Kimberly Hardy Watson has seen all angles of New York’s foster system.

On top of working for three decades in the child welfare system, Hardy Watson, who was raised in Brownsville, entered the foster system as an 8 year old with her two siblings. Although her stay was brief, the lessons learnt in that time were long-lived. Now, Watson is taking the reins of one of the country’s oldest child and family services organizations, Graham Windham.

Earlier this week it was announced Watson would take over as CEO and President of Graham Windham, a historic moment in the institution’s 215-year history as Watson is the first African American to fill the role. Watson said being entrusted with the lives of New York’s children and families was a precious responsibility that she held dear and took very seriously.

“Growing up in Brownsville-East New York and raising my own family in Bedford Stuyvesant, I have both been on the stage and had a front-row seat for the everyday drama of life of these underserved communities that I love,” she said.

“As I step into this new role, it is an honor and a privilege to work alongside families from my own neighborhood here in Brooklyn and across the city.”

She said she was “deeply grateful” for the opportunity to lead the organization towards a more racially inclusive and socially responsible future for children and families.

Watson has over three decades of experience working directly with New York families, most recently serving as the Chief Operating Officer at Graham Windham. She will start as president in March, and CEO later this year with a bold vision for expanding the organization’s presence in local communities and working with other city leaders to create an inclusive, unbiased approach to helping families keep their children safe, dismantling racism in the child welfare system, Graham Windham said in a press release.

Watson’s career began in the 1980s, when she started out as a caseworker during the crack cocaine epidemic. She went on to become an ordained minister, and later also led efforts related to the criminal justice system, creating and implementing Project Reconciliation, for mothers and daughters incarcerated together at Rikers Island. 

In her new role, Watson will join the call to restructure mandated reporter systems and increase investments in local communities to subvert the cycle of poverty, the release said. She is also prepared to expand Graham’s coaching programs and community centers for children, youth and parents to provide the opportunity and support families have said they want the most to help them thrive. 

Graham Windham’s current President & CEO Jess Dannhauser said leading Graham Windham for nearly a decade had been the highest privilege and transitioning leadership over the course of the year to Watson was my great honor.

“She and I share a deep commitment to our kids, families and team; they inspire us everyday. In Kym, they have a most extraordinary leader. She has the vision, integrity, empathy and commitment to justice and opportunity that will help them thrive in life.”  

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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