Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |

The Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) is celebrating its centennial anniversary.

Since 1921, this venerable organization has served and empowered the Black community of Los Angeles through economic uplift, job training, job placement, and education.

The Urban League takes a holistic approach to community empowerment by combining  community engagement, information, and organizing to help their community. 

Building Community

Since 1921, The Los Angeles Urban League has served and empowered the Black community of Los Angeles through economic uplift, job training, job placement, and education. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Urban League)

The Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League which began in Los Angeles in April 1921, organized to ensure community uplift  “by helping to change the social and economic conditions of their environment.” This organization merged with the National Urban League in June 1921, and the Los Angeles Urban League was born.

In  a series of moves to help its constituents, the Los Angeles Urban League joined with a predecessor organization which would later become the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The organization has grown through the years keeping pace with changing times, from owning its own radio broadcast to advocating for change around the social welfare programs which affect the lives of the Black community.

Celebrating Accomplishments

Michael Lawson, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Urban League)

The Black Voice News recently spoke with Michael Lawson, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League. In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about the organization’s centennial year anniversary and the challenges it faces in uncertain times.

According to Lawson, when the Los Angeles Urban League started in April 1921, the National Urban League had been in existence for ten years,  but the focus from that point–and through the years—has always been about economic empowerment. As he explained, however, economic empowerment has many parts. “From entrepreneurial training to infant and maternal mortality issues in our community, it’s a broad spectrum, and we are here to address whatever issues we can, to bring our community up to where it should be.”

He continued, “Basically what we want to do is recreate Greenwood.”  According to Lawson, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma  was not the only Greenwood-like city in the United States.

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The summer of 1919 is referred to as the ‘red summer’ because Whites rioted in places all over the country where Black cities and townships were flourishing at the time. (source: www.archives.gov)

“During the 1900’s through the following years there were many massacres throughout the country. There’s a book that I’m reading now, excuse me I’m finished reading, [that] chronicles the massacres that took place during 1919. They call the summer of 1919 the ‘red summer’ because [there were] so many riots of White citizens just tearing through the cities and townships that were flourishing at the time. The riots occurred because [Black communities] were flourishing.”

Lawson stressed, “Our ultimate goal is to rebuild so that we have our businesses and our citizens buying and selling to and from one another.” This includes, he added, rebuilding an ecosystem that will serve as the foundation of our economic prowess. But that’s our ultimate goal and that’s been the ultimate goal of the Urban League since it began.

Success however is contingent on several factors, Lawson added, pointing for example to the healthcare industry. “That’s why I  mentioned maternal and infant mortality rates.  For Black women and children [it] is so much higher than it is for any other group, regardless of socio- economic status.

“We have to address that,” he stressed. “We have to address issues with respect to housing. We have to address issues  with respect to access to capital, and access to credit and so many other things as well; but they all fit under the umbrella of economic empowerment and that’s been our mantra from day one.”

“You look at education as being a key factor there,” he continued, highlighting how during this pandemic Black students, who are already behind, are falling even further behind, creating a perfect storm of problems.

Many Black households do not have access to Wi-Fi and a number of Black students do not have a home computer. (Source: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies)

“Our communities don’t have the high-speed Wi-Fi you need to learn remotely. A lot of them don’t have the tablets and the computers necessary to be on Zoom calls with the teachers, and [for] a lot of our children, a lot of our families—the parents—are essential workers so they weren’t home to oversee what was going on with respect to their kids.”

The gap between our students and the White population across the country has widened, concluded Lawson. “We have to address that. One of the things we’re doing is setting up independent tutoring sessions, we’re doing a pilot now. The fact is, this is something that not only must be done, we think it is essential.”