How do we empower Nashville’s young women to become the next generation of leaders? Vanderbilt’s Dr. Katherine Brown thinks she has the answer.
Brown, a long-time occupational therapist, health educator and home care provider with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been active in the Nashville community for over 16 years. No stranger to community leadership, Brown boasts an impressive history as chairwoman and founder of numerous local and national businesses and nonprofits.
She created Learn CPR America, a group that holds professional CPR training sessions for the public, in her hometown on the Southside of Chicago. She also founded the Roberta Baines Wheeler Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Group, a volunteer group that aims to raise awareness for pulmonary hypertension through health education programs and free health screenings.
For her efforts in the Nashville area, Brown received the VUMC Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 2014 and the Nashville Athena Award in 2015. She was also inducted into the YWCA’s Academy for Women of Achievement last year.
However, after decades of community leadership, Brown noticed that something was missing from most of her experiences: strong women in leadership roles. Brown said, “I was asking myself, how do we build the capacity of women who are passionate about leadership? How do you instill these skill sets in girls at an early age?”
Her solution was to found the Katherine Y. Brown Leadership Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to the education, mentoring and empowerment of high school-age women in Nashville in preparation of becoming leaders. Opened in 2016, the Leadership Academy has the ultimate goal of “[expanding] the capacity of women leaders to contribute to improved community life.”
“We are definitely a grassroots organization,” Brown said. The Leadership Academy finds girls through mass community callouts via word of mouth and social media. The organization is uninterested in their participants’ education and socioeconomic backgrounds, Brown explained; for her, it’s about personality and eagerness. “We really want girls who just want to be here,” she said.
The women meet once per quarter to participate in different leadership modules, which cover different areas of leadership, including politics, finance, community activism and health care. Brown and other mentors also work closely with the girls to help improve their competency in practical skills like reading, writing and public speaking.
Some of the more eccentric sessions include travel both near and far. One program last year, which Brown calls “Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable,” was held onboard a hot air balloon. Brown says the group is currently working to take the girls to Medellín, Colombia this March, where they will interact with Colombian female leaders to better understand leadership from an international perspective.
The Leadership Academy is small but growing: in the last two years they have brought 13 girls onboard and expect to have more in the future. Brown says the group is working harder than ever to spread their name in Nashville and let people know “whom they need to partner with and why.”
As for her outlook on activism in Nashville and the community in general, Brown says, “I’m trying my best!
“But none of us can solve the problems of our community independently. We need to lock arms together and walk in our purpose. We will never be complete until we collaborate.”