I have been married to my wonderful husband, Russell Knighton for twenty-three years. I am blessed with three bonus children and am a proud Nana to five beautiful grandbabies. I am Mama Laverne to many. Whether a family member or a neighbor in my community, I embrace my role as Mama to anyone in need.
I planned, organized and co-led a cross-cultural mission trip to Ghana, West Africa with a group of young adults from Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church to a conduct week-long bible school for children at Basics International in 2017. I also co-planned a mission trip to Sager Brown in Louisiana to do a week of service in putting together safety and hygiene kits for disaster relief victims.
I’m a native Texan, born and raised in the small town of Doucette, Texas an hour outside of Houston. I am the youngest in a loving, hard-working family of five. I learned service from many, but my mother taught me the crucible of care in her role as a nurse. Folks from my hometown called on her wisdom and expertise to affirm or assure them of any diagnosis from the doctor as a final word. My father, a supervisor for the Southern Pacific Railroad, instilled in me the value of education, leadership and voting (he had to pay a poll tax to exercise his right to vote). He loved current events and pursued news stories in any form.
I came of age in the 1960s at a time when students of color like myself were prohibited from attending integrated schools. I could have been a child left behind. Instead, I was blessed by a woman named Mrs. Eloise Harris who founded a daycare in her home and recognized my potential and influenced my drive to achieve. Because of the foundation Mrs. Eloise laid for children like me, I was the first African American valedictorian to graduate from Woodville High School in 1973 after integration.
Opportunity in Minnesota knocked after I graduated from the University of Houston in 1978. I started my career in Minnesota with Dayton Hudson Corporation in the retail fashion merchandising industry, becoming a buyer. The decade of the 1980s was a transformational time. After two years of working here in Minnesota I made my way back to Texas to look for opportunities in my hometown of Houston. It was there, I experienced the pains of racial discrimination in the retail industry and couldn’t find a job as a result of the color of my skin. Even with the proper credentials and experience.
So I found myself joining the ranks of Houston’s oil and gas industry. Fast forward seven years later, an opportunity to return to Minnesota presented itself, being recruited for a second time by Dayton/Marshall Fields as a buyer. However, the passion to serve the greater good of my community was never far from my mind and after seven more years in the corporate world, I followed my true calling of service to serve my community and make a difference in people’s lives.
To serve my community and make a difference in people’s lives, I accepted a manager role at a domestic violence shelter in the heart of Minneapolis. The shelter, now recognized as the Tubman Family Alliance, started as two side by side houses in a community facing many challenges. It was in a women’s shelter where I built partnerships and made authentic connections with business and community alike and worked as a fearless connector between communities that were strangers to each other for seven years.
My work within the domestic violence community led me to my truest passion – empowering young women of color to become leaders in their own communities. Governor Mark Dayton recognized my commitment and appointed me to serve as a member of the Young Women’s Initiative Council working to improve equity for young women living with the greatest disparities in Minnesota.
As an accomplished female leader, I am currently Area Director for The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization offering scholarships and opportunities to over a half a million black students in our country. In my role, I oversee fundraising, scholarship program development, and external relations to benefit UNCF’s 37 member private, historically black colleges and universities and area students in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and North and South Dakota.
Prior to joining UNCF, I was Program Director for The BrandLab where I led and managed an initiative to provide diverse high school students exposure, access and opportunity to careers in marketing and advertising. I am also an experienced corporate leader having spent over 15 years at Target Corporation in Community Relations/Corporate Social Responsibility where I helped advance Target's reputation as a leader in education, arts and diversity.
Service equals an authentic and deep connection to community. Whether as a volunteer, mentor, or board member, I serve with diligence, commitment and enthusiasm. A selection of organizations and positions that have shaped me in my community follow:
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