Don Williams has been named the interim president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League, the agency announced this week. His appointment is effective today. The 61-year-old organization, whose services reach residents who live as far away as the Triangle, has been in limbo since former President/CEO Keith Grandberry’s exit last month.
Evelyn Acree, the chairwoman of the Urban League Board of Directors and senior VP/Piedmont Triad Regional executive for Mechanics & Farmers Bank, declined again on Monday to comment on the reasons behind Grandberry’s abrupt departure, which has been the subject of much speculation.
“He served the Urban League for seven years and the board of the Urban League, we wish him well,” she stated.
Williams, a retired Lowe’s Home Improvement executive, will serve as the interim leader for a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months, Acree said. The board plans to launch a national search for a permanent president/CEO in the near future, she added. Williams is well versed in the process; he was the agency’s board chair for three years, including in 2006, when Grandberry was hired.
“The whole purpose of this is to give them time to make a decision; that’s my goal,” he said of serving as interim leader. “It’s not a process that you can do overnight and do it well.”
The Urban League is planning to begin work on a new strategic plan in the months to come; in the meantime, it will be renewing its commitment to its core mission and setting its sights on a new vision for the future, Acree said.
“For the next up to six months, we want to continue our programs. We want to enhance the programs, stabilize the Urban League,” she explained. “…What we want to get back to is doing the business of the Urban League.”
Acree says support remains strong for the agency, despite the recent leadership change.
“The community has been supportive of the Urban League. Everyone has really expressed an interest in the Urban League continuing and being being a vital part of Winston-Salem,” she stated. “…We’ve gotten great comments from people supporting the Urban League and wanting to see it go forward.”
Williams, who has been retired since 2011, will be making the commute from Wilkesboro, where he lives, to to the Urban League’s downtown headquarters. Although he is thoroughly enjoying his retirement, the Wilkes County native said giving up a few months of rest and relaxation to help the organization is a sacrifice he is more than willing to make.
“I’ve seen where the League can do a lot of good, and I see right now who are the people who are going to suffer,” remarked the 57 year-old, referencing the fallout of the organization’s internal disorder. “It’s going to be the people who the League serves, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
The agency holds a special place in Williams’ heart. He lost his teenaged son, H. Donald Williams Jr., in 2004, while he was chair of the board. His fellow board members and the Urban League staff were there for him in his time of need, Williams said, and he plans to return the favor.
“I’ve been through some struggles in my life, and my friends at the League, I don’t even know if they know how much they helped me in that time,” said Williams. “Maybe this is an opportunity to give back.”
Williams said during his interim tenure, he will partner with the staff to push the organization forward.
“We need to focus on where it is that we’re going,” said the Greensboro College alumnus. “I think right now, people seem to have lost their way. I think right now, it’s just a matter of making sure everyone sees that they’re on the same team and they’re working for the same goal.”
Ensuring that the Urban League’s “financial house is in order,” by bolstering the confidence of funding sources, positioning the organization to live up to its stated mission of empowering the community and promoting socioeconomic progress and parity, and spreading the news about all that’s going right with the organization will be among his chief priorities, Williams said. In order to be successful in his efforts to repair the agency’s reputation and restore the community’s faith in it, Williams said he will need the help and support of clients, staff and the public.
“This is not about blame or anything of the sort,” he remarked. “Let’s just all be progressive and look forward – where we want to see the Urban League go – and bring solutions on how we get it there.”