Dr. Jeffries Leonard has provided managerial leadership in both private and government settings and is knowledgeable about federal contracting principles and grants management. She has also worked extensively on programs in and with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. An enrolled tribal member of the NC State-recognized Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, Dr. Jeffries Leonard is a proponent of increased participation by Native Americans, African Americans, and other minorities in relevant research to help improve their health outcomes.
MONARCH: When you began your tenure as president, what did you envision for the organization? Has that vision been realized or changed as your term comes to a close?
DR. KIMBERLY: Our organization has been blessed with an abundance of strong and impactful leaders. It has been my honor to join that sisterhood as a National President. My primary focus has been to honor the legacy that was given to me and to build upon it to strengthen the organization. I wanted us to have deeper friendships and more impactful service. Specifically, I began my tenure with an eye toward increasing our partnerships. While we are comprised of influential women, I knew that we could accomplish so much more with relevant corporate partners who share our vision and mission. With those relationships, we could improve the lives of African-ancestored people in all of the communities we serve throughout the world. Additionally, I wanted to ensure that our friendships were stronger than ever. Close relationships are a key component of our ability to give exemplary service as well as to provide the support and understanding our members need. All of this was particularly important to me this year as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, our Diamond Jubilee. In looking back over our journey, I have been able to reflect upon just what motivated our co-founders, Margaret Rosell Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott, to create this organization. Many of the situations that they encountered in 1946 still exist for us today. Those women were on the front lines in our battle for social justice. They saw the power in using their resources and influence to support each other and improve the lives of those who needed help. I am proud to say that we are doing much more than I think they ever dreamed possible. At more than 16,000 members all over the world who are CEOs, legislators, college presidents, and even the Vice President of the United States, we have truly expanded our chain of friendship. With programs in the United States, the Bahamas, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Haiti, and Africa, we have a global reach that helps people of color all over the world. We have been good stewards of the organization given to us. However, there is always so much more to do. Voting rights are under attack, HBCUs need support, Black and Brown people are mistreated by our justice system, and health disparities leave us with shorter lives. Yes, I am pleased that we have accomplished as much as we have, but we know that there is always a lot more work ahead of us. My goal was to leave this organization poised to continue to transform lives locally and globally. The Links, Incorporated will continue to do that beginning with our next National President and well into the foreseeable future.
MONARCH: What are your proudest accomplishments?
DR. KIMBERLY: There are so many things to be proud of, both as a member and as the leader of the Links, Incorporated. First and foremost, we have survived and thrived for 75 years. We have transformed generations of women, children, families, and communities. Our programs in education, health, arts, advocacy, and disaster relief save lives and improve the quality of life wherever we serve. Next, our impact as a philanthropic organization has given us a seat at the proverbial table. We are able to engage major corporate partners to exponentially increase our ability to meet needs. We have longstanding relationships with the NAACP and the UNCF. While maintaining those, we are also now saving the lives of mothers and babies through our work with the March of Dimes. We increase knowledge and save lives through early detection by partnering with the American Cancer Society. We proudly joined with Sisters United4Reform to lend our voices to five million others calling for changes to our justice system. Through When We All Vote, we increased voter registration and engagement efforts all over the country, making sure that every voice is heard. To improve the health of our members and communities, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our Walk for Healthy Living. Thousands of members had already completed our 75 million-step challenge, so we raised the bar and launched a 75 billion-step challenge. During my administration, the Links, Incorporated announced our sixth $1 million Legacy Grant, which was awarded to the Obama Presidential Center. We have also recently completed a documentary film entitled The Invitation, which chronicles our organization and its 75 years of impact. This is just a small fraction of what we have done recently. These accomplishments are even more noteworthy when you consider that they occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MONARCH: Talk about leadership, change management, and transforming communities—fulfilling our purpose in the midst of a pandemic. What lessons have you learned?
DR. KIMBERLY: Like so many entities and organizations, the Links, Incorporated faced a difficult dilemma. How could we follow the guidance of health experts and meet the increased needs communities faced as a result of the pandemic? Leadership, for me, has not been what you do when things are going well. It is best measured by how you respond to difficulties and conflict. As I addressed this crisis, I determined that first and foremost, we would follow the Center for Disease Control guidelines and make that information available to our members so that they would understand what was going on and would be able to share these facts and save as many lives as possible. I created a COVID-19 taskforce filled with member experts who kept us updated, safe, and properly advised. As a result, we relied upon virtual meetings, drop-offs, and other non-contact events that provided necessary items and important support. We used the virtual space to present webinars on programs, highlight inspirational figures, and share critical information. Members were able to hear from two Surgeons General. The Links, Incorporated used all its platforms to encourage mask use, social distancing, vaccines, and boosters as a means to reduce hospitalizations, severe illness, and deaths from COVID. At a time when we appeared to be less connected physically, in fact we were more active, more knowledgeable, and more in touch than ever. What could have distanced us has made us a much stronger organization. We have the traditional means of meeting and serving, but we now also have additional means of helping others even under the most difficult circumstances. The pandemic taught me that when you face what appears to be a roadblock, don’t give up—pause and pivot. Be dedicated to your vision and willing to alter the path to achieve it.
MONARCH: How does the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court impact organizations like the Links, Incorporated?
DR. KIMBERLY: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and her confirmation as the first African-ancestored woman slated for the United States Supreme Court fills us with pride and hope. She is the embodiment of the fact that there are experienced, educated, excellent women of color available for every position, including the highest court in the United States. With more than 16,000 members, we have many who are “the first” within our ranks. She walks a path prepared for her by the late Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley, and her ascension now creates a path for many other young women to follow. As wonderful as this is professionally, it also signals something very important in our society. African-ancestored voices and organizations are being heard. President Joe Biden’s election was secured by Black women, and he did not forget to include them in his appointments and Administration. Justice Jackson will inspire girls and young women, but she is also evidence that our voices are being heard and our presence will be included at all levels, from corporate board rooms to the Vice Presidency of the United States and the U.S. Supreme Court.
MONARCH: What are some self-care practices you enjoy that help you destress and maintain your mental health, clarity, and well-being?
DR. KIMBERLY: In both the organization and my personal life, I prioritize my mental health and self-care. This involves both a mental and physical approach. I do my best to manage my schedule and unplug each day so that I can reflect and restore. My physical health is a priority. I make walking an important part of my daily schedule. I enjoy being able to clear my mind, get fresh air, and take time to exercise each day. I am often accompanied by my dog, Ombré, who requires regular walks each day. We don’t do this alone. I am part of an intergenerational group of dog walkers. Walking is not new to me. Growing up, I remember my late grandmother would always walk after dinner, and we would walk with her. Walking brings me peace and calm during a hectic day and helps me get my daily exercise, which improves my overall health. Walking is not something that I just do personally; it is something that the Links, Incorporated encourages of her members as well as the community at large through our Walk for Healthy Living program and our annual Walk-a-Thon, on Saturday, September 24, 2022. We see this as a basic thing we all can do to improve our health and reduce disparities.
MONARCH: How will the Links, Incorporated prepare the next generation of women leaders?
DR. KIMBERLY: In preparing women for leadership, we first have to redefine what it means to be a leader. Leadership, at its core, is about serving others. It is less about having a position or title and much more about working selflessly to make a person, group, or community much better than it was when you started. This is as true in your household as it is leading a large organization. Within the Links, Incorporated, we have made a true commitment to educate women and prepare them for leadership. We have programs for women at all age levels. The skills we teach and strategies we share aren’t just for use within our organization. We know that our chapters will benefit, but it doesn’t stop there. Our leadership trainees take what they learn into their communities, professions, and other organizations. This elevates every situation they are involved in and makes them more effective wherever they are. We believe that women should get as much education and experience as possible. They should take advantage of every opportunity to serve and build upon those experiences. We support them by offering the best leadership training available and offering them many opportunities to lead. Learning to create and enact a vision is what makes both leaders and organizations successful. Experience builds confidence and prepares you to take on bigger challenges. Collaboration teaches you to work with others and expands your impact. In nurturing leaders, we are actually building communities and organizations at every level.
MONARCH: What does the future of the Links, Incorporated look like?
DR. KIMBERLY: At its 75th Diamond Jubilee, our members are poised to provide more impactful service, transform more lives, and contribute even more to the legacy we inherited from our co-founders, Margaret Rosell Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott. We have enjoyed the success of a growing membership and expanding programs over the decades because everything we do is based upon friendship and service. Because our foundation is strong and our mission is clear, I believe we will offer more meaningful service in the future. An increase in both members and chapters in the years to come is also likely. More influential women will come to our organization, and more women in our organization will become influential wherever they serve. We can also expect that our members and chapters will enact our national initiatives and work with our partners throughout the communities where they serve. The Links, Incorporated has positioned itself to be an advocate, influencer, and helping hand in communities that suffer from a variety of ills, from health disparities and voter suppression to substandard schools. As long as these needs and many others continue to exist, we will keep working until we find solutions.
MONARCH: When others talk about your presidency/legacy, what do you hope they say about you?
DR. KIMBERLY: It is and has been my honor to be the 17th woman to serve as National President of the Links, Incorporated. I hope that I am remembered as a good leader, a good friend, and a woman who served her community and this organization well. I chose the theme of Transforming Communities~Fulfilling Our Purpose. I understood the great legacy that I inherited from our co-founders and each woman who served as National President before me. As president, our job is always to improve the organization, building upon what each of us was given. I worked to accomplish that by considering what our co-founders intended. In post-World War II America, they found a few friends, addressed common concerns, and pooled their resources to find solutions. During a global pandemic, we expanded partnerships, increased productivity, and found ways to celebrate our 75th Diamond Jubilee. At this time, I hope members take pride in the fact that the Links, Incorporated is stronger than ever and that their membership helps to transform lives all over the world.
MONARCH: What’s next for you after your Links presidency, Dr. Jeffries Leonard?
DR. KIMBERLY: My membership and leadership at several levels before election as National President of the Links, Incorporated has been an incredible journey. For me, it aligned with the things that I am passionate about in my personal and professional life. That will not change. In whatever capacity I continue to work and serve, my volunteerism and professional roles will reflect those interests and values. My goals are always to address social justice, eliminate disparities, and increase equity in lasting ways that help our marginalized and most vulnerable communities. I will continue to be a change agent who works to improve lives and make communities better. I am optimistic about what new opportunities for work and service are ahead. The future is bright, and I am both grateful for the past and excited about the next phase of my life.
For more on the Links, Incorporated, visit www.linksinc.org.