Karen Boykin-Towns has built a reputation as a visionary and strategic results-driver in complex business and government environments based on demonstrated success in the areas of policy, advocacy, communications, and proactive change management. Since concluding her impressive 22-year career at Pfizer Inc, she now serves as President/CEO of Encore Strategies, LLC. She was recently re-elected Vice Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors, the oldest and largest non-partisan civil rights organization in the nation established in 1909.
Ms. Boykin-Towns’ career at Pfizer spanned 22 years where she advanced quickly into executive management roles. She was recruited as a Senior Legislative Analyst based on her reputation for success in state government and held key leadership roles in public affairs, government relations, global policy, and human resources. Based on her positive impact driving change across the organization, in 2008 she was selected by Pfizer’s CEO to serve as its first Chief Diversity Officer. In this role, she successfully developed an integrated, global strategy resulting in internal progress and external recognition of the company’s advances in diversity and inclusion as a competitive advantage. Karen concluded her career as Vice President Corporate Affairs for their $34B Innovative Medicines business where she served as a member of the Senior Leadership Committee (SLC) that consists of the top 200 leaders in the 90,000 person global organization.
Karen is credited with numerous contributions at Pfizer that were instrumental in maintaining Pfizer’s brand integrity and ensuring the company’s global expansion during periods of industry consolidation, economic instability, and dynamic organizational restructuring. One of her key accomplishments involved preserving Pfizer’s brand reputation in spite of a controversial corporate decision to close the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, a historic landmark and cornerstone for the company and the community. Karen was also sought out to provide public affairs advocacy in response to proposed government legislation that threatened continued use of a multi-million dollar drug providing significant healthcare benefits.
Embracing her passion for policy and politics, Karen’s early career involved serving as Legislative Director then Chief of Staff to New York State Senator David Paterson, who later became the 55th Governor of New York In this role, she led strategy and execution of legislative efforts related to civil and human rights, community development, and environmental issues.
Ms. Boykin-Towns leverages her talent as a coalition-builder and social change agent through her active participation in various organizations. Along with her work with the NAACP, Karen serves on the boards of Visiting Nurse Services of New York (VNSNY), Brewster Academy, and past Co-Chair of the Business Council of New York State. She has been featured in Black Enterprise, Bloomberg Businessweek, PR Week, WWD, Ebony Magazine, Crain’s, African American Career World, Black Her, Network Journal, and Crisis Magazine. Savoy Magazine named her a “Top Influential Woman in Corporate America” in 2016 and in 2020 she was named “Woman of the Year” by Seeds of Fortune.
Karen holds an MBA degree from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY), as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Mount Saint Vincent. A mother of two girls, Karen is married to former State Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
A longstanding member and leader of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson is guiding the Association through a period of re-envisioning and reinvigoration.
Born in Detroit, Mr. Johnson attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS. He then continued onto Houston, TX to receive his JD from the South Texas College of Law. In later years, Mr. Johnson furthered his training through fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the George Washington University School of Political Management, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has served as an annual guest lecturer at Harvard Law School, lending his expertise to Professor Lani Guinier’s course on social movements, and as an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College.
Mr. Johnson is a veteran activist who has dedicated his career to defending the rights and improving the lives of Mississippians. As State President of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, he led critical campaigns for voting rights and equitable education. He successfully managed two bond referendum campaigns in Jackson, MS that brought $150 million in school building improvements and $65 million towards the construction of a new convention center, respectively. As a regional organizer at the Jackson-based non-profit, Southern Echo, Inc., Mr. Johnson provided legal, technical, and training support for communities across the South.
In recognition for his service to the state of Mississippi, the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court appointed Mr. Johnson to the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, and the Governor of Mississippi appointed him Chair of the Governor’s Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Johnson founded One Voice Inc. to improve the quality of life for African Americans through civic engagement training and initiatives. One Voice has spawned an annual Black Leadership Summit and the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, a nine-month training program for community leaders.
Leon W. Russell was elected chairman of the NAACP at its annual Board of Directors meeting in New York on February 18, 2017. Russell has served as a member of the NAACP Board of Directors for 27 years.
Mr. Russell retired in January 2012, after serving as the Director of the Office of Human Rights for Pinellas County Government, Clearwater, Florida since January 1977. In this position, Mr. Russell was responsible for implementing the county’s Affirmative Action and Human Rights Ordinances which provide for the development of a racially and sexually diverse workforce reflecting the general make up of the local civilian labor force and the implementation of the county’s Equal Employment opportunity Programs. Programs involved in the implementation of this ordinance cover employees in all the departments under the County Administrator and the five Constitutional Officers.
The Pinellas County Human Rights Ordinance provides protection from illegal discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations for the county’s 923,000 residents. This ordinance has been deemed “substantially equivalent” to Title VIII of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Over five hundred formal complaints of discrimination are filed under the ordinance annually.
In September 2007, Mr. Russell was elected President of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA) during its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The IAOHRA Membership is agency based and consists of statutory human and civil rights agencies throughout the United States and Canada as well as representation from other nations. These agencies enforce state and local civil rights laws and are actively engaged in reducing and resolving intergroup tension and promoting intergroup relations. Mr. Russell concluded his second term as IAOHRA President at the conclusion of the IAOHRA Annual conference in Austin, Texas in September 2011.
Additionally, Mr. Russell served as the President of the Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP from January 1996 until January 2000, after serving for 15 years as the First Vice President. He has served as a member of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP since 1990. He has served the Board as the Assistant Secretary; Chair of the Convention Planning Committee; and Vice Chairman of the National Board.
Mr. Russell has served as a member of several organizations: International City Management Association; National Forum for Black Public Administrators; Board of Directors of the Children’s Campaign of Florida; Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice with responsibility for recommending reforms to improve the juvenile justice system in the state of Florida; past board member of the Pinellas Opportunity Council; and past President and board member of the National Association of Human Rights Workers.
Mr. Russell also served as the Chairman of Floridians Representing Equity and Equality (FREE). FREE was established as a statewide coalition to oppose the Florida Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-affirmative action proposal authored by Ward Connerly. Ultimately, the initiative failed to get on the Florida Ballot, because of the strong legal challenge spearheaded by FREE.
Mr. Russell has received numerous civic awards and citations.