The influence of the memphis urban league
An interview with the president/ceo of St louis urban league
By Michael P. McMillan
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED WITH THE URBAN LEAGUE?
So my late Uncle introduced me to the Urban League at 10 years old, he had been the chairman of our board of directors here at St Louis. He was the most impactful and significant organization in the black community in America in terms of actually getting the job done of helping out people. He told me that when I got old enough that I should join and become a member and get involved and become an Urban Leaguer for life. He told me to wait so I could buy my own membership with my own money and my own job, so I did that and I joined on my 16th birthday and to his credit he was absolutely right. Later on when I was going to college to get a degree in African-American studies, the Urban League Stepped in along with my University and gave me an academic scholarship. Later, from age 24 until 30, I was on the board of directors of the Urban League and the executive committee and chaired the development committee, so it’s a long long history and I became a life member of the agency.
TELL US THREE THINGS YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE URBAN LEAGUE?
1. I would say, number one, that in my estimation and what I’ve seen in my lifetime is that the Urban League as an organization is best positioned in this entire country and in Memphis local markets to be the most effective vehicle towards taking the conversation about equality and actually making it a reality through programs and policy advocacy for African-Americans along with other disenfranchised people who need our Assistance.
2. I would also think at this particular critical juncture in the course of American history that there’s no better time to become a part of the Urban League movement than now. Because what we see is that the pendulum of justice and equality is that it does not always swing in the directions that we want it to. So it can swing backwards and people will attempt to take us back to a time where equality and justice and advocacy for those in need is not in the forefront of the conversation. I definitely believe that this is the absolute most important time to be a part of the Urban League movement for those of us who want America to be the great democracy that it can be in terms of everyone having an equal seat at the table and being able to participate and enjoy the American dream.
3. No matter what your call is, no matter what your passion or your purpose is, there is a place for you at the Urban League. So whether you are passionate about education, health care, housing, economic development, black owned businesses, job training, GED, etc., there is some place for you at the Urban League. There’s no need to join another organization, there’s no need to create a new organization, you can channel all of your passion and purpose into the Urban League and potentially you could turn it into your profession; which is what i was blessed to be able to do at the agency.
LETS TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE, WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
I’m excited about our Outreach and our adjustments for millennials so that each new generation that gets engaged with the agency can leave its stamp, its mark, and its Legacy on the Urban League. When you’ve been around for a hundred years, you have to change to become a part of the current fabric of society. So I’m always excited to get and see young people getting involved and hear what they have to say and how committed they want to be. So I’m excited about that for the future because, quite frankly, that’s the only way that we will survive. We cannot just a live on and talk about what we’ve done in the past hundred years, we have to be relevant to the market, deal with the demand of today, and be prepared for the future.
SPEAK DIRECTLY TO THE AFRICAN AMERICANS, TELL US WHY BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE URBAN LEAGUE TODAY IS SO IMPORTANT.
Well I think it’s more important than ever because everything that we have achieved in this country has been efforts to make the United States live up to what it said on the Constitution. We Proclaim ourselves as the greatest democracy in the history of humanity, and with that being the foundation of our country, how do we create a more perfect union where African-Americans can be treated whole and become a full part of society? This has been an issue that has been going on for obviously centuries, and so for me, the Urban League is best positioned to actualize the conversation and the discussion about equality because we are always the ones that actually create the program’s to give people the job, the scholarship, the GED, the housing, the food, the clothing, of whatever they need.
We have made tremendous stride and made tremendous advancements as a people in this country, but the masses of the black community are still suffering from these enormous disparities in healthcare, education, economics, overall net worth and credit scores, financial empowerment, and so many different things that we see again and again and again. We must as a community all be involved in lifting all of us up so that we can one day get to that point where we don’t sit here still as the ethnic minority. We need to work hard so that one day we can get out of that situation and actually realize full equality, and there’s no better position individually to do it other than us as a people.
AS THE PRESIDENT OF THE ST. LOUIS CHAPTER, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TANJA HERE IN MEMPHIS?
You are too kind to give me the ability to even give advice. We were actually in the same leadership class, she is very well respected among her colleagues across the country and very well liked and admired for her tenacity, her hard work, and her dedication to the movement. She wants to see the community advanced and she gets people to come there from a tourist attraction standpoint and invest. When she asked me to come I said absolutely, I would be honored to participate and be of some help.
I would just say keep on keeping on, it’s not very profound, but quite frankly this is a very difficult position and it has a huge amount of stress attached to it. There are so many constant issues that come up between the police, community, electoral, and in the government. Bringing the races together, having better race relations, and helping the least of these is important. Even in a Biblical standpoint when we all stand before God on Judgement Day we will not be asked how big our house was, how much money we had, or how much we lived a life of materialism. But Instead will be asked, when I was hungry did you feed me and when i was naked did you clothe me. That’s what Tanja does and the Urban League does and we must continue that work.
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