Achieving a century of progress is not easy, but the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) defied the odds by celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Founded in 1921, the heralded organization has made a huge impact for the last 10 decades by promoting business opportunities, training and development and coalition building on behalf of African Americans.
To commemorate the centennial milestone, LAUL kicked-off its speakers panel on February 27, which focused on “100 Years of Black History in Los Angeles.” Michael Lawson, LAUL president/CEO, hosted a panel of community leaders to discuss the status of African American success in both the city and nation and how those efforts assist LAUL’s mission to empower communities and change lives.
The panel featured Pamela Bakewell, COO and executive vice president of The Bakewell Company; Sandra Evers-Manley, vice president of Global Corporate Responsibility at Northrup Grumman and president of the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center; and the Rev. James Lawson, renowned civil rights activist, architect of non-violent protest and pastor emeritus of Holman United Methodist Church. Beverly White, NBC4 reporter, moderated the forum and Ashley McCullough, president of LAUL Young Professionals, facilitated the question and answer session.
White opened the discussion by acknowledging the many accomplishments of LAUL and asking the panelists for ways to sustain and share the organization’s history. Bakewell responded that educating our youth was critical so that “the next generation does not take for granted what we have” in terms of the accomplishments thus far of the Black community.
“In order for the Urban League’s legacy to go on, our young people really have to grab hold of our history and understand it and want to absorb it in order for them to develop their own legacies,” stressed Bakewell. “Young people really need an understanding of the past in order to develop their own strategies.”
LAUL’s Lawson tied the organization’s sustainability to its ability to encourage the support of Black businesses. “Yes, we have to continue doing job training, but we have to move more into entrepreneurship in every area. We want to re-create Greenwood – a Black Wall Street,” he said, referring to the thriving African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was destroyed by Whites in 1921.
“That is our goal. That is our focus. We want a situation where a dollar dropped in our community stays in our community,” Lawson explained. “The example that I use is Koreatown and I have all of the respect in the world for what they have done in Los Angeles. A dollar dropped in Koreatown stays there for 50 days. Our goal is to get back to what our forefathers were already doing with Greenwood and go beyond!”
Diversity, equity and inclusion were the focus of the question posed to Evers-Manley by White, who inquired, “How can LAUL influence better outcomes in corporate America,” in regards to the hiring and promotion of Blacks. Evers-Manley answered that the community must demand that African Americans are among the decision-makers.
“When it comes to promotions, hiring, development and compensation, we have got to make sure that when you see African Americans present, that we are equal in every sense of those jobs as well as salaries. What we need from the Urban League is to make sure that we are present in corporate America and that we hold corporate America accountable when it comes to hiring and investment in our communities, businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions,” insisted Evers-Manley.
The Rev. Lawson urged LAUL to continue to build alliances with other groups to ensure its longevity. Recalling the environment he faced upon coming to L.A. in 1974, the pastor emeritus said he encountered a “multi-racial, inter-generational, multi-credo, multi-political that called itself the Los Angeles Civil Rights Movement and represented a wide swath of people in L.A.,” and the group was united in pushing for change in the city.
“I would say the most important thing is for the Urban League to continue to be a part of such a struggle because the work that still remains to be done, which is a monumental task, cannot be done by any single section of our community. It has to be done by people who believe firmly that ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident,’” the Rev. Lawson said.
He also advised LAUL to imitate the approach that activist Stacy Abrams used during the recent elections in Georgia. “They claimed without any reservation that they were a multi-generational, multi-racial effort with many leaders and many positions, but were going to systematically change Georgia. It’s a good model for what can happen in Los Angeles,” he noted.
The panelists and moderator White commended the Black press for covering the issues that are important to African Americans. Evers-Manley commented, “That’s why the work that the Urban League is doing is so important. We’ve got to have people learning the business of Hollywood and other fields. We’ve got to be in charge of our stories, so we need more individuals working behind the scenes as writers, directors, and cinematographers.”
She continued, “This pandemic has taken a huge toll on our community, especially in the area of education. Sixty percent of our children are not connected to the web. I can’t get that story told in Hollywood, but I can in the Black press like the Sentinel.”
Bakewell, who is also COO of the L.A. Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times, remarked, “We’re in the business of telling stories about our own community and I can’t say enough about having the support of groups like the Urban League and people like Rev. Lawson. We’re partners in this struggle to shine a light upon the achievements of our community. We’re a Black community family and as long as we stick together, we’re going to be stronger.”
LAUL’s Lawson said the organization would present more speaker series throughout the year. In addition, he took time to thank the sponsors of the series, who included NBC4, CIT Bank, Banc of California, LISC Los Angeles, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, L.A. Sentinel, Bank of America, Union Bank and the California Endowment.
“We also want to acknowledge Ford, Cedars Sinai, Sempra and Wells Fargo, who provided emergency assistance to 80 Black-owned businesses over the past 11 months. Without this assistance, many of these businesses would not have survived the pandemic,” said Lawson.
“I am blessed to be in this position. I’m standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before me – John Mack, Floyd Covington – and those that started the LAUL in 1921. The importance of the Urban League cannot be overstated,” he added.
“We have been involved in rebuilding coalitions because we know we can’t do it alone. We have a lean staff, but everyone works so incredibly hard. We also partner with other organizations, not just African American groups, because all of us need to grow together. We are developing relationships to the benefit of our community.” Visit laul.org to learn more about the Los Angeles Urban League or to view “100 Years of Black History in Los Angeles.”