader, a fiercely loyal friend. She’s the person that you want on your team. It’s rare to have someone who reports to you evolve into this friend. For her to be where she is at Citizens Bank coming from Comcast, is just the best fit. It couldn’t have been better scripted.”
Family is paramount in this purposeful woman’s life.
“My husband is the love of my life. He just believes that we (she and the children) can do anything we set our minds to in any way or shape possible.”
Anthony K. Moore (Tony) is principal at Paradigm Group Management Consultants.
“I’m so glad that I met my husband and moved to Philadelphia and built a really strong family and group of friends,” says Moore.
While she has received many awards as an individual and as representative for Citizens Bank, she was honored and surprised to received the Jack & Jill Distinguished Mother Award for developing a strategic plan for the children. “I thought it was important to have a long-range vision and action plan for our children and it was accepted,” she says.
Recently, the Bank received the Mentorship Award from Philadelphia Academies. Moore is also a recipient of The Philadelphia Tribune’s “Women on the Move” award (2010).
“If I had known life was going to feel this short at my age, now, I would have pushed harder; from the perspective of being able to look back that you really begin to know. At this age, I find that I have begun to be razor sharp about what’s really important in life”.
Close women friends and sister girlfriends are important to her. “My closest girlfriend has been such since the second grade. Karen Morrison still lives in Ohio and we are in similar positions, except she’s in the health field. Another good friend is Dr. Susan Taylor. When I moved here in 1993, she hosted a luncheon for me. It was really a surprise and we’ve remained friends ever since. I truly believe that friends are there ‘to ride or die.’ They will be there when it’s good and when it’s bad. They’re there to laugh with you and to cry with you. I love my friends deeply.”
Moore’s “aha” moment came with the understanding that everything happens for a reason: the good and the bad; and the need to acknowledge the other side of a situation.
When asked to identify her heroes, she speaks of Marian Wright Edelman, the Children’s Defense Fund and her mother, who forged her way through law school at a time when women weren’t practicing.
“My mother then worked in the education system and advanced to assistant superintendent,” says Moore. “She always worked and took care of the family, made dinner every day (cooked meals on Sunday for the entire week) and was also a great partner to our father, including nursing him through a lengthy illness. My mother showed me what it’s like to be a woman.”
Locally, she admires the vision and drive evidenced by Sister Mary Scullion and Jane Golden (Mural Arts Program executive director); both are trying to change the world for the less fortunate.
“The main lesson that I learned from my father is that there is more than one way to skin a cat,” she says. “He told us to find our way; be the best at whatever you’re doing at the time and no one can take that away from you. My mother taught me to put family first, and have a fulfilled life. While my mother was very busy managing a career and family, she never looked overwhelmed. I still marvel at how she did it. I have an older sister, however, I’m the junior matriarch of the family.”
In looking at what’s happening in the city, Moore indicates that Philadelphia needs an educational system that turns out youth that are able to get a job and make this region grow.
To those young people aspiring to a leadership position, she says, “Don’t focus on the title or outside ramifications of the job. Just do to the best job you can possibly do and it will come. Really listen to what’s being said-not just the words, but the meaning.”
My personal motto is “You can’t get it all. You get a lot. You have to be happy with that. Be grateful for what you have and be gracious.” One thing I know for sure is that I have to be grateful — it’s really about the small things — about relishing small moments-like looking at the trees. I think there’s nothing better than giving back. I’d like to be remembered as someone who brought happiness to lots — one who loved hard and gave as good as I got.”
To say this lady wears many hats is an understatement.
The Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake is the president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and vice president of Community Affairs for Independence Blue Cross (IBC).
She is also the mother of three children: Julian, Chawnda and Jamila; and grandmother of Jamile. One can sense the feeling of pride as she notes all of her children attended an historically Black college, i.e. Howard, Lincoln, Spelman and Xavier — and are successful in their respective careers.
Marshall-Blake serves as associate minister at Vine Memorial Baptist Church and spiritual chief officer at IBC where, from time to time, she has been called on to provide spiritual support for employees experiencing personal challenges and/or when an employee dies.
Additionally, this lady serves as president of the Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The group is a Pan-Hellenic organization with approximately 400 members. This is a position she has held since last fall.
The chapter has initiated the Emerging Youth Leaders program focusing on leadership by design, and on purpose, through the Bailey Arrington Leadership Institute.
In her role with the IBC foundation, her philosophy is to take the social to the philanthropic. The foundation serves Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties.
Marshall-Blake believes it important to see where the clinics are and to interact with the staff and clients. To that end, she has visited all 32 clinics. The foundation’s six-member board meets twice a year. Launched in 2011 with a $10 million budget, the foundation has awarded $3.25 million to date. She loves her job and views it as her dream job. She’s worked at IBC for 22 years and served on the board of directors at one point. Before this position, she worked at the Philadelphia Gas Works for 14 years.
Literally, a lady of many hats, she’s known for the stylish hats that she wears every day. Being ladylike is a trait she patterned after her grandmother and mother.
“It’s important for young girls to see ladies as role models and to be able to see themselves unfold and learn to have love for themselves — as referenced in Dr. Mona Lake’s poem ‘Getting Ready to Unfold,’” Marshall-Blake said.
This tastefully dressed businesswoman appreciates hearing remarks of admiration from passers-by as she moves from activity to activity in Center City.
Her wardrobe is developed from selections delivered by Fred Lee, a deacon at her church who provides this service for many of the female congregation members.
While many view her as a fashionista, she describes herself as a classic dresser. However, she always makes a special effort to seek out a unique pair of earrings from a jeweler in New York during Pennsylvania Society Weekend.
A self-proclaimed “typical” middle child of five children (one brother is deceased), she and her siblings were expected to do well, go to school and “don’t go out acting a fool.”
Her father was a master plumber and handyman, while her mother stayed home to raise the children. When she was a baby, she was nicknamed “Bootsy” because she was small enough to fit inside her father’s fishing boot.
One of her fondest childhood memories is of Friday nights eating Chinese shrimp dinner from Ms. Punchey’s.
The family didn’t vacation much, however, a visit to Atlantic City or Wildwood for the day and a trip to Ocean City for the weekend were special treats.
She reflects fondly on neighborhood entrepreneurs “Mr. Otis” and “Miss Sadie” and she feels good to still know most of the families on the street on which she was raised and where her 84-year-old mother still resides. She has a special smile as she shares that she talks with her mother every day, no matter where she is, in or out of the country, and does her laundry and performs other duties that a daughter does for her mother.
Always mindful that “God never blinks” Marshall-Blake was raised to always be grateful for whatever you have and to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve.
She attended Brooks Elementary and was in the first group of bused students (to Mitchell Elementary on Kingsessing Avenue) and Overbrook High School. She has a master of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a master of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary (she was ordained on July 21, 2004) and an honorary doctorate of humanities from Albright College in Reading, Pa.
Marshall-Blake sleeps only about 4 to 5 hours daily and it’s ok with her.
She’s able to balance her extremely busy business, civic and personal life because she’s organized.
She noted that she and her father, who was exceptionally organized, would be awake moving through the home and doing things while the rest of the family was still sleeping.
Mentors of this extremely busy businesswoman include Delores Brisbon, Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatum, Anne Wrice Mullin, Chris Cashman, Dan Hilferty, Bruce Crawley and Councilwoman Augusta A. Clark. She gives back by mentoring several young people within and outside of the company. The group consists of Ayana Moses, who is getting married in Ghana and has invited Marshall-Blake to participate in the ceremony), Joanne Ferguson, Shalimar Blakeley, Bridgette Daniels and Marcus Allen.
The list of role models includes her mother, first lady Michelle Obama, her pastor, the Rev. James Allen, and her good friends, the Rev. Sandra Reed and Jan Gillespie.
These three words characterize this lady executive.
Moving from meeting to meeting, and activity to event, she logs many hours on a daily basis changing from corporate hat to community member to board member to mother and friend. After knowing her for a while, many of her business associates affectionately call her “Reenie.”
The recipient of numerous awards, she is quite proud to have been acknowledged by the Wynnefield Presbyterian Church, Women of Faith, the League of Women Voters with its Civil Leadership Award, BEBASHI, the Tribune’s Most Influential list, the American Jewish Committee. She also received the G. Fred DiBona Leadership Award, the highest award given by Independence Blue Cross.
An avid reader, she enjoys material from a variety of genres and quotes from them with ease. Some of her favorite books are: the Bible; “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boys Story of His Trip to Heaven,” Todd Blupo, et al; “Great Day Every Day: Navigating Life’s Challenges with Promise and Purpose” (Max Lucado) and Dennis Kimbro’s “What Keeps Me Standing: Letters From Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration.”
With respect to leadership style she refers to “Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela.” This philosophy suggests that one does not have to be in front to lead; rather, one can lead from behind using one’s influence, bench strength and by supporting others — “it’s not always about a title,” she notes.
Marshall-Blake is excited simply about life every day and the possibilities of each new day. While much of what she does is in the public realm, most wouldn’t know that she has run the IBC Broad Street Run twice (and that’s the limit she says while smiling). She also loves to cook, and is a great cook, which can be attested to by anyone who has had the pleasure of dining on a meal she has prepared.
Other community activities include serving on the boards of the Philadelphia Urban League, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Black Women’s Health Alliance and the IBC Safety Advisory Commission. She also finds time to be affiliated with 2000 African American Women, the Community College of Philadelphia and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Cultural heroes and “sheroes” include Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If they hadn’t done what they did, we wouldn’t be here to do what we are doing,” Marshall-Blake said.
Living legends who complete her list include General Colin Powell, President Barack Obama, and Radio One founder Cathy Hughes.
“Our young people need to be able to see them and learn how they are able to do what they do,” she said.
Her office, with a large picture window looking out over the city, is that of a busy woman. One gets a sense of who she is and what her interests are from the books, artifacts and other materials that are displayed throughout the space.
Family photos, AKA paraphernalia, an African-American doll with a small bag of cotton (‘lest we forget’), a photo of President Barack Obama, numerous awards, a bookcase full of books and other mementos. Her degrees adorn her office walls and there is a coffee table near the cushiony couch near the entrance to her office that holds some of her favorite books.
“The key to my success is my faith walk,” Marshall-Blake said. “I believe that as I succeed, you succeed. I love my job. When I leave at the end of the day, I feel fulfilled. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish at IBC. Those of us who are in these positions of leadership are the exception; we should be the rule, and young people should be able to see African Americans in different leadership roles.”
“The General” is the first female leader of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC). As president, Sharmain Matlock-Turner manages a budget of $29 million with 400 employees across the parent organization and its 78 partners. The UAC began as the Black Coalition that was initially established to help quell the unrest after the urban riots in the 1960s. Most recently the name was changed from the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition to the UAC. Through its 40-year history, the Coalition has trained thousands of individuals, found jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, assisted families in finding adequate and affordable housing, and provided fiscal and management support for hundreds of nonprofit organizations. This year the Coalition has gotten into the business of helping reduce the “digital divide” in partnership with Drexel University and the City of Philadelphia.
At the helm for 13 years, she’s proud that the Coalition is becoming a regional player with current and proposed partners in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties; New Jersey; and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Md. “I’ve been lucky with opportunities, and I really love this job,” she acknowledges.
Matlock-Turner was born in North Garden, Va. in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. The family moved to Baltimore for a while, and then to Philadelphia. She is oldest of three children — her brother and sister live in Scranton, Pa.
Some of her fondest childhood memories include traipsing around the hills in Virginia, being free all day — baseball, peaches, church on the porch, watermelon and visiting people.
Naturally, her first mentors were her grandmother (whom she defines as “feisty,” refusing to accept the reference to her as “auntie” (a term often used by southern whites to refer to older Black women), and her mother. Her grandfather always worked the land or some other job so his wife did not have to work. Matlock-Turner visited with her grandparents every summer and smiles as she reminisces about those days in the country. Her mother taught her to sew, and she started making her own clothes at age nine. She also taught her to lay carpet and how to paint. Her mother stressed responsibility, even awakening Matlock-Turner one night at midnight because she hadn’t finished a paint job she had started earlier that day. She describes her mother (now 83 years old) as always beautiful and dignified.
She speaks proudly of having a loving family and is so very happy to have met and married her husband, Anthony “Tony” Turner. “This is an unbelievable, special time in my life with him, my two daughters (Ayana Matlock and Naima Turner) and being a grandmother for the first time. I enjoy being home.”
She credits Councilwoman Marian Tasco with teaching her a lot. Tasco helped her to evaluate situations and has always been generous with her time. Sharmain says that she has always tried to be around people who know more than she does, as “I can’t learn if I’m the smartest one in the room. I’m an experiential learner, although I do read and study; and, if I find I can’t do it, I let folk know,” says Matlock-Turner.
Other mentors include state Rep. Dwight Evans and her employer-mentor, the late Sen. Roxanne Jones, “Many people wondered why I would work with Sen. Jones and thought it would not be a good mix because she was not a parrot of the Philadelphia elite — always a part of and advocate for the working class and low-income families. I worked with her in North Philadelphia for nine years, and we learned from each other. She showed me how to work in communities with people with different views.”
Evans says that he met Matlock-Turner in the early 1970s when she was chief of staff to state Rep. John White Jr. and says, “You couldn’t find a better person. She’s a great friend, mother, wife and grandmother. I recently visited South Africa and focused on the significance of the emerging democracy, and the fact that the most [important] component of the democracy is the citizenry. Matlock-Turner is a good, solid citizen of the city, state, country — in fact; she’s a great worldwide citizen. She’s been an essential part of almost every community, political and social issue, project and concern in the city and we are fortunate to have her in this city. I am honored that she would think enough of me to even mention me as one of her mentors.”
Matlock-Turner has been volunteering for many, many years and her mother often wonders if she gets paid for all of the things she does. She references her work with the Black United Fund and Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, West Oak Lane Charter School where she is a founder and board chair; Children’s Scholarship Fund, Citizens Bank Advisory Board, co-founder of ARISE Charter School. However, she’s cutting back some on outside activities and at this time and her major concern is education reform noting that it is key to a person having a sense of themselves and how to harness it to do what one needs and wants to do.
Other roles she assumes include her weekly appearance on WURD Radio as a talk show host and as a periodic panelist on “Inside Story” on 6 ABC.
In her spare time, this self-proclaimed neat freak and putterer enjoys a good glass of wine, gardening, Pinochle and TV drama mini-series. Recently she began yoga and meditation, which she finds calming and centering. Her favorite vacation destination is Aruba.
Matlock-Turner credits her years at West Philadelphia High School, Penn State, Temple University and membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. with establishing lifelong friendships.
Reflecting on the decades since the passing of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, she notes that there is still discrimination against people because of the color of their skin, although many say they don’t discriminate. She speaks of people dedicating their entire lives to working to advance the rights of people of color and acknowledges the commitment, contributions and accomplishments of Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Locally, she refers to Charles Bowser, and the work of the Black Political Forum and John White Sr., Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. and Hardy Williams, among many other local politicians and activists.
She readily acknowledges lessons learned and the respective teachers include Kevin Dow who emphasizes “Focus & Finish,” meaning it’s important to stay engaged until change occurs as well as the Sisters of Mercy with whom Matlock-Turner gained an understanding that if there is nothing to be able to reinvest at the end of the day, you’re not doing what you need to be doing.
Matlock-Turner has also learned that a high degree of professionalism is of paramount importance to the success of an organization. The company has to have good people, the leadership has to go outside of his/her circle, and the whole organization has to search and invest in systems and structures. It must have a good board, effective finance management and auditing, and raise the question of what more can be done to develop structures that can stand the test of time.
The organization also needs to focus on capacity building to explore and identify how to measure its success and show how it has made a difference. The powers-to-be have told organizations how to count (document) and then say, “We don’t like the way you counted.” So, it’s incumbent for them to realize their “ETO-Efforts to Outcome.”
Responding to the query, if you weren’t doing this, what else might you be doing? She says, “If I were doing something else at this time, it would be something related to Clean Up Philadelphia. I’d remove all trash, fundraise for community-based organizations, have mobile trash pick up machines in the neighborhoods, conduct lots of educational programs, have a Pick Up Philadelphia Campaign with contests, deputize youth and utilize Trash Rangers.”
For the Urban Affairs Coalition, her goal is to keep it fresh and on the cutting edge of employment, housing and the digital divide — to keep it relevant so people view it as a place to come to solve problems.
She envisions her next steps to include some role in the media engaging people in a give-and-take and has no aspirations of an elected position. “It’s time for new people to be out front, and I’m constantly looking for opportunities to encourage young people. “I called a young man whose picture I saw on the front page of The Tribune and told him that I’d like to meet him. I like working with the next generation of leaders and to share with them: ‘This is what I learned vs. This is what you need to do’; to do less preaching and more teaching — an atmosphere of listening and sharing.” When I was younger and attended meetings, I was told to ‘sit down, shut up and this is what you are going to do.’ We’ve had our turn. Let’s give them the best of what we have!”
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS:
Books: “The Tipping Point,” “The Good Earth,” “Pearl Buck” and anything by Walter Mosley.
Movies: “West Side Story,” “Porgy & Bess” and “Jumping The Broom.”
Driven. Family-oriented. Artistic.
These are the three words that Charisse R. Lillie says best describe who and what she is.
This soft-spoken, gentlewoman serves as corporate vice president of community investment and president of the Comcast Foundation. In this capacity, she supervises twenty people in the Center City Philadelphia corporate office and several hundred in the field through various division presidents.
Lillie worked at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, where she was a partner and chair of the Litigation Department and a member of the Employment and Labor Law Group. Before joining the firm, Lillie’s legal experience included positions as trial attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Deputy Director, Community Legal Services, Inc., professor at Villanova Law School, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; General Counsel to the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia; and City Solicitor of the City of Philadelphia. David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corporation (with whom she worked at Ballard Spahr) recruited her to join him at Comcast. Although she was satisfied with her position at the law firm, Comcast seemed to be a really exciting opportunity.
The job is fast-paced, fun and interesting and keeps her quite busy. She’s on the road a lot, with work-related travel consuming generally 30–40 percent of her time. She’d think she was in heaven if she could have a four-week sabbatical. She’d probably use the time to travel to South Africa, Ethiopia, Italy and London.
Lillie received her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University – cum laude, her J.D. from Temple Law School – Dean’s honor list and her LL.M from Yale School of Law. She volunteers with her respective alma maters – Wesleyan interviewing new recruits, fundraising with Temple University and is active in the local Yale Club, among many other volunteer activities. Early in her career, she worked as a research assistant to the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. on his first book, “In the Matter of Color,” and as law clerk to the Honorable Clifford Scot Green, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
She says the best advice she received was from Judges Clifford Scott Green and A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. They both advised her to treat every person in an organization the same. The latter suggested that her Afro hairstyle would get in the way of her career path; fortunately for her, it didn’t hinder her advancement. She is very proud of her legal career — with 28 years in law practice including government and a big law firm. “I think law is in my DNA!”
Lillie was born and raised in Houston, Texas to parents who were educators and artists and inspired a love for the same in their children. As children, she and her sister made Black history collages and were regular attendees to the theatre. She had early aspirations were to either become a lawyer or an actor. She feels truly blessed to have known her maternal and paternal grandparents.
Education was paramount in her family — one did not get congratulations for receiving an “A” but had to explain if one received a “B.” The family lived in a ranch style home in a segregated area with segregated public schools. She and her sister were a part of the first wave to attend Catholic school. They had great teachers with high expectations; however, there were limited opportunities. “It seemed as if all one could do was teach. Most African-American men with degrees worked in the post office. At the time, it wasn’t realistic for a girl to aspire to be a lawyer,” said Lillie. Students were around their home all the time. Her parents were her mentors, and she had tremendous role models, including family friend Barbara Jordan — a lawyer who became a Congresswoman.
Family is dear to Lillie and she is very proud that she and husband, Tom McGill Esq., have three productive children, Tom III, Leslie Arnette and Alison McGill.
Having time with her husband and family is the most rewarding experience she has. Cooking is one of the things Lillie enjoys doing, and she really likes to make two of her favorites that her grandmother taught her to prepare — curried shrimp and gumbo. Her husband affectionately calls her “Lillie,” while others sometimes refer to her as “Charsee” — the result of the mispronunciation of her name by Caribbean Passport Security reading her name on her birth certificate while traveling years ago.
More time to sleep is at the top of her list of “what I would do if I had more time.” She has a personal trainer at her home 3–4 times per week and enjoys visiting the spa and listening to music. She enjoys reading but doesn’t have enough time to read for pleasure.
Lillie gives back through Comcast’s Digital Connectors program promoting digital literacy, youth leadership and community service. She also serves on the board of Penn Mutual Life Insurance, NBC Universal Foundation, Franklin Institute, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Board of Trustees of Howard University among other volunteer activities. A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., she says it is a part of the village of women she’s been around most of her life.
She speaks of having a passion for diversity indicating that she is open and wiling to experience different cultures.
As a leader, she views her style as collaborative and that accountability goes two ways. She has an open-door policy where employees can express their concerns. She expects everyone on her team to be clear on the vision; she clearly articulates deadlines and bottom lines to those she supervises. And, Lillie is always focused on the corporate goals. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to trust my grit instincts about people and situations and to not second guess myself.”
One of her most educational and interesting experiences was serving on the MOVE Commission. It was the first time she had to deal with the press. As a young professional, she had the opportunity to work with attorneys William Brown, Bruce Kauffman and Charles Bowser. She found it to be a remarkable experience in the presence of such brilliant lawyers. She gained a huge perspective on big bureaucracy and it was great preparation to become city solicitor.
When she was chair of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, she felt positive about being in a position to have an influence on economic development in Philadelphia and national monetary policy. She credits attorney Hillary Holloway (a former board chair himself) — whom she described as a very special human being, very sweet and humble, for recommending her to the board.
Through the years, Lillie has received numerous honors including the 2011 United Way Women’s Initiative Award, CableWORLD as one of the Top 50 Minorities in the Cable Industry and one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Cable.
Elleanor Jean Hendley, founder and president of Teenshop describes her as “one of the kindest and most giving people I know. Charisse is Teenshop’s ‘godmother’ and directly accountable for much of our success during the past 26 years. I fondly tell Charisse that she is a gift that keeps on giving, and she supports Teenshop in countless ways. They include bringing Teenshop as a pro bono client into Ballard Spahr LLP when she was an attorney there, and making sure that the firm continued to represent us after she left to go to Comcast. She is a major supporter of our residential Summer Leadership Conference for rising seniors held annually at Bryn Mawr College. Each year since the program started in 2007, Charisse has sponsored and mentored one of the students, and continues to contribute significant financial support to this program. She has also participated in the conference as a speaker, and she even comes to many of our Teenshop activities during the year. Through her actions, Charisse continues to be a blessing to Teenshop and we are truly grateful.”
Lillie’s favorite activities include listening to music, preferably jazz — and she enjoys the work of Gil Scott Heron, whom she describes as brilliant and prospective.
Her mother and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall are her sheroe and hero, respectively. Her mother, Dr. Vernell A. Lillie founded the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in 1974 at the University of Pittsburgh. At 80 years old, she still has a stellar reputation in African American Theatre and has mentored generations of students. Says Lillie, Marshall, because of “what he accomplished under very challenging conditions, with very little money, working with people putting their lives on the line is truly remarkable.”
If you asked her for advice, she’d tell you to work hard, define your passion, develop a plan and be flexible with it; be action-oriented and find mentors (some will come and some you may have to pursue). An early defining moment in her life was the chance to work with federal judges through a grant to travel and interview 10 judges (she actually met with nine). She felt honored to see people in very high positions with gentility and humility and wanted to be just like them. She has always admired the “legal intellectual,” which sort of served as a guide as to how I wanted to live my life as a professional.
Like others in her station in life, from her perspective, she sees a major issue in the African-American community as the need to create businesses and have the opportunity to get access to capitol.
SOME OF HER FAVORITE THINGS
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to live your dream? Well, this lady is actually living her dream of leading a boarding school for low-income students. It’s been a dream since she wrote about it on her entrance essay for the University of Virginia. Autumn Adkins Graves is the first African-American woman president of Girard College.
That’s significant because the school is the legacy of Stephen Girard that in 1833 established a school for white orphan boys and only admitted African-American males in 1968 after years of legal battles and picketing and admitted the first girl in 1984.
Autumn was born in Monongahela, Pa., right outside of Pittsburgh. The youngest of four children, she was seen as her mother’s “special project” as there are 16 years between her and her closest sibling. She came along when her mother was in her forties and her parents were planning to adopt.
The family moved to Richmond when she was in the fourth grade and her first career goal was to be a teacher. She later considered something similar to managing a hedge fund so she could make a lot of money to open a private boarding school for inner city children or a sports agent.
A sports colleague advised against the latter saying that she was too nice and cared too much about others rather than about the money the athletes would make more for her as a sports agent.
She says that her father worked a lot and her mother was the primary caregiver and messenger for the family. They encouraged their children to be positive, loving and to work hard. For the family, school was not an option, it was expected. There was not a question of if, only when one would go on to higher education.
Her mother stressed doing your personal best, following your passion, and being a lady…how a lady behaves, sits, walks, talks and conducts herself.
When “AJ” (family nickname for Autumn Joy) was dating as a teenager, her mother would lovingly admonish her “don’t embarrass me and don’t ruin my last name.” Some of her best advice came from her father who told her “don’t take yourself too seriously.”
An avid history buff, she’s currently reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, which relates the story of an African-American woman from Virginia who died at the age of 31 and whose cancer cells provided for major medical research without her knowledge. It’s a story of cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty.
A defining moment for Adkins Graves was when she applied for job to head a New England private school. She was a finalist and felt it was good fit after a long interview process. However, in the end, it was traumatic.
It was, she said, “the first time I really felt racism.” She was informed that they “must go with a safe choice in these uncertain economic times.” For Adkins Graves, it was raw and painful. She says that she actually wailed for a moment because it took the wind out of her sail and she thought, “What’s the point?” However, two weeks later, the headhunter for Girard College called.
In retrospect, she believes she needed to have that experience to have the drive she has now in preparing students at Girard College.
“Without question I make sure they know they have skills and abilities and that it’s okay to hurt and to not be paralyzed by it. They should be aware that there’ll be another opportunity and to always be prepared for it and not think all people are like (the interviewer for the New England School). I was tempted to call him and tell him…but I didn’t.”
Just three days before her Girard interview, she met her husband-to-be, R. Vann Graves, and discovered that they had a Virginia connection. It was a blind date about which both parties were reluctant. However, Adkins Graves says now, “he’s my dream and he’s so cute.” She really enjoys being a wife and looks forward to starting her own family.
She notes, “I want to be a good wife; I’ve been a career person for so long. It’s very different to have another role that I play in a family, and I take it very seriously. It’s important to have balance between my job (which is such important work and good work) and my family life.”
Spending time with her husband and with family and friends relaxes her. Travel and great restaurants bring her joy, noting that Philadelphia has many great choices. She deems herself a magazine junkie and while she will read a book using a Kindle, she doesn’t want to give up the pleasure she gets from turning the pages of magazines and seeing the many pictures and reading the many interesting stories they contain. She wants to integrate technology into a reading program at Girard.
Before she turns 50, she wants to visit all 50 states (she’s been to 39). Someday, she’d like to get a Ph.D. in something other than education, possibly history or psychology. At different times and phases in her life, she’s had different theme songs. Her battle cry used to be the Gloria Gaynor anthem, “I Will Survive.”
Since she got married, she now favors the Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us” as her relationship with her husband is both tender and special. Her two all-time favorites continue to be “His Eye Is on The Sparrow” and “All Hail the Power.”
With respect to mentoring, “for me, it’s not formal. I think mentoring is about wisdom, knowledge and experience. I’m just getting to that point where I feel that I have something of significant value to offer to someone; I talk to young people and gently raise questions about where they are in their careers to help them lesson themselves.”
Adkins Graves is a graduate of University of Virginia (BA), and Columbia University Teachers College (MA). She was assistant principal at Friends Seminary in Manhattan, dean of the Upper School at Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.), director of special programs at Mercerburg Academy (Pennsylvania) and upper school counselor and community service coordinator at the Breck School (Minneapolis).
Adkins Graves views education as much more than books. “One has to work smart and be able to have a practical education, to use it as a vehicle for access to family sustaining jobs so one will know how to feed them selves; how to take care of one’s body; how to restore one’s soul; how to make good choices for you and your partner, and how to be good parents.”
She has enjoyed teaching history and found it exciting to watch children learn about how “dead” people impact their lives today and figure how they will impact the future and why we do what we do.
In this position, she is an employee of the board of directors of the City Trusts, and reports directly to attorney Bernard Smalley, chairman of the Girard College Committee of the Board of City Trusts.
Notes Smalley, “she has completed her second year and has worked extremely hard given the challenges she’s faced with the overall school environment as an outsider coming in and learning the ways of Philadelphia — and [there are challenges] with the decreased budget at a time when there are multi-plans for the future of Girard College and its vision. She still has a bit to learn, as do we all.”
Girard currently has 185 employees, down from 260 due to budget cuts. One of her priorities is to make the school open to the Philadelphia community and to break down the “wall.” As such, Girard hosts the MLK Day of Service, works with the Fairmount CDC, hosts many different events and serves as a rental facility for special events including weddings, receptions and corporate meetings.
Adkins Graves is building relationships with the alumni association which consists of a group of people who are committed and supportive. She loves her job!
She is active on the boards of Shipley School, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the Library Company, the NY Branch of Children’s Defense Fund and is a member of The Links-Philadelphia Chapter.
She describes her leadership style as one that is open, direct (maybe too much), wanting staff to understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, wanting staff to take some direction and mix it with their own expertise and check in with her. Keys to success for this driven lady have been lots of prayer, faith in the unknown, surrounding herself with good people (who are smart and have good souls) and having the ability to grow.
Her heroes and sheroes are the everyday people from whom she’s learned so much. Many of them do extraordinary things that often go overlooked. She believes that unfortunately, young people underrate the value of work — they have a sense that everything should come instantly because they’ve made “any” effort. They’ve seen too many experiences of the flash and glamour and get rich quick messages and not enough of how to be a regular person — which is so meaningful and rewarding. She encourages young people to “Work Hard! Play Hard! Pray Harder!”
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS:
Book: “Green Eggs and Hair”
Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”
Color: Royal blue
Food: Her mother’s macaroni and cheese and good Italian food