2023 Jackie Herd-Barber Award - Kristen Hardy

Rising star. Young power broker. Influential Black leader.

Kristen HardyThose are just a few of the accolades Kristen Hardy has received to date over the course of her career. Whether honoring her influence in the legal profession or her engagement in the community, the awards all celebrate the impact and example she has set for others. 

Being a leader is not something she takes lightly, crediting it to her role as a big sister. 

“It’s a foundational feeling; like you have to be an example for someone else,” said Hardy, assistant general counsel and assistant secretary at Northwestern Mutual. “I have big sister syndrome for life!” 

The Detroit native has made quite an impact since moving to Milwaukee in 2011 to attend Marquette University Law School. Over the past decade or so, she has shared her time, talent, treasure and ties with a variety of legal groups and area nonprofits, including the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.  

“If you have any semblance of power or a proverbial seat at the table, it is your job to bring other people along and use your skill set to do good in the world,” said Hardy, the inaugural recipient of the Foundation’s Jackie Herd-Barber Award. The award recognizes Community Ambassador and Adviser Network members who help build and deepen relationships with the Foundation and champion the Foundation’s strategic vision of building a Milwaukee for all. It is named after Herd-Barber, a past Foundation Board chair and community volunteer 

Hardy was first introduced to the Foundation while in law school. She later participated in its CAAN program in 2020.

“I was impressed with the magnitude, the depth and how long an organization like this has been around Milwaukee doing great things,” Hardy said. “It just felt like a big quiet force to me at the time.”

Hardy said her continued relationship with the Foundation has been a great learning opportunity that has helped her grow as a community leader. She has since encouraged other young professionals to become involved.

Helping impact the community she lives in motivates Hardy, who began leaving her mark in Milwaukee shortly after graduating from Marquette Law. 

“I need to be of the community,” Hardy said. “If you are not of the community, you cannot impact the community.”

Through Brunch of Professionals, a professional networking organization she envisioned and co-founded in 2015, she created a safe space for women in metro Milwaukee to connect. The group meets quarterly.  

“It is my attempt at exposing people to new friend groups, new restaurants, new businesses and new ways of thinking in Milwaukee,” she said.

Hardy is past president of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers, one of Wisconsin’s oldest and largest minority bar associations, and continues to be an active participant. She serves on the Judicial Selection Advisory Committee, a group selected by Gov. Tony Evers that is responsible for interviewing and recommending candidates for consideration when Evers fills judicial vacancies. More than half of Evers’ appointees have been women, and more than one-third have been people of color. 

“That is some of the most impactful volunteer work I’m involved in because judicial opinions and decisions can live on long after I’m gone,” Hardy said. 

In addition, she serves on the boards of the Milwaukee Public Museum and LOTUS Legal Clinic and is board chair of the Bronzeville Center for the Arts. The nonprofit in Bronzeville, the neighborhood she now calls home, is opening an art gallery in 2023 and has plans to open a $54 million art museum by 2025.

Whether providing her expertise in a certain area or providing connections to help strengthen a group, before joining an organization Hardy always asks herself if she is aligned with its mission and if she can offer something that the organization doesn’t already have.

“I love practicing law and being able to volunteer in the community in my free time,” Hardy said. “When I’m approached about initiatives that speak to my core values, I am careful to check in with myself to ensure meaningful involvement, and when the stars align, asking how can I jump in and help,” Hardy said.

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