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Knoxville Area Urban League establishes $250,000 scholarship in honor of retiring leader

October 28, 2022

Phyllis Young Nichols Scholarship to assist area students with access to higher education

The legacy of the Knoxville Area Urban League’s longtime leader, Phyllis Y. Nichols, will continue with a $250,000 scholarship endowment for youth that was announced Oct. 27 at the nonprofit’s annual Equal Opportunity Awards Gala.

Created by the organization’s board members, business leaders and community supporters, the Phyllis Young Nichols Scholarship honors Nichols, who announced her retirement as president and CEO earlier this year. The endowment will help Knoxville-area youth who need financial assistance to access secondary education.

“Phyllis’ ardent advocacy for excellence and equity in public education and her efforts to improve public policy impacting students of color is an inspiration to so many,” said Rev. Harold Middlebrook, a Knoxville Area Urban League board member and veteran civil rights leader. “The endowment will encourage a new generation of students to pursue their dreams regardless of finances or background.”

Nichols has served at the Knoxville affiliate of the National Urban League for nearly 30 years. Her career at the nonprofit followed one as an educator, which guided her efforts at the Knoxville Area Urban League. Nichols helped create a thriving National Achievers Society program in Knoxville, which identifies, motivates and prepares minority high school students for higher education. She also founded Shoes for School that has benefited thousands of children and families for the past 20 years and coincides with the start of a new school year by providing shoes and supplies.

Founding donors include:


  • Justice Founders – $25,000
    • Clayton Homes
    • The Haslam Family and Pilot Flying J


  • Founders – $10,000
    • The Boyd Foundation
    • Mary Ellen and Steve Brewington
    • David and Annie Colquitt
    • Cynthia Gibson and David Gilbert
    • Denark Construction
    • Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael
    • Frank Rothermel
    • Wes and Liz Stowers
    • Tennessee Valley Authority

As the scholarship’s namesake, Nichols will work with the organizers to determine application eligibility. The scholarship is expected to benefit at least one student each year, and the Knoxville Area Urban League plans to increase the number of young people who receive funds as additional money is raised. Donors can support the Knoxville Area Urban League’s mission and Nichols’ vision at

Nichols also was honored with the Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award at the event for her lifelong efforts to advance equality, civil rights and social justice. The gala theme emphasized the momentum Nichols has created during her tenure at the local affiliate that will carry the Knoxville Area Urban League forward into a new era after her retirement.

“Phyllis is more than deserving of the Urban League’s most prestigious award for her servant leadership that has not only progressed the organization’s initiatives, but also improved the lives of residents in the region,” National Urban League CEO Marc Morial said. “The award is a testament to her lasting legacy at the nonprofit and through the people she has positively impacted.”

Other highlights of the evening included a surprise message from Morial, special musical performance by Will Downing and celebration of the night’s other honorees: The University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Community Engagement for the Corporate Leadership Award and WJBE Radio owner Joe Armstrong for the Minority Business of the Year.

The Equal Opportunity Awards Gala is the Knoxville Area Urban League’s signature fundraiser. The event raised approximately $200,000 to support the organization’s education, housing, workforce and entrepreneurship programs.

About the Knoxville Area Urban League
Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, call 865-524-5511 or visit