Anne Williams-Isom is a nonprofit executive, attorney and educator with more than 25 years of leadership and management experience in large, complex organizations. Ms. Williams-Isom has been an proponent for children’s rights and advocate for underserved Americans her entire professional life.
She currently serves as the James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Studies at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University. In her role as the Dumpson Chair, Ms. Williams-Isom works with faculty and students to develop research, programs, and policy analyses that improve services to underserved children and families. She will use an equity and social justice lens to focus on the challenges of and solutions for families of color and promote an interdisciplinary approach toward improving the quality of life for this population.
Previously Ms. Williams-Isom served as the Chief Executive Officer for the Harlem Children’s Zone, before which she served for five years as HCZ’s Chief Operating Officer. As CEO, she oversaw all programs in HCZ’s cradle-through-college pipeline, including the Promise Academy Charter Schools. She led HCZ’s 2,000+ staff, and strengthened the organization’s use of data to improve services and outcomes for 25,000 children and adults in Central Harlem. She also led the development of HCZ’ Healthy Harlem initiative which serves over 7000 children and 3000 adults. Healthy Harlem was designed to combat childhood obesity and promote health and wellness at the community level. She assumed the position of CEO in July 2014 and served in the role for six years.
Prior to joining HCZ, Ms. Williams-Isom worked in leadership at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for 13 years, concluding her tenure as Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Community and Government Affairs. While at ACS, she instituted and oversaw the implementation of several innovative initiatives, including the first ever ACS Leadership Academy for Child Protection, a program designed to help the 160 ACS Child Protective Managers lead the 3,800 frontline staff responsible for investigating the 55,000 reports of child abuse and neglect each year.
Ms. Williams-Isom found her calling to help improve the lives of vulnerable children and families when she was still a child herself. Growing up with a single mother in Queens, she witnessed firsthand the many challenges confronting kids in struggling communities. But it was always clear that, with the right support and opportunities—above all, education and a lot of love—all children have the potential to do extraordinary things.
Ms. Williams-Isom earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from Fordham University. Soon after, she began working in Community Affairs for the New York Police Department in Brooklyn. While working in Brooklyn at the height of community policing in the 1980s fueled her commitment to social justice, it was during her time as a student at Columbia Law School that she fully discovered her passion for advocacy work and came to appreciate the critical role played by communities in finding lasting solutions to social problems. After receiving her J.D., she practiced law for five years at two of New York’s most prestigious firms before joining ACS.
Ms. Williams-Isom serves on the board of directors of Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization; the Advisory Board for Columbia Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Design; the executive committee of the board of trustees of the Central Park Conservancy; the board of Graham Windham; the board of trustees of Collegiate School; the board of the Metropolitan Montessori School; the Board of Fellows of Weill Cornell Medicine and the board of trustees of Partnership Schools. She also served on the Advisory Council of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, inspired by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. In January 2016, she was appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to his Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board and selected to be a member of the spring 2016 cohort of the Aspen-Pahara Education Fellows Program. She is the recipient of a Public Interest Achievement Award from the Public Interest Law Foundation at Columbia Law School (2015) and an Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Families Fellowship (2007-2008). In May 2018, she received an honorary doctorate from the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. In October 2019 she was chosen as one of the “Nonprofit Power 100” by City & State magazine and she was chosen as one of the “The 2020 Education Power 100” in February 2020. Most recently in May 2021 she was mentioned on MSNBC as an “unsung hero” on a feature entitled “Forbes’ 50 Women Over 50 Making a Difference in Education.”
Routinely sought after for her expert guidance on child and family wellbeing and community development, Ms. Williams-Isom has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Barron’s, Crain’s New York, The Economist, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Essence, as well as on WABC’s Here and Now and CUNY-TV’s Black America and The Historymakers. A native New Yorker, she is a long-time resident of Harlem. She lives with her husband of 30 years, Phil, and with the help of her 90 year old mother who resides with them has raised three children, Aiyanna (28), Phillip (25) and Ande (19).