PERSONAL JOURNEY: Visions turn to reality for former university administrator

Karen M.R. Townsend’s advocacy lead to her starting a consulting business.

Most young people have big plans and goals for the future. Karen Townsend of Clayton is no exception. Born in Illinois and raised by a single mother, she spent most of her childhood in Madisonville, Kentucky, her mother’s hometown.

“One of the things my mother always said to me was ‘not because of but in spite of,’” Townsend said.

At the age of 18, she went to Kentucky State University, where she graduated with a degree in political science.

“I was headed to law school,” Townsend said. “But I took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and got the lowest score you can get!”

But Townsend could hear her mother’s voice in her ear, encouraging her that if she failed, she could always succeed at something else.

Instead of attending law school, Townsend received an offer for a fellowship at Ohio State University (OSU) and graduated with a master’s degree in humanities.

“I started working in the Office of Minority Affairs right after graduation,” Townsend said.

Her job was to identify minority students and encourage them to attend OSU. Townsend said she loved helping students understand that college can be a game changer in their lives, as it was for her.

Then at the age of 25, Townsend was invited to a party at Central State University where she met the man who would one day be her husband – Sylvester Townsend.

“I had a boyfriend at the time,” Townsend said. “But sometimes you can’t find ‘Prince Charming’ because somebody else is taking up his spot!”

In September of 1989, the couple got married and started their life together in Dayton. Townsend ended up landing a position at Wright State University as the coordinator for the CJ McLin Scholarship program.

“We learned we had to do more than just recruit minority students,” Townsend said. “We had to retain them and get them to graduation so they could contribute to the world.”

In September of 2000, she left Wright State University because she felt ready for her next opportunity. Though she had no business plan or marketing strategy, she relied on her faith and launched her consulting business.

“People say good things happen, but I say that ‘God’ things happen,” Townsend said.

Credit: Reginald Worthen

Credit: Reginald Worthen

Today, Karen M.R. Townsend, Ph.D. is the president of KTownsend Consulting and is an advocate for everyone, but especially women. Transforming her passion into her profession has been her true joy in life.

In addition to consulting on diversity and inclusion, she is a public speaker, and shares her struggles learning to juggle work and family over the years. She tells the story of spending another of many sleepless nights years ago, worrying about her two daughters’ schedules and her own, when she suddenly felt intense pain in her chest.

“I had no space in my schedule to have a heart attack,” Townsend said. “I told my husband to take me to the hospital.”

Fortunately, Townsend’s chest pain was attributed to indigestion, but it was the first of many wake-up calls that convinced her she needed to work to make herself a priority.

In 2020, she put together her first vision board and it included a picture of celebrity and talk show host, Oprah Winfrey.

“I’m part of Oprah’s Insiders group,” Townsend said. “They sent me a survey on vulnerability, and I filled it out.”

A few weeks later, she received a call from one of Oprah’s producers who was hoping to find 16 women willing to share their personal vulnerability stories. Townsend was eventually chosen to be one of those women.

“I was so excited that Oprah picked me!” Townsend said. “But then I had to think about what I was going to share about being vulnerable with the world.”

Townsend decided to talk to Oprah and the group about fracturing her tibia in the fall of last year. Instead of going to the doctor right away, she walked around on a broken leg for weeks until she could no longer take the pain. During the Zoom based call that was streamed live to all the members of Oprah Insiders Group worldwide, Oprah asked Townsend about that injury and how it was another wake-up call.

“Sitting down and being still has always been hard for me,” Townsend said. “But in order to heal, I had to be still. Why should it take a broken leg to make me do this?”

Today, Townsend is not only encouraging women to make themselves a priority but also shares the importance of taking visions and goals, writing them down and readjusting and changing them as needed.

“Not because of but in spite of COVID, my business has grown,” Townsend said. “Not because of but in spite of barriers, I’m still here. And I want to say to people, but women most of all, that we do what we do not because of but in spite of. We just need to be very clear about what that is.”

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