T-TOWN 200: JUNIOR LEAGUE PRESIDENT OFFERS MANY FIRSTS
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Page Weinstein
Tuscaloosa’s Bicentennial celebrates civic involvement and women during the month of March.
Junior League is a national nonprofit organization that empowers women of all ages to serve the community.
Every year Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s nomination committee selects their president based on whose vision best fits the strategic goals of the organization for that particular year. Presidents may only serve a one-year term.
Karen Thompson became president June 1, 2018, and will serve until June 1, 2019, but she’s been involved in Junior League for nearly a decade.
One of her visions for the league was incorporating change. She said she took the governance process they had and molded it into something more efficient.
She said the league’s transition started with trying to stop using the word “I”.
“Change is extremely hard for anyone, especially our organization because we’re all very, very strong-willed women,” Thompson said. “You’re looking at women who are business leaders, CEOs and supervisors.”
Thompson is the first African American president in the history of Tuscaloosa’s Junior League.
She said it’s been a cultural shift because she is also the only African American on the 16-member board.
“Prior to coming to a board meeting, I have to get myself mentally in check and I have to make sure I understand my (personal) biases,” Thompson said. “Then I have to understand that when a woman is saying something, it’s not directed at me. I make sure I understand where everyone is coming from when they are voicing their opinion, but I also tried this year to make sure I knew everybody, that I knew their personalities and vice versa.”
At first she said she didn’t realize how much her rise to the Junior League presidency made an impact on others, until they reminded her she’s a face of the community.
“Being the first person of color, it is a little difficult at times. I tell everybody I have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable,” Thompson said. “I still am who I am, but I have to recognize where I am and how I am presenting who I am.”
Now that Thompson is president, the league is having more discussions on diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity is not just about race and ethnicity, it’s about age, too,” Thompson said.
Junior League’s next president, Ashley Olive, will continue Thompson’s focus on diversity and inclusion within the organization.
“We put ourselves out there saying we’re welcoming to all women, and so now what we’re doing is we’re taking an internal look at our inclusivity and making sure we deliver an experience that’s welcoming and inclusive and celebratory of all women and that we aren’t just stuck in doing what we’ve always done just because,” Olive said
Thompson said she is empowered by others in the Tuscaloosa community.
“I feed off other people’s energy. When I need to be re-energized, other people are put around me and they give me faith and they give me hope,” Thompson. “When you have different people around you that challenge you or motivate you, either good or bad it helps to shape you. So when adversity does occur, you really know how to handle it,” Thompson said.
She said she is motivated by women who are at the top of their game but also by women like the housekeepers on the University of Alabama campus.
“I tell all of them you are my hero, my superwoman, my angel because I look at how they handle things, how they communicate and I try to emulate and model them,” Thompson said.
The Junior League participated in Tuscaloosa Bicentennial women’s month by presenting their superheroes with flowers and candies.
Thompson presented her gifts to two UA campus housekeeping workers.
She hopes her legacy will be shown through a stronger brand because of the changes the organization had this past year.
Junior League hosts multiple events throughout the year to raise funds for their Adopt-A-School partnership with Holt Elementary School. The funds will go toward adding a reading coach and reading materials.
May 4 will be their first annual Tulips & Juleps event. This event is a Kentucky Derby viewing party hosted at the Drish House.
Dinner at your Door is an ongoing fundraiser they are running right now.
New members’ provisional dues are $150 and active dues are $125. There is a payment plan option for members. After the first year, members pay $125 a year. Members are required to attend six out of the nine meetings once a year and provide two hours of community service.
To learn more information about upcoming events or joining the Junior League of Tuscaloosa visit jltuscaloosa.org