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    By Barbara Myerson Katz

    On a morning last winter, I watched as some 150 women lined up in a sunny, high-ceilinged room at the Olmsted off Frankfort Avenue for Louisville Business First’s Bizwomen Mentoring Monday. As in speed dating, every seven minutes a bell signaled participants to rotate, the goal being that mentees would meet potential mentors among more than 40 there, all women representing organizations that included nonprofits, higher education, healthcare, banking, tech startups, retail, law firms and more. (The next Mentoring Monday is slated for Feb. 24.)

    As the session came to a close, a young woman who had snagged a slot with Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said she’d been waiting since the previous year for the chance to talk to her. Reynolds flashed a surprised smile and told the young woman she could have called her any time. Later, Reynolds says to me, “A mentor is a navigator” — someone who helps remove both professional and personal barriers. She says it’s important to have help navigating the workplace, where there’s often no safe place to talk about challenges. “I’m the person they can call at night when everything is going wrong,” she says, then adds, perhaps only slightly kidding,

    “I tell them, ‘I want you to be positioned well enough to hire me when I need a job.’” 

    Christien Russell, 27, was a student at Central High School when a pastor who knew of her interest in law introduced her to Reynolds. Russell ended up shadowing Reynolds, who was then a Jefferson County district judge. Russell, who got her master’s degree in public administration, is pursuing a doctorate in agricultural sciences with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and is currently a special assistant in the USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. “Growing up in the West End of Louisville, seeing a black person in (Reynolds’) position, I knew I was worthy to be in those positions,” Russell says. “She will give it to you raw, but the intent is for you to be better at the end of the day.”

    Leadership Louisville president Cynthia Knapek says mentorships are readily available in Louisville. Her organization, for example, has a 100 Wise Women program, and other groups focusing on mentoring include the Young Professionals Association of Louisville (YPAL) and Greater Louisville Inc. Brown-Forman offers its employees a program called Growing Remarkable and Outstanding Women (GROW). YPAL president Aimee Jewell says to find a great mentor, “You have to figure out what you need from that relationship.”

    We talked to a dozen women representing multiple generations and varied careers about wisdom that has been passed down and helped them get where they are — and become who they are — today.

     

    Marie Abrams

    Legislative aide to former Kentucky state Sen. David Karem; former national chair, Jewish Council on Public Affairs

    Mentors have included late community leaders Betty Jane Fleischaker, Minx Auerbach, Maud Fliegelman, Jane Greenebaum and Louis Cole — all role models during Abrams’ multiple decades as a community volunteer. “The community leaders taught me: Don’t assume someone will say no; ask them. Never undersell a job,” Abrams says. “Never say it’s not a big deal, because if it’s not a big deal, why would you ask them to do it? David Karem (who for decades served as president of Waterfront Development Corp.) taught me that change doesn’t happen right away. You need to look at change as a series of little victories.”


     

    Dana Alle​n

    Senior vice president for marketing and communications, Norton Healthcare; former marketing director at Brown-Forman

    “My boss, Russ Cox (Norton Healthcare president and CEO), has told me, ‘Sometimes, you just gotta breathe.’ I’m a little woman who walks fast and hard. I don’t think everything’s a fight, but I do think I work pretty hard. Sometimes you have to just breathe 
    and relax.”


     

    Kim Baker

    President, Kentucky Center for the Arts

    Mentors have included the late Holly Salisbury, director of the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts, where Baker worked while studying arts administration; and Madeline Abramson, the wife of former Mayor Jerry Abramson and past chair of the Kentucky Center for the Arts board of directors. “Holly Salisbury told me to think about the challenges of working in a cultural institution that is a 24/7 career when you also want to have a family,” Baker says. “To make it your career, you need to be prepared for the lines to blur a bit, to integrate it. Madeline Abramson taught me that it’s important to thank people and never underestimate the people who help you do what you need to do — and that when I think about things I need to accomplish, there are people I can lean on to help me.”


     

    Alice Houston

    CEO, HJI Supply Chain Solutions in Louisville

    Mentors have included her late mother, Helen Kean Johnson, who was a special-education teacher; her aunt, the late Naomi Lattimore, a librarian at what was an all-black public library at 10th and Chestnut streets; another aunt, the late Ivanetta Davis, who was married to the president of Tennessee State University; and the late Louisville Central High School teacher Thelma Lauderdale. They all emphasized and modeled the importance of education. “We were instilled with a tremendous amount of confidence and were told that there were 52 cards in a deck, but (as African-Americans) you were only going to be playing with 26,” Houston recalls. “They convinced you that you could play with those 26 cards and win.”


     

    Dr. Mary Fallat

    Professor of surgery, University of Louisville; surgeon-in-chief, Norton Children’s Hospital

    “Patricia Numann (founder of the Association of Women Surgeons) got to know my entire family and was able to know that side of me, the part that grew up in Auburn, New York, in a small city with a family that was very close. She was there for me when I had personal challenges and challenges during my career, for potentially life-changing decisions,” Fallat says. She mentions that similarly sage advice came from another mentor, Dr. Toni Ganzel, current dean of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “She told me to seek the moral high ground when making difficult life decisions,” Fallat says. “This advice actually kept me here in Louisville at a point in time when I had considered looking elsewhere in the country for a job.”


     

    Sharon Darling

    Founder and president, National Center for Families Learning (NCFL)

    Mentors have included the late First Lady Barbara Bush, with whom Darling connected through Bush’s ongoing interest in adult literacy. “When I would meet with Barbara Bush (including at the White House), at the end of the conversation when I would get up, she’d say, ‘Fluff the pillows when you get up,’” Darling says. “That was a metaphor for how to leave things intact for the next person to come, the next generation. Preserve things. Don’t destroy things in the process.”


     

    Christine Johnson

    Former president, Leadership Louisville; first female sports reporter at the Courier-Journal

    A primary mentor was the late Courier-Journal sports editor Earl Cox, who hired a relatively inexperienced Johnson away from the Louisville Associated Press bureau after she covered her first sports press conference at the University of Louisville. “The best advice I ever received was the importance of building relationships in your career. That came from Wilson Wyatt, an iconic Louisville civic leader who also was a special envoy for President John F. Kennedy. He said he used the same people skills defusing an international crisis in Indonesia as he did solving problems walking the streets as Louisville’s mayor,” Johnson says. “He had the ability to listen to people on all sides of a difficult issue, then seek common ground. He never interjected his own opinion first. He also had a genial manner and ready smile that inspired trust and respect. A remarkable combination of style and substance made him a successful leader at home and across the world.”


     

    Jackie Keating

    Chief Development Officer, Dare to Care

    Dana Allen, Norton Healthcare VP, became an important mentor when Keating was recently married and new to Louisville. “I remember having breakfast with (Allen) on the very first day that I was back to work after maternity leave,” Keating says. “Like many new parents, I was consumed by thoughts of my son while at work, and then consumed by thoughts of work when at home. I looked at her and said, ‘How do I do this?’ She responded, ‘Jackie, your 80 percent is everyone else’s 120 percent. You’re going to be just fine.’ Over time, I’ve concluded that while I don’t believe those percentages to be true, if I keep doing the work with the best I can offer at that given moment, that is enough. Her encouragement allowed me exactly what I needed — a deep breath and some grace.” 


     

    Cynthia Knapek​

    President, Leadership Louisville

    An important mentor is Christine Johnson, who preceded Knapek as the head of Leadership Louisville and encouraged her to follow in that position. “When I was a new mom, Chris told me, ‘You can have it all; you just can’t have it all today,’” Knapek says. “I pair that with advice from (former Louisville Business First editor) Carol Timmons, who told me that the secret is ruthless prioritization, in that on any given day there’s one thing that you’re supposed to do really well. On any day you can be the best mom ever, you’ve made home-baked cookies, you’ve brought them into the bake sale. The very next week you have one of those days where you’re a rock star at work, got it all done, got home — and served Frosted Flakes for dinner. And you should celebrate that the thing you prioritized is the thing that you did well.”


     

    Tori Murden McClure

    President, Spalding University; first woman to row solo across an ocean (1989); first woman to ski to the geographic South Pole (1999)

    Mentors have included the late Louisville Collegiate School history teacher Helen Longley and the late Barry Bingham Jr., civic leader and editor/publisher of the Courier-Journal. She got to know Bingham Jr. as an undergrad at Smith College in Massachusetts. Over many years, they shared more than a thousand pages of correspondence. “Barry recognized in me someone who he would have described as having a fire in the belly,” Murden McClure says. “In my mature years, I realize I was angry at the world (over injustices). If he could help me to navigate the rage, he would set me up to be more productive in the world. One of the things he said was, ‘Nothing worth doing is easy.’ Helen Longley would have said, ‘The difficult takes time; the impossible just takes longer.’”


     

    Attica Scott

    State representative and the only African-American woman currently serving in the Kentucky Legislature

    Mentors include former Kentucky Rep. Eleanor Jordan, who was the last black woman to serve in the Kentucky Legislature prior to Scott’s election in 2016; Jackie Floyd, community organizer in the Russell neighborhood, who helped bring Scott back to Louisville to work with Kentucky Jobs With Justice; and Pastor Derrick Miles of Greater Friendship Baptist Church in the California neighborhood. From Representative Jordan and Jackie Floyd, Scott says she has learned, “You’re a mom first, whatever your leadership position is. So always remember: Your greatest success is your kids. That informs everything I do. I’m always thinking about what’s best for my kids and the different places in which they navigate — their public schools, their neighborhoods, their jobs. What is going to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of their children and the children after them?”


     

    Sadiqa Reynolds

    President and CEO, Louisville Urban League

    A primary mentor has been Lexington attorney and University of Kentucky law professor emeritus Carolyn S. Bratt, for whom Reynolds worked while in law school. “It’s one thing when your family tells you you’re smart. Carolyn Bratt gave me a level of confidence that someone who had been in my life all along couldn’t provide. One time, she took me with her to a meeting about a multi-million-dollar negotiation she was working on,” Reynolds recalls. “I had on my traditional navy-blue suit, and I had my briefcase with me, and it’s just the two of us. And the other side, they’ve got like seven people, no diversity in the room, I’m the only person of color. I think the other side were all white men. Carolyn goes out of the room for something, and (one of the men) asks me, ‘Are you her secretary?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m her law clerk.’ Later, Carolyn said, ‘If you had been a man, at the very least he would have suggested that you were something other than a secretary.’ It was the first time in my life that I realized gender was also playing a role in how people looked at me. It helped me see the world as it was being presented.”


     

    Theresa Reno-Weber

    President and CEO, Metro United Way

    Mentors have included Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, with whom Reno-Weber worked for several years as Louisville Metro chief of performance and technology; Phoebe Woods, former CFO at Brown-Forman; and Maggie Harlow, CEO of Signarama downtown. Reno-Weber says she’s learned from her mentors that, “You can and should define your own success and follow the things that excite you. Bring your full self to the work — Mayor Fischer would say, ‘Head, heart and hands.’ Don’t worry about it making sense to others as long as it makes sense to you.”

     

    This originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “How She Got Here.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo: Attica Scott (left, by Mickie Winters) and Sadiqa Reynolds (by Jessica Ebelhar).

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