2023 Lifting Girls Up Gala
Biographies: Honorees and Performers
Accepted by Taryn Bird
Director of Kate Spade New York Foundation
Kate Spade New York empowers women and girls around the world by putting mental health at the heart of its social impact work. Kate Spade New York Foundation supports women's economic empowerment, access to opportunity, and pathways to mental wellbeing to underserved communities of women in New York City and beyond. Kate Spade New York is committed to reaching 100,000 women and girls with access to empowerment and mental health resources by June 2025.
Girls Inc. of New York City is pleased to honor Kate Spade New York for its groundbreaking work in supporting the mental health of women and girls worldwide. In partnership with the Kate Spade New York Foundation, GINYC is bringing innovative, indispensable mental health programming to thousands of girls and young women.
Since its launch in 1993 with a collection of six essential handbags, Kate Spade New York has always stood for color, wit, optimism, and femininity. Today, it is a global lifestyle brand synonymous with joy, delivering seasonal collections of handbags, ready-to-wear, jewelry, footwear, gifts, home décor and more. Known for its rich heritage and unique brand DNA, Kate Spade New York offers a distinctive point of view, and celebrates communities of women around the globe who live their perfectly imperfect lifestyles. Kate Spade New York is part of the Tapestry house of brands.
Leah C. Johnson
Executive Vice President, Chief Communications, Marketing & Advocacy Officer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Leah C. Johnson is the Executive Vice President, Chief Communications, Marketing & Advocacy Officer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Since starting in 2019, Leah has been at the nexus of the institution’s ongoing transformation into a place all New Yorkers can feel welcome. She is vital in reaching audiences new to Lincoln Center: During 2022’s Summer for the City series, over 75% of audiences were new. She leads a team that is implementing innovative, accessible ticketing models – including “Choose What You Pay” – and deep community engagement practices.
She led the communications campaign for the opening of the reimagined David Geffen Hall, where among her many duties she drove inclusion benchmarks resulting in 42% Minority & Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) participation, 51% of the workforce from underrepresented communities, and a job training program which resulted in long-term employment for individuals from the local community. She promotes diverse programming to help cultivate an inclusive environment at Lincoln Center where all New Yorkers can see themselves and their stories represented. Currently, she is spearheading a major, collaborative project to reimagine the west side of Lincoln Center’s campus to make it a more welcoming, accessible, and inclusive space, and an ongoing commitment to examining injustices within the organization’s founding history. Leah is at the helm of a number of initiatives that interrogate the accepted historical narrative of the “urban renewal” program that displaced thousands and honor and uplift the stories of those who lived in the neighborhood before Lincoln Center was built—including the Legacies of San Juan Hill website.
Leah has held leadership positions in the public and corporate sectors and ran her own strategic communications firm before joining Lincoln Center. She holds positions across several organizations and sits on numerous non-profit boards dedicated to creating and maintaining diversity and equity within the NYC arts and culture community, including: Vice Chair of the Board, New York Public Radio; and Trustee and Member of the Executive Committee, and Founding Chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee of the Board at the Museum of the City of New York. She serves as a mentor with Women in America and was Vice Chair of the Board of Planned Parenthood New York City. She is a director at Monro, Inc. (NASDAQ:MNRO).
Leah is a graduate of Harvard College and holds a B.A. in Psychology. A Brooklyn native, Leah makes her home in East Harlem with her husband and daughter.
About the 2023 Strong, Smart & Bold Leadership Honorees
About the Performers
Nikki M. James
Actress, Singer, and Broadway Performer
Nikki M. James is an actress and singer. She originated the role of Nabulungi in the Broadway hit musical, The Book of Mormon, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. James has been in Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day at The Public Theater and Broadway productions of Les Miserables, All Shook Up, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She has also appeared in The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Romeo and Juliet, Caesar & Cleopatra alongside Christopher Plummer at the Stratford Festival, The Wiz at La Jolla Playhouse, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in the Park, Bernarda Alba at Lincoln Center, and Preludes at LCT3. Her recent work in television includes starring roles in Proven Innocent and Modern Love.
Singer-Songwriter and Multi-Instrumentalist
Olivia K & The Parkers, led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olivia K., electrifies audiences with their Brooklyn fusion of soul, jazz, gospel, and art rock. After explosive performances at venues like Sony Hall and a successful crowdfunding campaign for The Sankofa Project, the band is recording Olivia's entire catalog of songs, a meditative act of creation and closure. Committed to the wisdom of the Ghanaian symbol Sankofa, the completed work will remind us to confront our past so we can move forward in uncertain times.
Smashworks Dance Company • Ashley McQueen
Founder and Artistic Director
Smashworks Dance is a New York-based group of movers advocating for human rights through arts activism and site-specific work.
Founder and Artistic Director Ashley McQueen directs and choreographs for Smashworks Dance, teaches as an Adjunct Professor of Dance at Manhattanville College, performs with Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre, and works as a freelance choreographer and teacher.
About the Host
Host, Hulu's Up Early Tonight
Actor, Writer, Comedian
Abbi Crutchfield is the host of Up Early Tonight on Hulu. You have seen her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Comedy Central, and as the host of You Can Do Better on TruTV. She has been a staple of the NYC stand-up scene and has toured nationally.