The Urban League of the Upstate has a half-century history of working to advance equity for Black and other underserved communities. So it’s no surprise it was one of five minority-led nonprofits chosen by the Community Foundation of Greenville to receive grants in honor of George Floyd and others who have suffered from racist acts and institutions.
Earlier in the year, the Urban League had received one of CFG’s capacity-building grants to fund efforts to enhance the engagement of its board. In light of the novel coronavirus, the Community Foundation lifted restrictions on those grants, but the Urban League went forward as planned.
“It was important to me and the chair of the board that we stay true to the original intent. A strong board will be a gift to the next person to serve as director,” said Rev. Sean Dogan, Urban League’s interim president and chief executive officer. “Stan Davis and Ellen Stevenson, who had guided our organizational assessment in the fall, helped us take an in-depth look at the progress we had made and how many people were impacted by our work. We touch 1,000 people a year, youth and adults, so the impact is pretty great.”
The Urban League works to create healthy communities by developing and operating affordable housing for families and seniors. At Gandy Allmon Manor I & II, coordinators help elderly residents and those with disabilities access services from community agencies. A HUD-approved Housing Counseling Program helps bridge the gap in minority homeownership by educating first-time homebuyers on financial management.
The nonprofit also operates several programs that provide young people with tools to succeed in education and life. The Right Step juvenile diversion program helps prevent youth in the early stages of criminal involvement from becoming further involved in the juvenile justice system. Project Ready helps high school students develop skills to navigate the transition into college and beyond. Level Up helps children in foster care achieve stability in adulthood by offering soft-skill career training and summertime job opportunities. A Teen Pregnancy Prevention program teaches adolescents how to build healthy relationships and delay sexual activity until they are older.
“It’s very complex — all of that wraps around our mission to promote equity through advocacy, education, and financial stability,” Dogan said. “Stan did a wonderful job capturing the data. Now let’s translate that to the board’s understanding, so we can get the best leadership to guide us.”
The team developed a board/staff messaging tool to clarify its vision and core values and help identify board members with the passion and resources to continue the work in key areas. Three new board members have been elected, and an update of the organization’s strategic plan is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021.
“We also invited 200 Urban League Champions to support us at $500 per year,” Dogan said. “If we can leverage all that, we will feel very accomplished.”
Dogan said the CFG diversity grant of $25,000 will be used to fund general operations and advance the group’s mission, with a focus on social justice and building a more equitable community. The Urban League will collaborate with other agencies like United Way, Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce to address racial inequality in the areas of policing, senior care and public health. They will spearhead efforts to encourage participation in the census and voter registration to be sure all voices are heard when decisions are made that affect Black and brown people.
“People in our community are suffering financially, and from isolation, and every nonprofit is dealing with how to address their needs,” Dogan said. “Supporting nonprofits — in particular nonprofits that focus on people of color — takes an intentional effort. We are alive and well and getting the work done.”