Once Andrea Taylor gets started, there’s no looking back.
The recently appointed president and chief executive officer of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a runner who never slows down.
After making up her mind to finish the New York City Marathon and after two years of training, she achieved her goal.
“It was hard to get out the door, that’s the hardest part,” recalls Taylor.. “Once I got out the door, though, my whole day was better. Getting out the door centers you, energizes you, gets your adrenaline running, and helps you focus for the day.
“I had three goals,” she says of the 2009 marathon. “My goals were to run the race, to finish while they were still counting and keeping time so I could qualify for the medal and the award – and to not die that day. I am pleased to tell you I accomplished all of those objectives.”
Taylor’s favorite motto is “get started.” Those words have enabled her to build a distinguished corporate and philanthropic resume that has taken her around the globe.
Most recently, she served as the director of citizenship and public affairs for Microsoft. Prior to that tenure, she created and led national and global grant programs for the Ford Foundation and the Benton Foundation. She has served as a delegate to four global summits of the United Nations, in Africa, Switzerland, China and Egypt.
Those are among myriad achievements that appealed to a search committee looking to replace Lawrence Pijeaux, who retired from the BCRI in 2014.
Hit the ground running
Bobbie Knight, an Alabama Power executive and BCRI chairman of the board, says of Taylor, “She brings a wealth of senior leadership experience in business, philanthropy and media – skill sets that are desperately needed at the BCRI at this time in our history. She has a very impressive national and global reach that will help strengthen our impact as we prepare for our 25th anniversary in 2017.”
Taylor says she already has an eye toward the anniversary, which is slated to be a “celebration of 25 years of creation and existence of this important institution that really has lessons to offer to the community, to the country and to the world about revolution and reconciliation.”
She adds, “We have something to teach and share with the world that continues to struggle with civil and human rights issues, and we want to do that by building on the lessons of the past and putting it in a context that will be helpful for the present and the future.”
Since the BCRI opened its doors in 1992, more than 2 million visitors have seen its exhibits and been educated by its resources. Taylor hopes the Institute will continue to broaden its reach and impact nationally and internationally.
“Andrea is a gifted leader with a long and distinguished career around purpose and impact,” says local attorney Doug Jones, co-chair of the BCRI search committee. “She is an extraordinary leader who joins the BCRI at an extraordinary inflection point.”
Taylor was attracted to Birmingham and the BCRI because of personal and professional experiences, she says.
“My own life in many ways is mapping the civil rights movement,” she says. “I’m a child of the ‘60s. I grew up in that era. I came from a family of advocates and activists. In my own work, I have been involved in philanthropy and the media and education and there has always been a through line in those activities and that had to do with helping people to realize their full potential, helping people to gain access and having the opportunities that whatever skill and capacity they had to grow and to develop and to contribute back to the community.”
The art of “getting started”
Taylor was born in Boston, Mass., to Della Brown Taylor Hardman and Francis C. Taylor Sr. The family settled in nearby Cambridge, Mass., while both of the parents attended graduate school at Boston University.
Following the example of her parents, Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University in 1968. She started her career as a reporter for The Boston Globe and a producer and on-air host for WGBH-TV.
There are 10 Boston University degrees among nine of her family members, says Taylor, who is a trustee at her alma mater. Taylor pursued postgraduate studies in international politics at New York University.
Taylor learned how to “get started” from her mother, who earned a doctorate at age 72, after retiring from a lifelong career as an educator.
“She was always in pursuit of more knowledge and more education,” Taylor says. “The reason she said she wanted to get her Ph.D. after retiring from a successful career in college teaching had to do with the fact that she wanted her children, grandchildren and anyone else who might be interested to know that if you have goals, set goals and get started on your goals, you can complete and achieve your goals. If you have the capacity, there is nothing stopping you from doing just about anything you want to do – at any age or any stage. That’s a very empowering attitude to have.”
A mother’s love – and legacy
Taylor’s family eventually moved from Massachusetts to West Virginia, where her mother was chairman of the art department at West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University) and left a lasting legacy.
“We had the ‘Savor the Moment’ exhibit about three weeks ago at homecoming,” Taylor says. The exhibition, according the university’s website, was “an alumni art exhibit honoring the artistic and academic legacy of Della Brown Taylor Hardman.”
After retiring from teaching, Taylor’s mother moved to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where she became a local-paper columnist, writing about the comings and goings of seasonal and permanent residents.
“One of the people she had the opportunity to meet was a young politician named Barack Obama, who in 2004 who was running for Senate,” Taylor recalls. “They had a brief chat, and [my mother] came away from that experience convinced that she had met a young man we all were going to hear a lot more about in the future.”
In honor of her contributions and commitment to Martha’s Vineyard, the town designated a day in her mother’s honor in perpetuity and this summer celebrated the 11th Annual Della Hardman Day.
Taylor has three adult children – two sons and a daughter – five grandchildren and two daughters-in-law. Two of her children are in banking and one is an educator.
“My focus, at this point and time, is on the five grandchildren,” Taylor says. “I say to the children, I’m done with them. I did all I could to help get them to this point, and I go straight to the grandchildren. We are allies.”