TAMPA — Maybe the second time around will be sweeter for the Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League.
At least, that’s the goal of a sponsoring committee that has quietly laid the foundation for the civil rights organization’s return.
Founded in 1922, the local affiliate of the New York City-based National Urban League was crippled by financial woes related to the renovations of its offices, a historic West Tampa building, before disbanding in 2006.
Whispers of its return began almost immediately, as did talk of putting the Tampa affiliate under the auspices of the thriving Pinellas County Urban League. But it didn’t near fruition until earlier this summer when a group from the national headquarters visited the area and listened to an assessment that made the case for reviving the affiliate in Tampa, said businessman Stanley Gray.
Gray has been spearheading the efforts to bring the affiliate back, working with a committee that includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and attorney Ron Weaver.
While the assessment of the area’s needs was strong, it was the visit to the county’s predominantly African-American communities that sealed the deal, Gray said.
"There were two things that jumped out: there were no doctor’s offices and no grocery stores," he said. "They took all of this into account and gave us permission to do what we had to do."
The first step was narrowing down the sponsoring committee’s focus on three areas: education, job training, and healthcare, Miller said.
With that criteria established, the committee now prepares to host townhall meetings next year to engage in discussion with the public and develop programming related to those areas, he said.
While there are established organizations that address those needs individually, the Urban League was founded on providing direct services in those areas under one umbrella, Weaver said.
Eventually, the sponsoring committee soon will give way to a formal board of directors. But the hire of a chief operating officer remains a ways off, Miller said.
"We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it," he said.
Another task ahead of the committee is establishing sources of funding for the affiliate, Miller said.
The national office requires the affiliate have a three-year budget of at least $1.5 million. Talks with corporate and other sponsors are underway and so is the pursuit of grants.
Building up a budget will require affiliate officials to engage in social entrepreneurship along with the more traditional tactics of fundraising to get buy-in from the community, Gray said.
"We have to show value," he said.
Ultimately, the group hopes to not only restore the chapter, but elevate it to a new level. The legendary Benjamin Mays, who came here to lead the League in 1926, once wrote, "Tampa was not the city of our dreams."
Said Weaver: "We owe Benjamin Mays and his thousand brave visionaries for social and economic justice, through the Urban League, a level playing field, and a robust revival of our renewed efforts finally making Tampa and Hillsborough County the city and county of their dreams."
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]