In 1917, race riots devastated the Black community in East St. Louis. A year later, a group of African American and white St. Louisans came together to found the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis to empower those affected. Now, 104 years later, the nonprofit is the largest branch of the national Urban League organization and maintains its mission to provide programs for economic opportunity, educational excellence, community empowerment and civil rights advocacy.

In 2021, the Urban League served more people than it has in its century-long history. Almost 200,000 individuals benefited from the nonprofit’s more than 55 programs. As the pandemic has continued to impact the community, the organization has evolved to meet the changing needs of those it serves, according to president and CEO Michael McMillan. “We are very grateful to all of the entities that helped us serve more people and modify our programs like food pantries, housing capacity and utilities assistance,” he says. “Our mission has always been to help people when they are most in need and also give them the resources to take care of themselves and their families.”

The Urban League is currently in the process of raising $25 million through its Restoring Hope campaign. The initiative’s objective is to transform the Victor Roberts Building, also known as the Old Sears Building, on North Kingshighway into a new headquarters for the nonprofit. Built in 1928, the 205,000-square-foot facility has played a pivotal role in North St. Louis’ history, and the Urban League plans to build on that legacy. “We will revitalize this area, returning it to its former glory,” McMillan explains. “It will not only offer access to social and economic services from the Urban League, but also other resources that are necessary for a good quality of life in any community.”

Each year to celebrate its anniversary, the Urban League holds its Annual Dinner. The event is a way for the nonprofit to share its accomplishments with the community and raise funding for its programs. This year, it will be held April 19 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel. “The Annual Dinner is a platform to showcase our achievements, demonstrate the difference we are making through our programs and share how we are doing from an economic and stability standpoint,” McMillan notes.

The event also offers the nonprofit the opportunity to honor those who have supported its mission. This year’s honorees are current national Urban League president Marc Morial, who is receiving the Whitney M. Young Humanitarian Award, and James and Elizabeth Mannen Berges, who are being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. “We cannot do what we do alone,” McMillan says. “It is only by working in partnership with the community that we can be as impactful as we were designed to be 104 years ago. The Urban League was created to be a bridge. We’ve done that for more than a century, and we will continue doing so to ensure St. Louis can be that shining city on the hill we all know it can.”

Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis provides programs for economic opportunity, educational excellence, community empowerment and civil rights advocacy. Its Annual Dinner is April 19. at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel. Pictured on the cover: Vice president and controller Barbara Bowman, director of the Save Our Sisters program Linda Robinson. For more information, 314.615.3600 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Bill Barrett

Pictured at the top: Barbara Bowman, Tom Bailey, Beth-Anne Yakubu
Photo: Bill Barrett