Title: President and CEO
Current / Past Place of Employment: The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio
How many years have you been in the region? Lifetime
Christie Kuhns is the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio (ULGSO). Deeply engaged and multifaceted with a unique combination of experience in government, legal, corporate, and not-for-profit sectors, she brings together her incredibly diverse skill set to effectively address policy and create positive movement on the tough issues in Cincinnati today, such as equity and generational poverty.
She began her career in leadership at a small not-for-profit organization. She attended law school and practiced at both a major law firm and Fortune 500 company. In 2015, Christie was elected as an Ohio State Representative in the 131st General Assembly, 32nd District. She then gained experience in the not-for-profit sector at UC Health, as Vice President of Operations and Community Relations, and Chief of Staff to the Chief Operating Officer. All while volunteering in the community, including 16 years in the Avondale Community.
Today, Christie carries her diverse skillset into her role as ULGSO President and CEO, fulfilling the Urban League’s mission to help African Americans and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parity, economic self- reliance, power, civil rights and justice.
In 30 seconds or less, tell us who YOU are.
Family is everything to me and close friends become family. I’m very empathetic, probably to a fault. I’m a combination of characteristics that seem quite contradictory. For instance, I’m very direct, serious, and focused. But also, soft hearted, comical, and easily distracted.
What is something that most people do not know about you?
I love to cook and had a catering business in college. I collect cookbooks and thought about culinary school and owning a restaurant.
What are your personal core values.
Family, Integrity, Community, Compassion and Honesty. I mention honesty because a lot of people are not honest not because they are dishonest people, but because they want to spare someone’s feelings or lack the ability to have difficult conversations. I believe one the most disrespectful things you can do is tell someone they are a great in a moment when they are not. I credit a lot of success I’ve had in life to my parents not telling me I was great, when I wasn’t and being surrounded by a family that would always share the hard truth. I’ve also had mentors and people in my professional life that had been brutally honest and it made me not only a better professional, but a better person.
What is the primary motivation of your leadership?
I feel incredibly blessed in my life. There are so many people that deal with circumstances, I can’t even fathom. I believe when you’ve had good fortune it is your responsibility to give back and bring others along with you and pave the way for a better life for those who are struggling. My motivation will always be an overall better community.
What has been the cornerstone of your life journey that influenced your personal mission and purpose?
My family was involved in the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati in the West End. At some point my Uncle organized a group of kids participating in the arts programming, including myself and some of my cousins to perform in front of city council advocating for continued funding of the pivotal arts program in the Black community. I still remember the performance, the rap, and the moment. It was my first time advocating for my community and it turned into a life purpose.
Who has had an immense impact on you as a leader? How did this person (or people) impact your life?
My parents Larry and Brenda Bryant had the biggest impact, they worked hard to make sure we had every opportunity to succeed. My sisters have been pivotal to my journey as well. Tawanda Edwards served as a mentor in my journey as a young lawyer. Professionally, all of my direct supervisors, Kimberley Southerland hired me right out of undergrad as an Assistant Executive Director of the not-for-profit she founded. After law school, Scott Kadish, the managing partner at Ulmer and Berne afforded me the opportunity to practice law at a major firm. Tim Burke encouraged me to serve in public office which led to my time in the Ohio House of Representatives. Patricia Milton, Ozie Davis and my Avondale Community Council family helped me understand authentic community engagement and leadership. Dr. Richard P. Lofgren for hiring me at UC Health and Peter N. Gilbert, the former EVP and Chief Operating Officer at UC Health asked me to serve as his Chief of Staff- although it’s a role in which no one understands what you do, I learned an incredible amount and am grateful for that opportunity. J. Phillip Holloman recruited me to the Urban League as Interim CEO and served as my supervisor, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him in that time and another mentor of mine Barbara Turner will continue my streak of great luck with direct supervisors. This list is not exhaustive, so many people have poured into me in many ways, but with respect to my professional journey, these have been critical.
What piece of advice have you received along the way in your career or life journey that has stuck with you?
1. The cheap comes out expensive
2. A person should never see constructive feedback for the first time on an annual review.
What one thing makes you most proud?
I volunteered on both the Avondale Community Council and Avondale Development Corporation for 16 years total. One of the major issues we faced is the 20 year less life expectancy between Avondale and North Avondale and identified lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and primary care in the neighborhood as contributing factors, in addition to racism being a public health crisis. I am most proud of working on the redevelopment of Avondale Town Center in so many ways. As a member of the Community Council applying for the Choice Grant to redevelop the Town Center to solve for both a food and primary care desert in the neighborhood. Later, while working at UC Health, I managed the partnership between the Cincinnati Health Department and UC Health to open the Primary Care office in the Town Center, solving for the primary care desert. Later, Dr. Monica Mitchell at CCHMC and I came up with a scenario to attract a Black owned grocery store to the Avondale Town Center which created a space for the Urban League to build the Center for Justice on one side of a commercial space and its next door neighbor would be the grocery store. I had no idea I would be the President and CEO of the Urban League when we will have the grand opening of the Center for Social Justice in the Town Center this year.
What’s one thing you do every day (or with consistency) to be a better person?
How you treat people that as far as you know can’t do anything for you, says a lot about a person. I do something for someone everyday. A generous unexpected tip, mentoring, advice, no matter how small, I do something.
What are a few resources or behaviors you would recommend to someone looking to grow into a better leader?
I’m currently in the African American Leadership Develop Program, Class 29 at the Urban League, I’ve also participated in Leadership Cincinnati, Class 43 and C-Change Class 4 at the Cincinnati Chamber. I’ve found these respective programs to be invaluable in gaining leadership skills, perspective and growing a network of amazing people.
How do you define success?
For me, success is not just obtaining my professional and or personal goals. Success is looking back on my life and career and being able to see tangible ways I transformed my community and people along the way. Success is also teaching my children to understand how lucky they are and for them to develop an internal desire to give back.
Why do you choose to make the Cincinnati region home?
I did not leave my hometown because I wanted to make my biggest impact in the community that raised me.
In what ways are you involved in the Cincinnati community outside of your professional endeavors?
I try to give either time, talent or treasure to my kid’s school Gamble Montessori Elementary. I serve on Boards of many organizations Major League Baseball (MLB) Cincinnati Reds Diversity Advisory Board, the Ohio Poverty Law Center Board of Directors, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, the Library Foundation of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the YWCA Board of Directors and Bethesda, Inc. As a former elected official, I stay involved in public policy and the political process. Finally, I’m a member of the Queen City (OH) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
What do you imagine for the future of the Cincinnati region?
Equity amongst areas within the region, where zip code does not determine your life expectancy or ability to generate generational wealth.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
A better community for my children and to provide generational resources for my children so that they can select a career based on passion and not just to earn a living.
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