THE LINKS, INCORPORATED TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES THROUGH LEADERSHIP, FRIENDSHIP AND SERVICE
MONARCH MAGAZINE: For those who are not familiar with The Links, Incorporated, please provide an overview of your history.
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: The women who make up our organization today are much like our two founders. Margaret Rosell Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott were two friends living in Philadelphia, PA, in 1946. This was a time of great conflict in our society. Despite having fought for freedom abroad, African Americans faced inequities in employment, education, and opportunity here at home. Our founders formed a club that not only provided the women and their peers much-needed social support, it also worked to meet community needs, especially for local youth. With so many other areas around the country experiencing the same need, the club quickly expanded into cities where the women had relatives or friends. They were “linked” by their common desire to support each other and to improve living conditions for African Americans and those of African descent in America and around the globe. Our organization has survived and thrived, emerging seventy-three years later as a major change agent that transforms lives and communities.
Let me give you an example from our history and from today. In 1952, we issued the call to members and chapters to purchase NAACP Life Memberships to support that organization’s critical work in securing equality for African Americans. Just two years later in 1954—the same year as the Brown v. Board of Education decision—Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first black Supreme Court Justice, came to our national meeting to thank us for our support and to receive a check for $28,000. That would be the equivalent of more than $260,000 today.
In 2017, The Links Foundation, Incorporated awarded its fifth $1 million Legacy Grant to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to advance the research of sickle cell disease. The four previous awardees are the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Civil Rights Museum, the United Negro College Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
We are proud of the work we do and the change we are able to help bring about in communities all over the world. Our two founders created an organization that has grown from one small social club into a major philanthropic force of more than sixteen thousand professional women of African ancestry who donate more than one million service hours each year.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: How did your journey with the organization begin? Why did you join?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: My mother, Dr. Marye Jeffries, is a member of The Links, Incorporated. I grew up watching the important work she and other women did in our community, as well as seeing their strong bond of sisterhood and support. My mom is my role model in so many ways. I wanted to be a part of this amazing cadre of women who were effecting change as friends. When I was asked to be a member twenty-three years ago, it was a full-circle moment for me. Sharing this legacy with my mother and joining The Links, Incorporated were two dreams realized. I still consider myself extremely fortunate to not only be a member of this great organization, but to be at its helm.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: In your words, what is The Links, Incorporated designed to do?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Ultimately, to be a member of The Links, Incorporated is to be a servant in the service of others. Our members serve in 288 chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and the United Kingdom. The Links, Incorporated provides transformative service across a broad spectrum. Our main areas of concentration are the arts, services to youth, national trends and services, international trends and services, and, most recently, health and human services.
We identify needs within communities, assess what can be done to meet those needs, and work toward solutions. The Links, Incorporated also partners with community organizations and corporations that share our vision in meeting a particular need. We are driven toward the goal of truly transforming lives and communities.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: Congratulations on becoming the national president—such a prestigious honor. What are some of your responsibilities?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Thank you. I am truly honored to have been entrusted by my Link sisters with the responsibility of leading this amazing organization. The theme of my administration is “Transforming Communities – Fulfilling Our Purpose.” For me, that theme grounds us in our pledge to each other, our purpose as members, and our power as change agents on the global stage. A president’s responsibility is to lead and guide the organization in a way that is inclusive and empowers the membership to be and do their best – toward our communities and each other. We have a membership of over sixteen thousand powerful and impactful women each in their own right.
It is my job to not only ensure that we are organizationally sound but to leverage the collective power and voice of our members in ways that allow us to “do some good each day.”
MONARCH MAGAZINE: Your members are some of the most prominent women in the world. That’s a lot of pressure – how do you handle it?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Our organization is fortunate to have many CEOs, members of the United States Congress, presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), attorneys, educators, and many other influential women as members. However, they don’t become Links to build their resumes. They become Links to serve in friendship. They bring their resources to our organization and use them to help meet community needs. This is critical for the work we do. We have the benefit of access to members who want to help and have the ability to use their resources to do so.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: How would you describe your leadership style?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: When I assumed the role of president, I wanted to carry on the great legacy of the sixteen women who came before me. I wanted to set an agenda that would allow the organization to make a profound impact within our communities. I wanted to empower our membership to create initiatives and enhance existing programs in a way that had not been done previously. A true leader gives their members the tools to succeed and lets them fly. A true leader leverages the skills their members bring to the table. A true leader understands that it is not about me or one individual, but the collective “we.” Our job is to make an impact for the collective “we.” I don’t lose sight of that and I hope that this is my legacy.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: The Links, Incorporated is such an influential organization. Do you view yourself and the organization as role models?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Certainly. The Links, Incorporated works to gain influence for the sole purpose of leveraging that power to bring about change in the world. If we are role models for others, I hope they see us as change agents and are motivated to do the same in their communities.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: To become a member, is there a recruitment process? If so, what do you look for in a Links member?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Membership in The Links, Incorporated is by invitation. Our organization was founded upon two basic principles: friendship and service. African-ancestored women can have a very difficult time in our society as they balance work, family, community, and self-care. Friendship and support from those who have the same challenges and goals are critical. The Links, Incorporated is not just an organization, but a sisterhood, so friendship is very important. Service to others is also key. A good prospective member is someone who is already working to effect change in her community. We like to think of ourselves as friends who serve. Women who share that worldview would be good members.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: Is there an engagement process geared toward young adults?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: We support our young people through a variety of mentorship, education, and healthy-living initiatives. Additionally, throughout our history we have supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities and continue to do so both financially and through programmatic efforts.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: Do you feel that it’s your responsibility to galvanize members to participate in the political process?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: Absolutely! As women of color, we possess the power to change the course of history, especially when we vote. We must vote not only to effect change now and in the future, but to honor the sacrifice of those in our past who gave their lives so that our voices would be heard. We can’t forget slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights struggle. We have come so far, yet still have so far to go. Police brutality, voting rights, and financial literacy are among the battles African-ance- stored peoples fight today. Our primary weapon is our vote and we must wield that power in this country to make change. This past September, our Third Annual Legislative Luncheon gathered legislators, members, and CEOs together to have important con- versations about what we can do in our communities. The theme, “Transforming Our Communities through Our Voice, Our Vote, Our Power,” reflects our focus on voting. So much of the change we seek can be realized if we go to the ballot box and vote for policies and people who share our priorities.
We actively support issues like equity in education, easier access to health care, criminal justice reform, and an end to environmental racism. While we do not actively campaign, we encourage everyone to use their vote as their voice and wield that power to make the changes necessary in these areas.
MONARCH MAGAZINE: For 2020, what is your goal for The Links, Incorporated?
DR. KIMBERLY JEFFRIES LEONARD: To continue to move forward in our purpose of serving the global community.