Annual Membership Lunch – How Can You Be A Part of the Urban League?

Thank you for your interest in the Knoxville Area Urban League.

We are extremely grateful to our supporters whose ongoing commitment has allowed us to continue the work of empowering communities and changing lives for another year.

Check out our 2016 Annual Report which is posted on our website for detailed program outcomes and fiscal information, and acknowledgements to all who have invested in our work.

Since 1968, the Knoxville Urban League has stood for social and economic equality.  We continue to work to create opportunities and partnerships that help individuals needing assistance in employment, housing and home ownership, youth development and education, entrepreneurship and diversity and inclusion.

Last year was an especially impactful year of service for us. In December, the Knoxville Affiliate was recognized as one of National Urban League’s premiere affiliates earning a 5 of 5 on the National Performance Assessment.   Our board and staff worked very hard to earn this designation for the second time in 2012 and 2016, and we are indeed proud of our accomplishments.

Even with the National recognition, our 49 year history, and serving nearly 9,000 individuals and families each year, we are still challenged with the general public understanding of what we do.

The National Urban League was founded in 1910.  Today 90 Urban Leagues in 35 states and DC work so that NO one is left out of the social, political or economic mainstream.  That focus was central to our work in 1968 and it continues today.  And we work to partner and collaborate with other like-minded individuals and organizations to accomplish that mission.

We recognize a few of them in October with our Equal Opportunity Awards presented at our annual gala.

For all the good she does throughout the community and especially for her support for our Economic Development and Lending Programs, Mayor Madeline Rogero received the Corporate Leadership Award; the Minority Business Award went to Beal Bourne, Jarnigan & Son Mortuary, Sanford Smith was voted by the staff to receive the Volunteer of the Year.  And we were genuinely humbled to award the prestigious Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award to Rev. Dr. Gordon Gibson and Mrs. Judy Gibson for their lifelong work in civil rights and social justice.

The Equal Opportunity Day Awards Gala raised nearly $200,000 to support our programs and services.  Thanks to Scripps, SNI for their production support.  Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the fourth Thursday in October.

There are many others that we would like to give awards to because we could not begin to provide the level of programs, services or special events without the help of our volunteers and partners.    We are grateful for our collaborations with our higher education partners – Pellissippi State Community College in our workforce development program and several schools within the University of TN with our college access programs.

  • Volunteers facilitate many of our employment workshops; help clients understand the importance of insurance, asset building, financial planning and mortgage documents
  • Some volunteers help families understand and develop their financial capacity through budgeting and credit counseling
  • Other volunteers spend hours with budding entrepreneurs and mentoring struggling business owners, chaperoning college tours, and leading activities for high school students
  • and hundreds volunteer for Shoes for School each August to distribute shoes and school supplies to over 3,000 kids. Save the Date:  Saturday, August 5th

To our Young Professionals, dynamic young leaders who serve as Urban League ambassadors. Our YPs volunteer with many of our program initiatives and serve as mentors to high schools students.   Thank you for your commitment to the Dr. Walter S.E. Hardy Scholarship Fund and for helping us better serve the community.

We appreciate the members of our board, engaged committed individuals who support the Urban League mission with their time, talent and treasure. These individuals first believe in the mission of equity and equality and then seek to use their talent to support the work. 

I love my work because of what this organization stands for, the difference we make, and the people I am privileged to work with daily.  The Urban League is fortunate to have a dream team of talented professionals.

Our Board and staff are passionate about the Urban League.  We know why we’re still here after 49 years.  Our mission of enabling African American and others to gain economic self-reliance, parity power and civil rights is as important today as it ever was.    Our first core value of diversity and inclusion guides us to advocate for equity for ALL people.

There is a role for all of us to play in the civil rights and social justice movement and if you really want to make a difference, provide an opportunity for employment.   We work with hundreds of adults each year wanting a job.

Work is empowering.  We define ourselves by what we do. Work gives purpose and dignity to life, provides families with economic and social stability, and contributes to our community.

At the forefront of some of the issues we are facing here in Knoxville is the high unemployment of young black men ages 18-24.   At a time when work has never been so hard to get and so hard to keep, the Urban League is on the front line, partnering with agencies and corporate supporters to connect the unemployed with jobs.  At our Workforce Development Center, individuals looking for a job or a better career opportunity can obtain employment search assistance, improve their computer skills, career counseling, employability readiness training; job placement referrals and post-placement support.

Our goal in our workforce program is twofold:  to work with companies to get job postings that are not distributed widely, and to pre-screen appropriate candidates, and to assist our clients through skills development and job readiness to be the best prepared candidate – to be competitive for the fewer jobs that are available.

People like Joel Byrd

Having been out of work and unable to find employment on his own because of his background, the Urban League and Community Step-up provided Joel with job readiness training including self and skills assessment, resume and cover letter preparation and interview training. Joel applied himself to the training earned conditional employment with the City.  Through the 12 week program, Joel worked under multiple department supervisors in two different service areas, acquired a Commercial Driver’s License in addition to new vocational and personal skills. Finishing his Second Chance opportunity in November, Joel applied for and accepted a full-time job offer as a Public Service Worker this January.

As a HUD certified housing counseling agency, our goal is to facilitate first time home-ownership and housing retention for those facing foreclosure.

People like Timothy Fetty

Mr. Timothy Fetty came to our Housing Program in need of assistance.  As a result of severe health challenges, he was placed on Long Term Disability.  Now a fixed income, a hike in his mortgage rate hike placed him in jeopardy of losing his home. In October, working with our certified counselor, we were able to help Mr. Fetty obtain a Loan Modification enabling him to remain in his home on his reduced income.

We change lives through education. Our Education and Youth Programs work to improve educational opportunities for many at risk students to support their academic achievement, encourage their civic involvement through service learning, and contribute to their cultural and emotional development.   We are committed to help every child be ready for college, work and a self-sufficient life.

We change lives through our education programs.

Scholars like Courtney Majors, senior at West High School, a third year member of the National Achievers Society.  Courtney earned the opportunity to participate in the National Urban League Youth Leadership Summit last July in Baltimore along with 500 other high school students from all across the country.  Courtney shared with members of her church, “This experience helped me to get out of my comfort zone and made me more confident. I am now willing to embark upon challenges that I probably would not have considered before.”

Working in partnership with other community leaders and Knox County Schools, our intent is to end racial disparities in school discipline and narrow the achievement gap for students of color.

We are members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and the Knoxville Alliance. Our statewide coalition believes that change can happen when we harness the collective influence and voices of a diverse group of civil rights and education advocacy organizations to improve the educational outcomes for all students.

We change lives through advocacy, especially for those who do not understand how public policy impacts their lives.

In the United States, public education is still viewed as the best way to create equal opportunities for families, children, and youth to advance and succeed.

And we will work with our local district, school board and teachers to make our public schools the best possible for all students.

Our agenda is to build a strong bridge between education and work; provide more pathways for young people and adults to secure a quality education, employment and grow professionally; create opportunity for entrepreneurship; and through diversity and inclusion help transform the Greater Knoxville Area into a place where everyone can succeed, thrive and enjoy raising their families.

What to look for in 2017:

  • Kids Who Code– we will have our first summer camp to teach coding for middle school students. In the fall, we will continue the Kids Who Code through the community schools initiative at Vine Middle.
  • Out of School Youth Employment Program– double down on our efforts to increase employment under the WIOA program
  • We’re hosting the Paradigm Challenge – “Building Knoxville One Business at A Time”

The Paradigm Challenge, an event to inspire business growth and economic development in East Knoxville, will be June 17th.  This place-based, industry specific pitch competition challenges entrepreneurs to solve business and economic growth challenges facing the East Knoxville business community in businesses related to Health Care, Retail/Light Manufacturing, and Technology.   You can learn more about it on our website

  • Renovation of our facilities– You’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

The Urban League is not about entitlement programs, but rather empowering programs.  We don’t give hand-outs, but hand-ups.

When someone asks, what the Urban League does, tell them we advocate, we partner and we implement.  And we’re going to need your help.

Will you become a member of the Urban League?   Encourage your family, friends and colleagues to join us.

I have been asked, “What do I get for my membership?”    Besides wearing the Urban League pin of equality, here is what you get.”

You get to become part of the WE.  

  • We improve the quality of life and education opportunities for young people
  • We increase employment skills and workplace diversity and inclusion
  • We increase opportunities for entrepreneurship
  • We Increase homeownership
  • AND we advocate for the civil rights and social justice for ALL people

When you learn about another Mr. Byrd getting a job, WE did that.

When another of our scholars goes off to college, WE did that.

When a family becomes first time homeowners, WE did that.

When an entrepreneur realizes her dream, WE did that.

Make today a WE are the Urban League through your membership.

Then you can say – this is what WE do at the Urban League.


Thank you for joining.

Phyllis Y. Nichols

2017 Annual Meeting Speech