By Maria Saporta
Derreck Kayongo, president and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights since December 2015, turned in his resignation on Monday.
Kayongo was the second CEO of the Center, which opened in June 2014. He followed founding CEO Doug Shipman, now president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center.
Shipman had led the development of the Center for nearly a decade – working with former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and A.J. Robinson, president and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress.
“Together, we have built the Center for Civil and Human Rights into a world-class institution,” Franklin said in a statement. “Operationally, we have recently paid off all of the financing for constructing our current permanent collections and for the building itself. On behalf of the entire board, we wish Derreck great success in his future plans. We are well-positioned and excited for the next phase of our growth.”
Kayongo decided to resign so he can focus on efforts as a motivational speaker as well as to write a book.
The Center has tapped board member Brian Tolleson to serve as the interim president and CEO while it conducts a national search for Kayongo’s replacement. Tolleson is founder and CEO of Bark Bark – a digital content agency, and a partner with Lexicon Strategies, a strategic communications agency. Tolleson, founder of the LGBT Institute, has been on the Center’s board since December, 2016.
I’m just glad I can continue to be of service to the mission of the Center,” Tolleson wrote in a text. “Like many Atlantans, I feel a deep obligation to those whose struggles have brought us this far. We all benefit from a thriving and vibrant conversation around civil and human rights. The Center is extremely well positioned, on-mission, debt-free and focused on the future.”
The Center also announced the hiring of a new chief operating officer – Donald Byrd and a new director of finance – Lavette Dow-Jones.
Byrd, who is a CPA, has more than 35 years of experience in executive, finance, accounting, management, business growth and business development experience for domestic and international enterprises. Previously, Byrd served as COO at Vista Realty Partners.
“I have had the privilege of knowing Don both professionally and personally for over three decades,” CAP’s A.J. Robinson said. “From our many successful years working together in the Portman Organization, I’ve seen first-hand Don’s strategic and long-range approach to growing top-notch operations. We are very fortunate to add his expertise to the professional staff at The Center.”
Dow-Jones, the new director of finance, most recently service as director of finance and administration at the Robert E. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Kayongo said he felt he had accomplished all that had been asked of him by putting the Center on a stable financial footing.
The Center has gone from No. 7 to No. 3 on Trip Advisors’ list of ticketed attractions in Atlanta (behind the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke). It also has paid off the $3 million debt that it had when Kayongo became CEO.
Kayongo said he decided to resign because he was in such demand to be a public speaker nationally and internationally.
“It was increasingly tough to accept speaking engagements while doing the Center’s work,” he said. “I thought that maybe this is the time to do this because the Center is in good shape.”
According to Kristie Cain Raymer, vice president of marketing and sales, attendance is up year over year since its opening. It had about 215,000 visitors in 2017. The 2017 admission revenue also increased by $450,000 – 20 percent – year over year, for a total of $2.7 million.
During his tenure, Kayongo has been a flamboyant ambassador for the Center. He is known for his colorful attire, which he describes as a conversation starter.
But his ties to the Center’s mission were deep.
As a native of Uganda, Kayongo and his family had to flee the country because the brutal regime of its president at the time – Idi Amin. The Kayongo family ended up going to Kenya, where they lived as refugees for five years. Then in 1995, Kayongo was able to come to the United States as an international student.
Kayongo delighted in telling the story of one of his first stays in a U.S. hotel and the three bars of soap in the bathroom. Although he had barely used the sope, Kayongo was amazed when he realized that there were three new bars of soap in his bathroom every day.
Kayongo was well aware of the unsanitary conditions in the developing world, and he began thinking how the soap that was being thrown away in American hotels could be recycled and sent to places around the world where soap was a luxury.
After working for a U.S. Congressman, the American Friends Services Committee, Amnesty International and CARE, Kayongo finally realized his dream. He founded the Global Soap Project in 2009, developing partnerships with hotel chains to recycle discarded soap and ship it around the world.
Kayongo was tapped to lead the Center for Civil and Human Rights in 2015 after a national search.
“The universe has kind of conspired for me being here,” Kayongo said when he was named as the Center’s president and CEO. He pledged to make “civil and human rights sexy,” and he confidently said: “I will do a good job here.”