Cover Story

Looking Ahead: Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis

Last year, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis celebrated its centennial, which is an impressive achievement. Not many organizations make it to the 100-year mark, but the nonprofit isn’t about to start resting on its laurels and past achievements. It’s looking at 2019 with a renewed dedication to empowering and serving the community.

An affiliate of the National Urban League, the nonprofit offers programs and resources to help African-Americans and others in the region achieve success. Its mission supports economic opportunity, educational excellence, community empowerment and civil rights advocacy. Keith Williamson, Centene Corporation’s senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, serves as chair of the nonprofit’s board, and says it is at the forefront of tackling St. Louis’ most critical issues. “To transform the health of the community, you must care for the whole person and address blocked access to services like quality health care,” he says. “The Urban League is a leader in programs like job training and early education that can dismantle these barriers.”

The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis serves thousands of people annually through more than 30 programs in areas like housing, education and employment. And CEO and president Michael McMillan says the organization is looking forward to expanding in the coming year. This includes working with organizations like the Regional Business Council and Better Family Life to address police chief John Hayden’s ‘crime rectangle,’ an area of north St. Louis identified as a center for violent crime. “We want to work with the police, community organizations and neighborhood leaders to create a better environment by providing resources and employment opportunities,” McMillan explains.

He adds that the nonprofit will increase its influence in Ferguson, where it opened the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center in 2017. One program that came out of the agency’s involvement in the area is Save Our Sons. To combat the high unemployment rate, it focuses on career readiness and job training for disadvantaged African-American men. “We wanted to help men access resources so they can support themselves and their families,” McMillan says. “I’m proud to say more than 500 men have received jobs through the program, and it just keeps growing.” Earlier this month, a new office opened in North St. Louis, and the Save Our Sons model has been exported to other cities in collaboration with Urban League branches across the country.

The organization also created Save Our Sisters, a program that helps women of all backgrounds build better, more independent lives. It offers seminars and classes in a range of topics, including financial literacy, home ownership and maintenance, job training, parenting skills, and self-defense. “The focus is on female empowerment by uplifting and enriching women overall,” McMillan explains.

To support its programs and allow for growth, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis holds its Annual Dinner gala. This year, the event is March 30 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel. “It’s our signature gala that helps raise important funds to support our agency,” McMillan says, adding that the event also is a special opportunity for the organization to bring its mission to the community. “It’s a chance to share our accomplishments and build on the success of our centennial year,” he says. “We are excited to grow our programs and expand our impact.”

Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis provides programs for economic opportunity, educational excellence, community empowerment and civil rights advocacy. Its 101st annual dinner fundraiser is March 30. Pictured on the cover with Head Start students: Keith Williamson of Centene Corp.; Michael McMillan, president and CEO of Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; Emily Pitts of Edward Jones. For more information, call 314.615.3668 or visit ulstl.com

Cover design by Allie Bronsky
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured above: Eric Benet, Viola Davis, Richard Mark, Ann Marr and Michael McMillan at Urban League’s 100th Annual Dinner

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