Meet Krystal Clark, the Junior League of Nashville’s first African-American president She plans on making JLN a welcoming place for all women

Being president of the Junior League of Nashville (JLN) was never a thought that crossed Krystal Clark’s mind.

Presidents were older and wiser with a tad bit more experience, Clark thought. Besides, she had been a member of this particular branch for only six years.

Ambitious and naturally curious, Clark stood out. And now, at 34 years old, Clark has the distinct honor of becoming the first African-American president of the Junior League of Nashville in the organization’s 96-year history, and one of the youngest too.

“It’s been pretty rewarding,” Clark said of her new position. “I get a little emotional sometimes thinking about all the good that’s coming out of the organization.”

Although news stories of Clark’s appointment were published in September, Clark and the JLN committee have been preparing for the official announcement since 2015. Clark spent half of that year as president-elect-elect, president-elect in 2016 and president for the 2017-18 year.

“[The presidency] didn’t hit me until November of my president-elect year, because that’s when I found out who was going to be on my board,” Clark said. “That’s when I thought, I need to get my life in order. I needed to get my energy together and solidify my vision. Before that, you’re training and learning things that you don’t know about the organization. But that November, it hit me that people who are on my board are now going to be looking at me for leadership.”

There were still things to figure out, but Clark had already begun to prepare for her exciting new role. Taking risks and chances on things that matter most to her wasn’t new, and becoming president would be no different.

Clark, who is originally from Portsmouth, Virginia, made her first big move once she accepted a job offer to work as a program coordinator for fraternity and sorority life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Clark didn’t really know too much about the area, and she had no friends or family there. But this was an opportunity worth traveling for, and Clark accepted the challenge.

While in Durham, Clark was introduced to the Junior League after a league member named Kelly invited Clark and a group of young professionals out to lunch. Kelly believed the Junior League would be a great fit for the group and could help them navigate the world around them with the help of experienced women who would be there to lend support.

Since 1901, The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. has dedicated its platform to helping women around the globe through volunteerism and improvement of communities. Some issues that remain a primary focus for the organization include pollution, illiteracy, domestic violence and fostering children without a safety net, according to its website. With the organization’s core values and mission in mind, Clark was sold.

Shortly after the meeting, Clark and a friend joined the Junior League. At first, Clark said, she and her friend naturally stuck together since they’d already known each other. But as the two began to meet other women in the organization, more friendships blossomed.

“Most of us joined because we wanted to meet people, so being able to be social with each other and do community service with each other, I started bonding,” Clark said.

Through the league’s events and community service initiatives, Clark also began to learn more about Durham and the environment around her. It was refreshing, given that Clark had not known much about the area nor anyone who lived there when she arrived after earning a master’s degree in college personnel from the University of Maryland.

After working at Duke for four years, the more confident Clark was ready for change. During the search for her next career move, Clark was offered a position as associate director of Greek life at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“My career is important to me, and I’m a pretty ambitious human,” Clark said. “I’d never been to Tennessee, and I didn’t know anyone once again, but I also knew Vanderbilt was a really good school and the interview was really fun, so I took a chance and went. I actually do love country music too, so I figured I’d go and see what happens.”

Clark said her goodbyes to her Junior League sisters in North Carolina and began her journey to Tennessee. As with North Carolina, Clark was starting anew. There were no friends or family members to greet her in Nashville, but transferring membership and familiarizing herself with her new Junior League family is something Clark looked forward to.

Clark spent time meeting the members, both newcomers and veterans, and getting acquainted with Nashville. Although Clark enjoyed her work and time volunteering with the group, she’d never thought about taking on a larger role in the organization.

“When I get involved in something, I commit to it,” Clark said. “I certainly wanted to play a role in the organization, but I didn’t think I would be president. I thought I needed to be older to be president, and I thought that I needed to be in the organization longer to be president. I guess it didn’t cross my mind when I first started.”

What stood out to other women in the organization was Clark’s dedication. She was one of the most active members. She eagerly showed up to meetings and asked a lot of questions — the right questions. She coordinated events and fulfilled all of her duties.

“There were women in the organization who believed in me,” Clark said. “Throughout my time in the league, there were multiple women who let me know they believed in me and that I should aspire to be more in the organization.”

One morning, Clark was taken out to breakfast by a fellow Junior League member who suggested that she put her name in the running for president. Although she hadn’t given it much thought at first, the idea didn’t seem as far-fetched.

“I took a chance and did it,” Clark said. “I didn’t feel like I had much to lose, so I did it.”

Clark is continuing to adjust to her new leadership position but has already identified some of her top priorities, including member engagement, member involvement and making their presence known.

“We’ve been around for 96 years, and we also created a ton of other nonprofits that are still up and running. Sometimes people forget that the Junior League of Nashville is a philanthropic and service organization. We want to make sure we’re at the right tables and in the right rooms to be able to continue driving community change.”

And most importantly, as the organization’s first African-American president, Clark wants all women to feel welcome.

“It obviously can be hard to be the first and the only and the different one, but I sort of owned the fact that in order for this organization to be great for tons of women, regardless of their social identities, I have to put myself out there and I have to put my story out there,” Clark said. “I really try to go out in the community and be very present, going to meetings and introducing myself to people, because I think that’s the only way we can change that perception.

“I think sometimes we have a lot of self-limiting beliefs. We think people are going to look at us a certain way or we think people aren’t going to like us or be rude to us, but I think you have to give people an opportunity to prove you right or prove you wrong. … The only way that I’ve been able to be successful is just by owning what I want and going after it. Sometimes, I think we’re our own worst enemy. And we don’t have to be.”

Track and field legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s focus remains on giving back Philanthropy and community service were always top priorities during Joyner-Kersee’s career, but now she’s all in

Jackie Joyner-Kersee dominated track and field. She’s widely known for her stellar track and field career that produced six Olympic medals, four World Outdoor Championships gold medals and earned her a spot in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, but giving back to communities across the country is where her true passion lies.

In her most recent charitable venture, Joyner-Kersee, 55, has teamed up with Comcast for the second consecutive year to be a spokeswoman for the company’s Internet Essentials program, a comprehensive, high-speed internet adoption program that has served more than 4 million low-income Americans since its launch six years ago.

“[Comcast] sought me out, and a lot of it probably had to do with me already doing work in the community,” Joyner-Kersee said. “This fit right in my wheelhouse, and I was very honored to be asked to be the spokesperson. When you talk about Internet Essentials and bridging that digital divide, it’s just really a great program for low-income households and a comprehensive, high-speed internet adoption program.

“Access is everything. We know how important that is, and it’s required for you to do homework, or parents want to research jobs. It’s a valuable tool to have.”

The program, which is entering its fourth round in six years, will allow customers 40 hours of free out-of-home Wi-Fi access per month through Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots. As of this year, the program will increase internet service speeds from 10/1 megabits per second (Mbps) to 15/2 Mbps and also expand the program to include low-income senior citizens from five cities and metropolitan areas to 12, according to the press release.

Joyner-Kersee believes some of the most rewarding moments she’s experienced while working with the program are the reactions from eligible families, which range anywhere from shock to tears.

“They say how elated and how grateful they are because it gives them a better quality of life, knowing that they have access to allow them to do their term papers or homework,” Joyner-Kersee said. “And then, when you’re working with seniors, some seniors are reluctant to trust anything, let alone the internet. But when they can communicate with their loved ones across the country and around the world, it opens them up.”

American track and field great Jackie Joyner-Kersee, center, jogs with Palestinian women in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, April 17, 2014. The three-time Olympic gold medalist visited the West Bank to encourage Palestinian women to be physically active.

AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi

Donating time for a greater cause isn’t a new concept for Joyner-Kersee, who made it a point to invest in her community long before she became a track star. As a young girl, Joyner-Kersee said, programs she took part in stressed the importance of giving back, whether it be time or money.

“I got involved with my community work in the early 1980s, when it wasn’t really popular,” Joyner-Kersee said. “I wasn’t doing it because it was popular, though. I was doing it because I came up through programs where people taught you about volunteering, taught you about giving back. Giving back at that time, even when I was in school, meant coming back and sharing your knowledge. Give your time. Work on taking someone under your wing. While I was competing, I knew this was something I always wanted to always be involved in. That’s why I built my community center, and I’m back in the community trying to really share what I know.”

Community service and Joyner-Kersee’s track and field career were both top priorities that demanded long hours and solid commitment, yet Joyner-Kersee balanced the two seamlessly.

After graduating from high school, Joyner-Kersee attended UCLA on a full basketball scholarship after turning down a track scholarship from the school. Although Joyner-Kersee earned All-America honors as a basketball player, she began training for the heptathlon in hopes of making it to the Olympics.

During track and field events, Joyner-Kersee’s work ethic and athletic ability spoke for her. At the 1984 Olympic Games, Joyner-Kersee was a silver medalist in the heptathlon, and she returned in 1988 to earn gold medals in the heptathlon and long jump, setting a world heptathlon record of 7,291 points that still stands today. That same year, Joyner-Kersee founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in an effort to provide those in need with resources to better their situations. The foundation would also cater to residents of East St. Louis, Illinois, Joyner-Kersee’s hometown.

In 1992, Joyner-Kersee earned another gold medal in the heptathlon, and bronze in the long jump. In 1996, in what would be Joyner-Kersee’s fourth and final Olympics, a hamstring injury forced her to withdraw from the heptathlon, but she still managed to earn a bronze medal in the long jump.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee competes in the women’s heptathlon, the opening event in the U.S. Olympic track trials, in Atlanta, Friday June 14, 1996. Joyner-Kersee, the favorite to win the event, won her heat.

AP Photo/John Bazemore

In 2000, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center was built in East St. Louis after the foundation raised $12 million for the 41,000-square-foot facility. The center would be used as a premier venue for youth recreation and sports. Joyner-Kersee officially retired a year later at age 38.

“It’s always tough to leave something you love doing, but the reality of it is, is that I know my body couldn’t take anymore,” Joyner-Kersee said. “So physically, you probably want to do it a little longer, but mentally, it takes a combination of both. You can have all the physical ability in the world, but mentally, if you are emotionally drained and you can’t focus, it would show in your performance. I knew I was doing a lot of community work and speaking at different events. Even though that was good, it was taking away from my training.”

Now, Joyner-Kersee is all in. Outside of her work with the Internet Essentials program, Joyner-Kersee is still hosting events through her foundation. She is now gearing up for the foundation’s largest event, the fifth annual Sequins, Suits & Sneakers Gala, which will take place in St. Louis on Oct. 26.

Although Joyner-Kersee enjoys being considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time in her sport, it feels even better to be known for her work in the community.

“It makes me feel really good because you can do something for a long time, and you do it and love it, but then you realize the relevance of it when you’re away from the sport,” she said. “And when I’m walking the streets and people just come up to me and say how much they appreciate not only what I’ve done on the field but also what I do in the community, that makes me feel real good because there’s a connection there that I didn’t even know about. It’s great when someone comes and says good things when they don’t know me. They just know my name and what I’ve done, and somehow I’ve made an impression on them.”