Akilah Watkins

President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for Community Progress

About Akilah

Dr. Akilah Watkins is President and Chief Executive Officer for the Center for
Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning
“Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”
A 25-year national thought leader, conference speaker, and nonprofit executive, Dr.
Watkins’ work began at the age of 14 when she led efforts to convert a vacant lot
and abandoned home into a community center in Roosevelt, New York. 
Since then, she’s served as an executive leader for nonprofits and community
development initiatives which includes work with the Obama administration,
NeighborWorks America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation,
and the Center for the Study for Social Policy.
Her career’s work has focused on helping people, communities, and local and
federal government drive impactful reform for key issues including land banking,
property vacancy, childhood obesity, community health, and economic
From California, to Long Island, and Puerto Rico, Dr. Watkins’ thought leadership on
diversity, inclusion, racial equity, and community development have been featured
by America’s leading authorities and helped hundreds of communities. Those
presentations and features include recognition by CNN, the New York Times,
and Essence for her contributions to the field of community development.
Dr. Watkins is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Chicago where she received
her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Sociology. She is also a
graduate of Southern New Hampshire University where she received two Master of
Science degrees in Education and Community Economic Development. Dr. Watkins
received her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services from the State
University of New York, Empire State College.
Today, Dr. Watkins’ work as an equity advocate includes leading work in more than
300 communities in 48 states at Community Progress. Collaboratively, Community
Progress works to grow strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned,
and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and
In addition to her work at Community Progress, Dr. Watkins serves as Vice President
for the Board of Directors of Grounded Solutions Network and serves as a member
of the National Center for Black Philanthropy.