Gabrielle Lyon Selected as One of Crain's Notable Leaders in DEI

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Illinois Humanities

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October 3, 2023

Illinois Humanities’ Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon is among those selected for Crain’s Chicago Business 2023 Notable Leaders in DEI. The list of Chicago executives recognizes those whose efforts have made significant and recent contributions to advancing equality within the workplace and within the Chicago area.

Illinois Humanities has been actively working to bring an antiracist and equity framework to all endeavors including program development and delivery, grantmaking, operations, staff development, communications, and partnerships. Lyon’s recognition speaks to the intentionality of those efforts.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be leading this organization at this time. Our staff’s clarity of purpose and our board’s steadfast support and involvement have been the rocket fuel for the kinds of change and progress we very much needed and wanted to make,” Lyon said.

Working to increase access and equity and to change entrenched systems is a hallmark of Lyon’s nearly three-decade career in the nonprofit and social impact sectors. Since joining the organization in 2019, Lyon raised dedicated funding to support staff professional development and DEI technical assistance to build internal capacity. These efforts led to the establishment of a staff-led DEI committee, comprehensive training for staff and board, greater board diversity, and developing community agreements and organizational values. She has also been stalwart about increasing the organization’s investments in racial-equity informed programming, including the establishment of a racial equity grant, funding for artists and humanists impacted by mass incarceration, and increasing wrap-around supports for students in the organization’s Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea education program.

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Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon. (Photo by Mary Rafferty)

“We have been fortunate to have Gabrielle at the helm during this transformative moment,” Board Vice Chair and liaison to the DEI working group Jai L. Winston said. 

“This well-deserved recognition is a powerful affirmation of the way she’s used her leadership position to institutionalize our organization’s commitment to living our values and working towards a more equitable Illinois. Fully realizing our goal of being a racially equitable and just organization is a process, but Gabrielle has organized efforts over the last few years to significantly move the needle.”

Illinois Humanities is about to launch a new organizational strategic plan that outlines the organization’s values and centers a commitment to actively promoting equity, uplifting diversity, and ensuring inclusion in its vision for a more just, creative, and connected Illinois through the humanities.

“At Illinois Humanities, we are committed to learning, the exchange of challenging ideas, and personal reflection. Figuring out the tools and structures to move our DEI work forward has been a community effort. I am grateful to be at an organization that is committed to how we can do well for the long haul,” Lyon shared.

Throughout her career as a nonprofit leader and educator Lyon has led organizations focused on the humanities, science, urban planning, and design, particularly for historically disenfranchised communities. Lyon is the founding executive director and emeritus board member of Project Exploration, a nonprofit changing the face of science for youth and girls of color, which was recognized with a Presidential Award for Excellence. She recently served on Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition team for Arts & Culture.