RISE selects Diahann Billings-Burford as next CEO

September 17, 2018

NEW YORK – Diahann Billings-Burford, who has spent her career working in and lifting up diverse communities, will serve as the next CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).

Diahann Billings-Burford

The RISE Board of Directors today appointed Billings-Burford following a nationwide search. Billings-Burford succeeds CEO Jocelyn Benson, who has led RISE for two years with major successes using athletes and other leaders in sports to bridge racial divides throughout America. Benson is departing to pursue elected office in Michigan.

Founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, RISE harnesses the unifying power of sports to improve race relations through innovative programs. Led by an unprecedented alliance of sports leagues, organizations, athletes, educators, media networks and sports professionals, RISE uses sports to promote understanding, respect and equality.

“In our search for an outstanding leader, we evaluated dozens of highly talented candidates with experiences in civil rights advocacy, community building, education and sports,” Ross said. “We selected Diahann because she has the ability to lead and innovate in all of these spaces and because she knows that great organizations thrive on passion for the mission, hard work and teamwork.”

During the past decade, Billings-Burford held senior positions in New York City government and subsequently at Time Warner, serving some five years in each post and handling a challenging mix of responsibilities.

As the city’s chief service officer, she headed NYC Service, a division of the mayor’s office, engaging more than 1.3 million New Yorkers in a range of volunteer activities. NYC Service worked to help New Yorkers connect to service opportunities more easily, target volunteers to address the city’s greatest needs and promote service as a core part of being a New Yorker.

At Time Warner, she served as executive director, cultural investments and vice president of the Time Warner Foundation. She led the company-wide college internship, employee community engagement and community investments programs in New York City. She also managed the grant making and operations of the foundation.

At various stages of her career, Billings-Burford’s experiences have been in deeply diverse communities; on city streets, in schools and schoolyards, and in executive offices; with government agencies and education initiatives; with youth, elderly and the disadvantaged; in innovative startups; and in both publicly funded nonprofits and privately sponsored for-profits.

Paul Tagliabue, the former NFL commissioner, who is on the RISE board and chaired the search committee, describes Billings-Burford: “She knows what it takes to serve many diverse and demanding constituencies, so she’s very well prepared to work with all of the sports – professional, collegiate, Olympic and youth – participating in the unique RISE coalition.”

The NBA’s search committee member, Kathy Behrens, president, social responsibility and player programs, concurs: “I’ve known Diahann for many years, she is a terrific community leader and nonprofit executive and the right person to help RISE further its collaboration across multiple sectors. The NBA looks forward to working with RISE under her leadership on our shared goals and initiatives.”

Billings-Burford said: “I’m excited to join RISE as we focus its mission and services on some of our nation’s critical challenges stemming from racial polarization. I’m anxious to work with the exceptional leaders on our board, athletes and coaches in all sports, our dedicated staff and our many partners to use our resources to move the needle on racial equality.”

Billings-Burford’s experience also includes serving as deputy executive director of external affairs for City Year New York, a nonprofit service organization; director of external relations for Achievement First, a charter school management organization; director of leadership development for Prep for Prep, a leadership development organization; and an associate with the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

She serves on the National Board of Directors for buildOn, an international organization working to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service learning programs in America’s under-served high schools and by building classrooms in some of the world’s economically poorest countries.

Billings-Burford earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

For more information about RISE, visit www.RISEtoWIN.org.

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