With the recent confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson, it’s refreshing to witness women of color making their mark in various spheres of influence.
Constance Hill-Johnson is no exception. She is the first Black woman to be elected chair of the Board of Directors of the Cleveland Foundation, the world’s oldest community foundation and owner of $3 billion in assets.
Hill-Johnson is the owner of Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services, a national franchise, in Cleveland. Visiting Angels is an in-home service provider assisting elderly and older adults to live as independently as possible by remaining safe in their regular environments. She credits BLACK ENTERPRISE as being heavily influential in her entrepreneurial journey.
Her new role at the Cleveland Foundation is a step in another promising direction.
“The timing was right in light of where we are as a nation in terms of racial injustice,” she says. “I’m happy to be the face of the brand. This is a good time to be in this leadership position.” Hill-Johnson was on the African American Philanthropy Committee of the Cleveland Foundation for about 10 years before she was nominated to serve on the board.
She’ll meet with the full board in June. Members can expect Hill-Johnson to prioritize commitment to racial equity. The specifics and logistics on how it will look are to be determined.
“It needs to be an agenda item, clearly seen and reviewed at all times,” she explains.
Showing up at community meetings when possible is extremely vital to Hill-Johnson’s leadership style as well as eschewing micromanagement for a strong, consistent presence. “I think the community needs to see me, to see a Black woman in leadership,” she says. “We have a tendency to feel better and relate more when someone who looks like us is at the table.
“To see women in corporate America, on boards, and on paying boards, this is our time! We are lifting each other. We are encouraging each other. We are speaking each other’s names.”
Hill-Johnson is eager to advance women whether she’s on a board or a committee. She wants to speak up for what is right and for other sharp Black women. Her term as board chair is for two years, ending April 2024, gives her a great platform.
“This isn’t about power; it’s about serving the community and serving humanity,” she says. “We are centering the community. We are centering those we serve.”
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund (CBFF) was established “to invest in and strengthen Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations” and part of “a long-term community-wide effort to dismantle racist systems that have made communities of color vulnerable for generations.” The CBFF will have its second round of grants go out sometime early May.
The main criteria for an organization is to be Black-led and Black (community) serving. In other words, your infrastructure or leadership must consist of people of color.
According to Hill-Johnson, the foundation was overwhelmed with the number of applicants in the first round. It was particularly revealing that quite a number of Black-run, Black-led organizations didn’t even know they could apply for funds from the Cleveland Foundation. They didn’t see the foundation as an entity they could approach for funding. That narrative will change.
And Constance Hill-Johnson will make sure of that.