Women of Influence: Greater Birmingham Humane Society CEO Allison Black Cornelius

Allison Black Cornelius

There’s no shortage of influential women doing amazing things in the Yellowhammer State and Birmingham’s Allison Black Cornelius is certainly one of them.

The President and Chief Executive Officer at the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS), Cornelius is also the Founder and President of Blackfish, a consulting group specializing in “total team strategy” using organizational, staff, and board development programs.

Cornelius has faced more than her fair share of adversity but has used it to fuel her work, and advocacy for those who can’t speak for themselves.

A graduate of John Carroll High School, she received her nonprofit, and leadership education through the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative where she completed her MBA.

Cornelius is a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit. When she was seven years old, she was molested and raped several times by her Sunday School teacher, Leon Prince over the course of three months. “Leon Prince doesn’t just rape you, he tortures you,” Cornelius told WSFA.

Prince told her if she refused to do what he asked, or told anyone what he was doing that he’d kill her dog, so Cornelius stayed silent for 20 years.

In 1988 Cornelius began the long, and arduous task of facing Prince and informing the world of what he had done. Prince was indicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, of which he only served 15 years. “We were lucky for him to do 15,”  she says. “It brought me 15 years where he didn’t mess with a kid. Now, we’re back to square one,” she told AL.com.

Cornelius played a huge role in the court process, and the process of others; spearheading the passage of Megan’s Law in 36 states and creating the first Sex Offender Registry in the nation, and has founded more than 50 child advocacy centers around the country as well as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) agencies.

But she’s done so much more than that.

Cornelius has been hard at work lately between the humane society and Blackfish, making over 150 presentations each year. She offers lectures and trains audiences, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and Fortune 500 companies on how to just “keep on swimming.”

She has trained more than 1,000 nonprofit boards and raised more than $30 million for charity through these public presentations.

Cornelius has traveled the world speaking; the year before she became CEO of the Humane Society, she traveled 265 of 365 days in the year. She’s given messages at the Kennedy Center, for professional sports teams, celebrity foundations, and the White House.

She’s won several awards including: Birmingham 12 SMARTEST Women 2012, Animal Advocate of the Year, Citizen of the Year, Woman of Distinction, Mervyn H. Sterne Award, and was an Olympic Torch Relay Runner.

Cornelius accepted the CEO position at GBHS in 2014, and has brought the company to a $4.5 million annual budget, operating three facilities, providing jobs for 80 employees. The humane society currently takes in over 23,000 animals each year, and that number is only growing.

When Cornelius took over the humane society in 2014, one major source of income she sought was a government contract to take over the animal control in unincorporated parts of Jefferson County. The GBHS won the contract, and has been taking care of Jefferson County, including Birmingham’s stray animal problems since.

She is currently concentrating on revitalizing the GBHS; which include plans to build a news $30 million facility located on land nestled between Titusville and will house all of the GBHS’s programs and services and provide more room for additional students from both Auburn and Tuskegee University’s. The facility would also contain a Cat Cafe, a growing trend in the U.S.

From her extraordinary career despite the horrendous acts committed against her, her ability to turn her pain into advocacy for other, and her service to animal lovers in Birmingham, it’s indisputable why Allison Black Cornelius is this week’s woman of influence.