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The YWCA Minneapolis has named University of Minnesota attorney Shelley Carthen Watson as the nonprofit's new CEO, starting Aug. 9.

The YWCA, which has about a $20 million annual budget and 600 employees, announced the news last week. Carthen Watson, currently the senior associate general counsel at the U, follows Michelle Basham, who resigned in December after less than a year as CEO, saying then that she left voluntarily due to "governance challenges" at the nonprofit.

Carthen Watson wasn't available for comment Monday but said in a statement that she grew up visiting her local YWCA in San Bernardino, Calif. "YWCA shaped the values I hold today," she wrote.

Before working at the U, Carthen Watson was a partner with the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi— the first African American woman to become a partner in a large law firm in Minnesota — and was a deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Carthen Watson also has worked as a board member at the YWCA Minneapolis and the YWCA St. Paul, among other boards.

She has served as president of the Minneapolis chapter of Jack and Jill America, a youth development program. In 2020, the YWCA Minneapolis honored Carthen Watson with its "Woman of Power Award" for her leadership.

"The ongoing crises of the pandemic and systemic racism magnified this year have brought the organization to a sea-change moment," YWCA Minneapolis board Chairwoman Jeninne McGee said in a statement announcing the new CEO.

"We have a great opportunity to energize our work for racial justice, equity and creating brighter futures."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141