When Andrea Taylor walked into her office at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for the first time last week she opened her blinds and was struck by the view.
“I looked out and realized that I am going to be looking – every single day – at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church,” said the svelte, finely dressed woman with a petite salt-and-pepper Afro and wide, bright-white smile. “It brought tears to my eyes. It still does.”
“That will remind me every day why I am here and what I need to do,” she said.
Before coming to the Institute to serve as the President and CEO, Taylor served as director of Citizenship and Public Affairs, North America for the Microsoft Corporation. She managed employee engagement and giving and strategic partnerships in the U.S. and Canada with donors, government entities and community-based organizations.
She was also instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Elevate America and Elevate America Veterans technology training programs as well as YouthSpark, an initiative providing education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for 300 million youth worldwide.
“Technically, I am at an age and stage where I could just sit down in a rocking chair or on a beach,” said the 68 year-old grandmother. “I don’t feel inclined to want to do that now. I am open and eager to do something else.”
And there is not much she hasn’t done. Taylor has visited more than 70 countries for her global work building communities and supporting youth. Up until last year she had been to six continents, having worked professionally on five. In her brief break after Microsoft and before coming to BCRI, she decided to visit her seventh continent so this past winter she took a trip to Antarctica.
“I’ve now seen the world,” she said.
Her next step is to help change the world, through her work with BCRI.
“There is still economic disadvantage and civil and human rights that need to be discussed,” she said. “The Institute can be that neutral space. We are a research and educational resource. We have a voice and a role to play.”
“We can learn from the civil rights movement how the community came together as a collective and made a decision that they were going to make a positive change in a different nature,” she said. “The process and the techniques and the tools are still applicable today.”
And what a great time to be in the city to do so, she said.
“The renaissance going on in Birmingham is impressive. There are a lot of people here from somewhere else. A lot of people are coming because they seek to be a part of the rebirth of the city.”
The Massachusetts-born woman may be new to the the city and to BCRI, but she is not new to its mission of supporting civil and human rights through education. The self-proclaimed “child of the 60s” grew up in a home where her family had a long history of civic activism and engagement, said Taylor who attended the 1963 March on Washington.
“I was very fortunate in that I had parents who fostered that and demanded we be part of that,” she said. “It was always an expectation that we would be involved somehow and substantively in community.”
Her father, Francis Taylor, was a violinist, jazzman and administrator for the city of West Virginia. Her mother, Della Hardman, was art professor at West Virginia State University and all around Renaissance woman as well as Taylor’s role model. Hardman ran a college art department for almost 30 years and at age 72 got her Ph.D. in art education.
“My mother’s mantra was, if there is anything you want to do, get started,” Taylor recalled. “She enjoyed learning and she felt there was no limit to it. If you have your faculties you can continue to learn until the day you die. She wanted to demonstrate to her children and grandchildren that it is never too late.”
Taylor lives by that example.
“Nothing really good happens to people if you don’t say yes,” she said. “You will just be regretting the opportunities you may have let pass you by.”
She said “yes” to serving the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and now her journey has begun.
Taylor, who doesn’t own a car, lives downtown and walks to work. She’s an avid runner, having participated in the New York City Marathon in 2009 and this past Saturday served as the ride ambassador for the Third Annual Ride United Birmingham. She’s a three-decade vegetarian and regular swimmer.
Taylor is also what she calls a “culture vulture.” She loves all things art and culture and says she can’t wait to become a member of the Birmingham Museum of Art.
She is, however, open to Alabama’s favorite pastime.
“I am told I will learn a lot more about football than I know now,” she said with a smile. “I am not as knowledgeable in that area.”