Columbus Urban League Seeks Repositioning After National Conference
After an exciting and promising 2018 for the Columbus Urban League (CUL), in which it hosted the National Urban League conference and opened a new center, the nonprofit advocacy organization is looking to keep the positive momentum going.
The recently opened Huntington Empowerment Center sits next to the CUL headquarters on Mount Vernon Avenue. Part of the center was funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of the $30-million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant awarded to the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2014. The center is one of several neighborhood-focused plans to come out of the Poindexter Village/Near East Side development plan laid out by PACT.
CUL President and CEO Stephanie Hightower says while underserved and under-resourced communities exist all over Franklin County, the CUL is in a unique position to provide stability to this neighborhood.
“We believe that we are a part of the fabric of the Near East Side,” she says. That’s why it was important to get that building up.”
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Hightower mentions the CUL’s involvement in plans for a mixed-use development planned at the site of the former McNabb Funeral Home. She says the CUL is working with site developer Borror to fill commercial retail spaces with minority-owned businesses in the historically black neighborhood.
“We’re working on … a program to insure that there are people ready,” says Hightower, “that they can [not only] get the business loans and pay their rent, but that they have a viable business that can go into that retail space.”
In 2019, Hightower envisions a repositioning of the organization, which includes establishing a full-time social enterprise for My Brother’s Closet — a Dress for Success-modeled initiative dedicated to providing work attire to men in need.
As a boutique, My Brother’s Closet could employ restored citizens — i.e. ex-offenders — enrolled in other workforce initiatives, says Hightower. “If we’re going to really be those advocates, we need to show folks that we can actually get them ready to go to work,” she says.
And the organization’s homebuyer education and financial empowerment initiatives are increasingly becoming popular, with waiting lists sometimes in the hundreds. While disproportionately high eviction rates remain a focus for city officials, another popular program — the CUL’s Rental and Fair Housing Discrimination Prevention initiative — mediates discussions between landlords and tenants, and provides educational workshops on fair housing laws and regulations.
Hightower looks forward to increasing capacity for these programs, which she says will take more fundraising. The national conference saw the CUL receive a generous $1 million donation; Hightower wants to leverage the gift, and the success of the conference, going forward.
“How do we leverage that and really begin to create a cultural philanthropy here … so that people understand the work that we do?” she says.
In all, while changes take place on the Near East Side, the biggest thing for CUL is creating wealth in underserved communities across Franklin County.
“Poor is poor. I don’t care what color it is or what it looks like. And they’re all over this county,” she says. “The wealth gap is real, the under-resourced people really do exist, even though you do see prosperity throughout the community. We see them come through these doors every day.”
For more information on the Columbus Urban League, visit cul.org.