Urban League official speaks about Ferguson

Urban League official speaks about Ferguson
October 26
06:00 2017

Since its inception, the Winston-Salem Urban League (WSUL) has worked to empower the disenfranchised and promote socioeconomic progress through education, training, and civic engagement. Last weekend the organization took a moment to reflect on past accomplishments and recognize others in the community who make Winston-Salem a better place during the Whitney M. Young Jr. Gala.

The annual fundraiser named after former National Urban League executive director Whitney Moore Young Jr. was held on Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Biotech Place on N. Patterson Avenue. Following a VIP reception, elected officials, business professionals, community leaders and countless others came together for the elegant event designed to honor individuals and organizations for their philanthropy and willingness to lend a helping hand.

Michael McMillian, CEO of the Urban League of Greater St. Louis, delivered the keynote address. McMillian, who took the reins of the nation’s largest Urban League branch in 2013, discussed his fight for social justice and racial equality in St. Louis County after the death of Michael Brown.

He said race relations was an issue in Ferguson, Missouri well before Brown was killed while in the custody of law enforcement. McMillian mentioned even though African Americans make up more than 67 percent of the total population in Ferguson there is little to no signs of that in the government.

“In 120 years of its existence the highest-ranking official in the police department at the time of Michael Brown’s death was one Sargeant in a city that is 67 percent African American. In terms of city government, we’ve never had a (black) mayor and only had two city council members out of a six-person council in 120 years,” he continued. “So, this is the climate that has existed for decades that led to the frustration, the anger and the resentment that you saw in the protests that came about after Michael Brown’s death.

“That environment bubbled over to a regional, national, and some ways international movement for change.”

McMillian said while much ground has been made over the past three years since Brown’s death, moving forward those who are invested in changing the narrative when it comes to police-community relations must continue the fight, even when the killing of unarmed black men isn’t headline news.

“While we have been sitting here tonight another young, unarmed African American male may have been shot in any city. So what we need to do is proactively work through the urban league movement and be about that change,” said McMillian. “Let our setback be your comeback and let our tragedy be your triumph.”

Since 2013 the Greater St. Louis Urban League has helped more than 400 African American males gain employment through a program called  Save Our Sons. McMillian who believes economic development is the key to changing the narrative of black communities across the country said that first 400 is just the beginning.
“Those first 400 is the first piece to the puzzle but we know that’s not everyone who needs a job so we continue to use this as a national model because there is a crisis with African American male employment in this country.”

When discussing the future of the Winston-Salem Urban League under the leadership of CEO James Perry, McMillian said, “You made the right choice when you made him your president and CEO here in Winston-Salem.”

Perry, who was named CEO in Dec. 2015, has made great strides to continue the legacy of the WSUL. While strengthening programs that were already in place when he arrived, Perry has also started new initiatives as well. Earlier this year, the organization released the first “State of Black Winston-Salem” report, a collection of data that measures how black residents are compared with whites.

Heading into his second full year at the helm of the WSUL, Perry said the Urban League will continue to be an incredible organization thanks to the staff and the people in the community.
Statistics on the WSUL website shows the non-profit organization has provided 162 summer internships for low income teens, assisted 432 seniors with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) vouchers, and helped provide mental health assistance for more than 400 individuals.

He said, “what happens quite often is I get the opportunity to take a lot of credit for the work the Urban League does but long before I arrived here this staff worked incredibly hard to make sure we delivered services that serve the people.”

The gala wrapped up with the presentation of the Whitney M. Young Award and the Dr. Vivian H. Burke Community Leadership Award. The Forsyth County United Way Place Matters program was awarded the Whitney M. Young Award while Randy Mitchell took home the first Community Leadership Award.

The United Way’s Place Matters program focuses on 13 neighborhoods in the northeast Winston-Salem to impact education, financial stability, health, and basic needs.
Randy Mitchell, a manger in the Winston-Salem recreation department, has mentored hundreds of teens in the Urban League Summer Youth Employment Program and guided dozens of seniors in the Urban League Senior Community Service Employment Program.

For more information on the Winston-Salem Urban League visit or call 336-725-5614.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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