Success and Impact: Kelli Richardson-Lawson From Howard Univesity To Leading The Charge For Meaning Change With The Crown Act

Howard University Alumnus and native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Kelli Richardson-Lawson started her career off at Procter and Gamble straight where she was recruited straight out of college. 

Kelli then moved to Black Entertainment Television (BET) where she served as EVP of Marketing, Creative Services, Communications, and Events. Yes, that is a big title for a big job. Kelli is responsible for spearheading the company’s development and buildout of the marketing arm with seven divisions to include communications, creative services, special events, research, publishing, and community affair.

As the leader of BET’s marketing organization, Kelli created several award-winning campaigns that drove record ratings year after year. She also created the infrastructure for some of the most recognizable events in urban culture including the BET Awards, Celebration of Gospel, Hip Hop Awards, Spring Bling, and BET Honors. Furthermore, Kelli is also the creator of BET’s Emmy Award-winning HIV/AIDS program “Rap-It-Up,” and the BET Foundation, a 501(c)3 focused on obesity and other health-related issues in the Black community.

Kelli’s work as a marketer and creative has been highly praised and recognized with awards including BET’s first-ever Emmy Award as well as several Telly, Promax, BDA, NAMIC, CTAM, CTPAA, ANA, and NAACP Image Awards.

After making her mark at BET and then a stint at Dell Corporation, searching for balance with a growing family comprised of a Husband and two sons, Kelli set her sights on entrepreneurship.  Feeling the need have the abilty to call her own shots to acheive the balance she longed for in her life, with seeking peace, joy and balance at the top of the list, Joy Collective; a certified Black and woman-owned agency was born. Joy Collective specializes in strategic marketing, insights, and branding for a complex poly-cultural world. Joy Collective servers include brand architecture design, content creation, and event activations with an emphasis on authentic experiences and engagement with consumers. 

Helping to impart a little “joy” for women of color, Kelli Richardson-Lawson with her partner Orlena Nwokah Blachard, their company, and their client, Dove (a Unilever brand), led by the dynamic Esi Eggleston Bracey, President /CEO of Unilever North America, are the architects behind the landmark campaign and legislation called, The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair).  The mission of CROWN Act is to end hair discrimination, and has since been passed in 16 states and 34 municipalities, positively impacting over 20.6 million Black lives since 2019.

This is why Joy Collective, Dove working together with California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, The CROWN Act and was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in July 2019. This law prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles in the workplace and in schools. More precisely, the Crown Act is an amendment to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and other areas on the basis of race, religion, sex, and other protected characteristics.

This legislation is important because in recent years, discrimination against people with natural hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists, and locs although an age-old problem continues to rear its ugly head (pun intended). The frequency of these cases has become a growing concern. These hairstyles are often closely associated with a person’s racial or ethnic identity and banning them constitutes racial discrimination.

Notable cases include the 2010 case of Chastity Jones in Mobile, AL. Jones interviewed with and was offered a job by Catastrophe Management Solutions as a Customer Service Representative. However, this job came with the condition that she cut off her locs. Jones declined to do so and the job offer was rescinded. Feeling she had been racially discriminated against, in 2013 with the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC) Jones took her case to court. Unfortunately, she did not prevail there either they lost the case, but appealed and lost again in 2016 with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling and dismissing the case entirely.  

This brings us to 2021 in San Diego, different day – same story. This time Jeffrey Thornton was offered a job with Encore Group, LLC. However, like the story before the offer he was told if he chose to accept the job he would need to cut off his locs. But this time there was leverage. Thornton’s decided to decline the job offer and instead filed a lawsuit citing a violation of the CROWN Act which prohibits employers from withholding employment based on discrimination against an applicants protected hairstyle. Therefore, although different day, same story, but in this case because of the hard work of Kelli Richardson-Lawson and her team at Joy Collective, Dove, and other partners there is a positive outcome with the Encore Global issuing a statement saying it was all a “misunderstanding,” and issuing the following statement,

“We regret any miscommunication with Mr. Thornton regarding our standard grooming policies – which he appears to fully meet and we have made him an offer of employment. We are continuously looking to learn and improve, and we are reviewing our grooming policies to avoid potential miscommunications in the future.”

Now that’s progress. 

With a focus being intentional about cultivating joy in her life and in the world another project near and dear to Kelli’s her is The SonRise Project. Inspired by personal family challenges, the mission of the SonRise Project is to create a safe space filled with love and compassion for parents of children struggling with mental wellness. Allowing herself to be vulnerable in favor of raising awareness and promoting healing, host the SonRise Project podcast and live calls every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. for parents to talk about issues dealing with children struggling with mental illness, depression, anxiety, and addiction. During the one-hour calls participants are welcome to ask questions, share their thoughts or simply listen as experts cover various topics surrounding mental wellness. 

Bison Honors was proud to count Kelli Richardson-Lawson as an inaugural Honoree for the 1st Annual 2022 Bison Honors Awards Dinner and Royal Blue Gala for her accomplishments and contributions. Other recent awards and recognition for Kelli and her team at Joy Collective include:

  • 2021 PRWeek “Hall of Femme” Honoree
  • 2022 PR Week “Best Social Impact Campaign”
  • 2021 PR Week “Campaign of the Year”,
  • 2021 #EBONYPower100,
  • 2020 Global SABRE “#1 PR Campaign in the World”
  • 2020 Glossy Beauty “Best Multi-Platform Campaign”

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