A Celebration of the Harlem Y’s bai Initiative and its Black Women Trailblazers

11 March 2022
A young woman standing at a podium giving a speech

As we commemorate Black History and Women History Months 2022, we are especially proud to celebrate the achievements of Y institutions, initiatives, and leaders who’ve had an impactful, enduring legacy in the Y’s distinguished history. We are honored to spotlight the Harlem YMCA, its bai initiative, and its trailblazing women leadership.

Established over 90 years ago during The Great Depression, the Harlem YMCA is both a historic Y institution and a beloved New York City icon! From its inception, the Harlem Y has functioned as a haven for its community and served as a cultural hub for writers, artists, actors, activists, and sports figures—architects of the Harlem Renaissance—in the early 20th century. In more modern times, its mission has evolved to ensure that this haven’s legacy expands to embrace New York’s youth. The Harlem Y offers the possibility for all to gain opportunities and learning experiences while intermixed with lifestyle improvements, fun, and pleasure.

The bai Initiative: Community & Corporate Partnership

Dr. Leo B. Marsh was the first Black president of the Association of YMCA Secretaries and in 1971, he introduced the Black Achievers program to the Harlem YMCA. With the help of volunteer adult mentors, the Achievers program helped youth of color succeed in school and develop a positive self-concept.

During the 50 years since the program’s inception, the bai Program has expanded to include four key elements, each important on its own. They include the:  (1) Professional Mentor Program; (2) Historical Black College Tour; (3) Corporate Scholarship Program; and (4) Corporate Internship Program. Together, these programs strategically interlace to provide the foundation upon which Harlem youth can continue to self-discover, determine their aspirations, and build towards a hopeful future.

Through the bai initiative, the Harlem YMCA has proudly honored over 4,600 corporate executives and raised almost $2,000,000.00 which translates into 800 scholarship awards to over 400 aspiring college-bound high school students, including repeat awards! This impressive, history-making tenure of bai has been made possible largely due to the passion and stewardship of four Black women trailblazers. We are proud to recognize and highlight these important change-makers below in the order of their tenure of service.

Carrie Terrell: Chosen Woman of the Year in 1972 by the Harlem Board of Managers, Carrie Terrell is the first woman to receive this distinction. She also became the first woman to be named to its board and executive committee — and the first and only woman to enjoy emeritus status at the Harlem Y.  Importantly, she was the Chairwoman of the first Black Achievers Salute in 1971 and co-chaired the event for the subsequent 24 years! In 1988, Carrie established the Professional Mentoring Program, a fundamental cornerstone of bai. The Carrie Terrell Youth of the Year Award was established by bai in 1994, honoring Carrie’s dedication and devotion to all young people.

Elaine Edmonds:  Elaine Edmonds joined the Harlem Y in 1996, becoming its first female Executive Director. In addition to overseeing the daily operations along with the well-being of its members and management of the residential program, Elaine’s responsibilities included fundraising and furthering the mission of bai. As a robust fundraiser and promoter, Elaine was a fierce advocate of bai. Elaine was a former Achiever and her stellar efforts brought the business and community service worlds together for the common goal of serving our youth.  During her tenure, Elaine instituted two new programs, the Corporate Scholarship Program and Corporate Community Award, which continue today. In 2008, the Elaine Edmunds Award was established to honor a Black Achiever who has demonstrated distinguished professional growth and leadership in community service.

Tiffeny Forrest-Senkyire: Tiffeny Forrest-Senkyire joined the Harlem Y in 2007 as the second female Executive Director. Her desire to make a real difference underscored all her undertakings as she efficiently managed its operations. Building on a strong foundation and continuing the professional management of the Harlem Y, Tiffeny ensured its place of prominence as one of the jewels in the portfolio of the YMCA of Greater New York. In recognition of the achievements of her predecessor, Tiffeny established the Elaine Edmonds Award. She achieved many honors and accomplishments, but most impressive is that under Tiffeny’s guidance and corporate partnership development, the Harlem Y awarded over 50 Corporate Scholarships to aspiring and returning college students! A testament to her business acumen, insights, and passion, the Corporate Scholarship Program became a mainstay of the bai mission. Tiffeny’s final position within the YMCA was her promotion to Vice President of Operations, overseeing all membership initiatives of the Association and supervising the Cross Island, Bronx, Dodge, and Harlem YMCAs.

Latoya Jackson: Latoya Jackson joined the Y family in 2007, excelling in several positions that contributed to her professional growth.  In March 2010, she joined the Harlem Y as Director of its Youth and Family Department whose responsibilities included After-school, Camp, Teen and Family Programs. Honored as an Achiever in 2013, Latoya’s professional growth is reflected in the various positions she has since held, including Senior Program Director and Associate Executive Director. In mid-2019, Latoya was appointed the Executive Director, making her the third female Executive Director to occupy the post.

In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic upended our worlds with devastating consequences. A relatively new executive, Latoya was charged with the unique challenge of keeping the Harlem Y and bai afloat during the pandemic, especially during the devastating onset phase, which tested the mettle of countless institutions and every societal facet. Proudly, the Harlem Y and Latoya have survived—and thrived! Possessing limited resources but with a clear-eyed vision, Latoya maintained the residential facility as home to many and positioned the Harlem Y as a resource for information and connections — all while mastering the skill of digital communications! Through grit and resilience, Latoya held firm to the vision of bai, keenly aware that while the world was on pause, anxious scholarship recipients awaited much needed funds for the 2021 college term. Honoring bai’s commitment, Latoya and her team distributed 51 scholarships to college-bound students! 

Latoya understands the value of corporate partnerships and the importance of bai to the lives of Harlem youth, and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the 50th Achievers in Industry celebration, which was postponed in 2020 and 2021, takes place this March 2022! “Not only is this anniversary an opportunity to celebrate worthwhile accomplishments, it will serve as a reminder to all that the long-term dedication and passion of many make this all possible,” Latoya proudly states when asked about bai and the event. “Each of our roles led to this golden milestone.”

This life-enhancing collaboration of the Harlem YMCA and its corporate partner is celebrated annually at  the Salute to Achievers in Industry Gala. The theme of this prestigious gala makes its purpose clear: “Celebrating Success … Developing Leaders … Cultivating Communities.” It is a festive showcase for spotlighting and acknowledging successful executives from their supporting organizations along with the introduction of their scholarship recipients to an audience of committed civic leaders, executives, friends, and family of the honorees. It also provides the Harlem YMCA with the ideal platform to acknowledge the corporate partners that make bai’s mission possible. The 50th Achievers in Industry Gala will be celebrated on Thursday, March 24 at Cipriani’s located at 25 Broadway.

As Black History Month draws to a close and Women’s History Month commences, the Y is so proud to have a phenomenal landmark cause for celebrating a historic institution, a life-enhancing initiative, and four incredible Black women who will always be remembered as change agents within the Y history and the communities they served. The Y is a stronger, more diverse institution because of their indelible contributions. Congratulations and brava!