As president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League for the past seven years, he leaves a legacy of a hands-on manager, a community servant and coalition builder.
When Blair Taylor arrived at the Los Angeles Urban League (League) seven years ago, he had more than 20 years of public and private sector experience, and he proceeded to put that experience to work as the head of one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. He came with impressive credentials and know-how.
Now, that he is leaving the League for the private sector, Taylor reminisced about his past, present and future in a candid interview with the Sentinel. Prior to the League, he had most recently served as the Executive Vice President of College Summit, a national college access initiative with a track record of nearly doubling the college enrollment rates of low-income students in the communities it serves. During his tenure, College Summit achieved the fastest growth in the organization’s history, more than quadrupling its student outreach to more than 6,000 students in 2005.
At the League, he was involved in many community projects and sat on numerous boards. One of the projects that he founded was Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnerships (GCEP), and one of the schools involved in the GCEP was Crenshaw High School. “When we went into Crenshaw High and try to make performance a high priority, it became clear that the students were willing to participate,” said Taylor, “and some of the schools in L.A. Unified were the same place where the Mayor’s partnership schools are.”
As the conversation shifted to the main point of the interview: his leaving the League (in L.A.) to join the Starbucks team (in Seattle, Washington), we asked Taylor if it’s a case of moving to greener pastures. He responded, “Well, I don’t know if I’d call it greener pastures … I love L.A…I’ve spent seven years at the helm (of the League). My life is about trying to impact the community on a large scale if I can, and I think this opportunity (Starbucks) represents an opportunity to have a greater impact on the lives of those who are less fortunate.”
“So I started to see it (the move to Starbucks) as a progression of my life’s work,” he went on, “the work I’ve done in Los Angeles has been really wonderful and rewarding, and I think we’ve changed a lot of lives and done a lot of terrific things … with a fabulous staff and a fabulous board, and it’s a great community … and I love it frankly… it’s the best job I’ve ever had in my life… though it’s not national in scope.”
Taylor’s previous private sector experience with Pepsi and IBM would definitely play a major part in adjusting to the move to Starbucks. He also alluded: “The difference here (at Starbucks) would be it’s international in scope and the ability to do things on a larger scale is the next progression in my life, and that’s what this represents.
“My opinion is the solution to the issues that we face in urban communities, for example, in the 21st century, are not going to come from government, are not going to come from government dollars … I see government dollars drying up very quickly… government innovation are very much at a standstill … the bickering and the partisan fighting that we see in our government now, and so the question becomes, who has the resources and the ability to step in and fill some of the gaps that we have … and I think a big part of the question has to be answered by corporations.
“So I’m not going into a corporation to run a division that makes widgets, I’m going into a corporation to run a division that does exactly the kind of work we’re doing at the Urban League.”
In a very modest way, Taylor looks at the change basically as continuing his work in the community … just in another community … doing the same work for the less fortunate. As a native New Yorker, he learned the value of higher education at a young age from his parents both of whom were graduates of Yale University, significant achievements for African Americans of their era. They were tireless community servants and Taylor seemed to have inherited that trait from them – his passion for advancing the causes of the less fortunate.
When asked if the change could be described as an upward mobility thrust, Taylor said, “I would capture it in terms of the ability to impact more lives … change more lives on a larger scale. I think that’s what it’s all about for me. I will be able to impact a lot more lives, a lot more communities. This job has the ability to impact communities all over the country, and even in other parts of the world. What I really believe in my heart is this job is about all about changing people’s lives and that is what I believe is my purpose in this world.”
In commenting the work of Starbucks in the community, Taylor had these words about the company and what they are doing: “I really want to commend Starbucks and Howard Schultz for their deep commitment to for the betterment of communities across the nation and across the globe.”
In his new role at Starbucks, Taylor will be the company’s Chief Community Officer reporting directly to Starbucks CEO and Board Chairman, Howard Schultz; he is scheduled to join the Starbucks senior leadership team in late July 2012.
In a rather lavishly-worded sendoff , Noel Massie, Chair of the League’s Board of Directors and President, UPS Central California District issued the following statement: “We enthusiastically applaud Blair’s decision to take this phenomenal opportunity and join Howard Schultz and the Starbucks team as they endeavor to transform underserved communities on a global scale. The Board thanks Blair for his service. In his seven years as President of the League, Blair has made a discernible impact on our communities in Los Angeles by his tireless advocacy for those unable to do so for themselves, his dedication to our children to gain a global outlook for successful futures, and the visionary creation and implementation of Neighborhoods@Work, our holistic neighborhood change model that has propelled the League to address issues in a 21st Century manner. We wish Blair the best continued success in his new journey.”
And Andre Birotte, U.S. Attorney, Central District of California, who has worked with Taylor said, “He certainly contributed in the tradition of commitment to our community … excellence has always been the hallmark of the Urban League … but he took it to the next level. He has a heartfelt passion for the mission of the Urban League to make sure the communities of color felt empowered … he devoted every waking moment making sure the mission was being accomplished, and I think he leaves a significant imprint on the city, in his seven years here.”
The Sentinel family wishes Taylor and his family the best in all their future endeavors.