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Champions 2024 Recap: Welcome
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Champions 24 Recap
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The New York Urban League has been working for over a century to help underserved New Yorkers live fulfilling lives. The organization recognizes outstanding individuals and companies through its Champions of Diversity awards, which celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion. As one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country, the New York Urban League aims to honor those who embody the values of its mission for equity.

The Champions of Diversity event is New York City's signature celebration of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It recognizes organizations and respected thought leaders for their outstanding corporate citizenry and positive advancements in embedding DEI practices into their organizational culture. Winning the award not only brings praise to the winners but also exemplifies to others how DEI practices contribute to the success of an organization. Honorees are exemplary leaders committed to creating an inclusive and equitable future.

The National Hockey League, The Fragrance Foundation, Citi, Blackstone, UPS, McKinsey & Co., PwC, Roundabout Theatre Company, and TD Bank are among the past Champions of Diversity winners. The 2024 Champions for Diversity Awards will be presented on March 14 at The Plaza in New York City.

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Diversity Sponsors

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2024 Champion Honorees

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Disruptor Award

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Accepted by 

Ezra Knight

Actor-Performer & SAG-AFTRA New York President

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Leadership Champion

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Rising Star



Recruitment, Retention

& Belonging Champion

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Carlton Charles

Senior VP, Treasury & Risk Management, Hearst

Chairman, Level Up Ventures, A Hearst Company



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Keynote Speaker

James C. Rhee
Founder and Author, red helicopter
Teacher, Producer, Investor and Goodwill Strategist

James Rhee is a high school teacher, Harvard Law graduate, and private equity investor who became the unexpected Chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart, where his transformative partnership with a primarily Black female employee and customer base shocked the business community and inspired the world. His TED Talk and Dare to Lead interview with Brené Brown have captured the imagination of millions.

His leadership philosophy and operating system bridge peoples, industries, and ideas, and are the foundation of red helicopter, his media-education platform, and his teaching at Howard University as the John H. Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Duke Law School.

A charter member of the Advisory Council of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways and the Governing Committee of the CEO Action for Racial Equity, James’s civic contributions have been recognized by multiple communities and groups: he was a Frederick Douglass honoree of the New York Urban League, the recipient of the Council of Korean Americans’ Trailblazer Award, and an honoree of One To World’s Fulbright Award. Global pioneer in social entrepreneurship Ashoka elected him as a member of its Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors of Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and is a former director of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater.

Learn about his upcoming book red helicopter―a parable for our times: lead change with kindness (plus a little math), (HarperOne; April 9, 2024) at He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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Event Chair

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Adrianne C. Smith

SVP and Senior Partner, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, FleishmanHillard
Founder and President, Can: Diversity Collective

Adrianne C. Smith is SVP/Senior Partner and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at FleishmanHillard. Prior to joining FleishmanHillard, Adrianne was named the first Global Director of Inclusion and Diversity at WPP. Adrianne is also the Founder and Visionary of the Can: Diversity Collective, a non-profit organization created to provide access and exposure to young adults of color and under-represented communities to global thought leadership conferences on advertising, marketing, creativity, economics, innovation and technology. In 2018, she launched the first iteration of the Diversity Collective, the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC) which provides rising stars in the advertising and creative industry the opportunity to attend and participate in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. In 2019, she made history by creating the first stand-alone Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Beach in the festival’s 66 years of existence and named it Inkwell Beach – Cannes after the historic beach on Martha’s Vineyard.  In January 2024, she launched the Davos Can: Diversity Collective’s – Inkwell Beach – Davos during the World Economic Forum., making history again by building the first activation committed to conversations on the global impact of diversity, equity and inclusion. Adrianne is on the Board of the Harlem Business Alliance and advisory board of the Reykjavik Global Forum. and has been recognized as an Outstanding Mentor by the Diversity Action Alliance, a Game Changer in the Quantum Leap category during the She Runs It Game Changers Awards and the 2023 AdColor DEI Executive of the Year.

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Erica Byfield

Reporter, NBC 4 New York

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Erica Byfield is an Emmy® Award-winning reporter for NBC 4 New York, appearing weekdays in the evening newscasts.

Byfield’s reporting was a key component of NBC 4 New York’s award-winning COVID-19 coverage, honored in January, 2021 with the prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for “creat(ing) a 360 view in real time of the coronavirus pandemic, with courageous and thorough reporting on the virus’s explosion in New York City.” The duPont has long been recognized as the broadcast, documentary and on-line equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, also awarded by Columbia University.

Additionally, Byfield’s reporting was an important contributor to a second prestigious station honor. Her work during the deadly December 2019 Jersey City shootout was recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), which awarded NBC 4 New York the 2020 National Edward R. Murrow Award for Top Television Newscast.

Byfield is a 2005 graduate of University of Missouri-Columbia, where she received a Bachelor of Journalism degree. She also worked at KOMU as a reporter and fill-in anchor during her time at MIZZOU. Byfield later earned a master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University.

Byfield is married and lives with her family in Manhattan.

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Host Committee

Icema Gibbs

Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, JetBlue

Cecilia Nelson-Hurt

Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Heidrick & Struggles

Helen C. Shelton

Global Chief Diversity Officer, FINN Partners

Alicin Reidy-Williamson

Chief Diversity & Culture Officer, Yahoo!

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2024 Jury Granted Award Categories

Recruitment, Retention & Belonging Champion

This Champion has achieved diversity across sectors of their organization through innovative and successful recruitment, retention, professional development, affinity groups, mentorship programs, practices, and strategies.

Supplier Diversity Champion

This Champion has a robust supplier diversity initiative ensuring small, diverse, women and veteran-owned classified and certified suppliers and vendors are considered and utilized.

Rising Star Champion

This Champion is an individual who is making their mark developing new and innovative diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and practices at their organization or in our community.

The nomination window for 2024 Champions of Diversity has closed. 

For more information, please contact the NYUL Champions of Diversity Office at

Interested in sponsorship opportunities or ticket packages, click below to learn more. 

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2024 Event Recap

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2024 Champions Honorees (L to R)

  • Recruitment, Retention & Belonging Champion (Saks representative ~ Ryan Kenny)

  • Rising Star Champion (Carlton Charles)

  • Leadership Champion

​       (Novartis representative ~ Wanda Sims

  • Disruptor Award

      (SAG-AFTRA representative ~ Ezra Knight)

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