Chrissy M. Thornton wants you to know that Associated Black Charities is more than its annual gala, which regularly attracts hundreds of Baltimore’s movers and shakers for an evening of food, dancing and networking.
As the new president and CEO of the 38-year-old nonprofit, Thornton believes her organization provides an invaluable role for Baltimore residents — particularly Black people. Advocacy work and education top the priorities of the organization, according to Thornton.
Black workers in Baltimore City are largely employed in lower-wage industries and occupations, tend to earn less than their white counterparts, and experience higher job turnover, according to Thornton, who started leading the nonprofit in January. She previously served as executive director of The Myositis Association, a 30-year-old international patient advocacy organization.
“According to a report ABC’s previous leadership published in 2018, African Americans own a good amount of businesses in Baltimore, yet in 2018 employed a disproportionately low number of the city’s paid employees and accounted for a low amount of all sales,” she said.
“ABC is an advocate for Black people. Through our workforce development initiatives, we are leading the charge to close the wealth gaps that put so many Black families at a disadvantage in achieving the American dream,” said Thornton, who added that ABC was formed by leaders in Baltimore’s faith community and local businessmen and businesswomen.
Earlier this week, Thornton hosted a virtual panel, “The Costs of Code-switching,” which looked at the ability of Black people to successfully navigate spaces and deal with differences in language, tone, style and aesthetics. ABC will also host an Equity In Action Conference in November where employers and employees will learn about DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging); a Women On The Move event in December, and monthly community conversations.
“We are assertively and unapologetically addressing structural racism with a particular focus on economic equity because we believe that the outcomes will benefit all citizens,” Thornton said.
The Baltimore Banner asked Thornton a series of questions about her new role and the future of the organization.
How do you describe ABC and its mission?
The mission of Associated Black Charities is to eliminate structural barriers and advance long-term solutions that create new opportunities for African Americans to thrive. ABC acknowledges structural racism’s effect on the racial wealth gap, workplace discrimination, health inequity, disparities in housing policies and practices, educational inequality, discriminating and dehumanizing laws and policies and more. Using an equity framework as a convener and thought leader to end race-based barriers that impede African Americans from having an opportunity to succeed is at the heart of all of ABC’s programmatic initiatives.
ABC is an advocate, broker and convener. We are actively providing education, support, resources and advocacy to support the Black community.
How were you introduced to ABC?
As a nonprofit leader in the Baltimore region, I was aware of ABC and had specifically heard about the Board Pipeline Leadership Program. In 2017, I was invited by a friend whose company (Caesars Horseshoe Casino) was a sponsor of ABC’s Gala at Martin’s West, to attend the event.
Why did you take the position with ABC?
I knew that I could lead the way in growing the organization and its impact. I’ve always been an unapologetic advocate for creating opportunity for Black people. I also have a strong background in nonprofit management, and a good amount of experience supporting organizations in need of board development, fundraising strategy and support, and organizational diagnosis. Across several assignments, I’ve been able to identify opportunities and successfully implement strategies that bridge gaps between current and desired performance.
I bring that experience to ABC, along with a strong commitment to continue the organization’s almost 40 years of service to the most marginalized and disenfranchised communities in Maryland and beyond. I understand that the weight of what we need to accomplish for Black people can’t be delayed. I’m a relationship builder and a collaborator, and I took the position knowing that skillset would support ABC’s goal of having a new approach, and a renewed commitment to the work.
What is your biggest challenge in your new role?
Transition is hard. Transition during a period of extreme transformation is even harder. We have a lot going on at ABC all at once. Though things are shifting, seemingly quickly, in many ways ABC is stronger than it has ever been. We are extremely focused and determined to have lasting impact. My challenge is making sure the community knows what we are doing and feels included in our movement. While I have built a career in grassroots nonprofit work, most of it has not been in the public eye. Giving people the opportunity to meet and know me, and then trust me, is extremely important to me.
How does ABC tie into Black generational wealth?
ABC is committed to having impact on the many ways structural racism affects Black people. We know that the racial wealth gap is a result of unequal opportunities to build wealth through access to home equity, high-wage jobs and higher education. We have both a black wealth series and a financial literacy series in our video resource library, the newly named ABC Academy, on our website. Our goal is to give our constituents the tools and guidance to begin to think differently about wealth building, the circulation of the Black dollar, entrepreneurship, and opportunity and advancement in general. We are also starting to extend programming to youth and young adults to offer mindset development at early stages.
What is the biggest misconception about Black people and their ability to give?
One of the biggest misconceptions about Black people and their ability to donate to causes is that they are unable or unwilling to contribute financially to charitable organizations. This misconception is often based on stereotypes and assumptions about the socioeconomic status of Black individuals and the ways they navigate financial insecurity. However, research has shown that Black people and Black communities do donate to causes, often at similar rates or even higher rates than other racial groups.
Black donors often prioritize giving to causes and places that directly impact their own communities, such as houses of worship, education, health care and social justice issues. This suggests that Black individuals and communities are deeply invested in making positive change and supporting causes that align with their values and priorities.
It’s important to challenge these misconceptions about marginalized communities, including assumptions about our financial capabilities and charitable giving, and instead recognize their contributions to improving society.
What immediate changes will you institute at ABC?
As ABC is no longer a contract grants administrator, a decision made by our Board of Directors in early 2022, it has been a great time to implement needed change. I spent time in the latter part of 2022 in strategic analysis of our mission, programming and service delivery, and taking a deep dive into who ABC has been across its 38 years.
Today, we are able to clearly articulate what the organization does and the impact we want to have on the Black community. We are a racial equity organization seeking to support Black people in eliminating barriers created by structural racism and offering guidance and resources to help our community navigate longstanding obstacles. To that end, ABC has undergone a full operational restructuring. We have moved from a fully remote workforce to transitioning to a return to the office. We are in the midst of staffing to ensure that we have the capacity and expertise in place to deliver our programming and advance our mission work.
You can see ABC out in our Black communities, listening and letting the community members’ lived experience inform our work and advocacy. We are committed to returning to some of the tenets on which Associated Black Charities was founded.
What changes will we see at the next ABC gala?
This year’s ABC Gala will be held on Saturday, June 10, at The Hall at Live! Casino. This year’s theme “To Baltimore With Love...” is ABC’s love letter to Baltimore, celebrating 38 years of service and honoring grassroots community organizations who have made the commitment to create a positive impact in the city and in the Black Community. The event should be everything the community loves about ABC’s galas, but the feel and changes to this year’s event are meant to capture the culture of the organization as it stands in 2023.
This year’s program honorees include the Black Church Food Security Network, Fight Blight Baltimore, the Black Arts District, Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood, the Squeegee Collaborative Leadership Team, Black Professional Men, Youth Resiliency Institute, the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore, and the main awardee of the evening, The AFRO.
Each honoree will be recognized with a video presentation that highlights its work and commitment to community, and will provide on-stage remarks. Event activities will include a cocktail reception with renowned pianist Chester Burke; a special Baltimore-themed VIP Experience; a photo booth; Persia Nicole as emcee; and performances from Baltimore’s own Dru Hill, Navasha Daya and DJ Tanz.
Name: Chrissy M. Thornton
Title: President & CEO, Associated Black Charities
From: Bronx, New York
Currently Resides: Reisterstown
Family: Husband (Jermaine), Son (Jaden), Son (Justin)
Education: Bachelor of arts in sociology from Morgan State University, 1997; MBA from Organizational Management University of Phoenix (Timonium Campus), 2004.