Milwaukee Urban League

By Britney Donald

The Milwaukee Urban League’s goal is to empower youth and adults by giving them the tools and resources necessary to transition into a working member of society.

The Milwaukee Urban League is a nonprofit organization that began in 1919.

The organization not only reached out to African American youth and adults but anyone of color.

What makes the Milwaukee Urban League unique is the fact that they are one of the oldest urban leagues in the country.

Located in New York City, the National Urban League was founded in 1910 by African Americans who were primarily moving from the south to the north in search of a better way of life.

As that transition took place, there were a number of issues that occurred such as housing, education, employment and discrimination.

To combat those issues, The Milwaukee Urban League taught skills such as social interactions, proper dress and grooming, health and homemaking.

Keeping those traditions in mind, MUL has also transitioned into a community center for youth and where holiday parties and recreational activities take place.

Ralph Hollmon, the current President and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League, has expanded on the organization’s goals in terms of helping the community.

“We want to assist a broad cross section of our community,” Hollmon said.

“We want to work with adults, students and children.

We feel that those three have a significant impact on a person’s or family quality of life.”

There are three primary goals of MUL which are education, employment and economic development.

“Through our education, employment and economic development, we try to help people develop the skills and resources so they can become self sufficient.” Hollmon said in reference to adults and youth.

In regards to education, MUL primarily focuses on helping youth transition to college by providing scholarship opportunities and conducting workshops within MPS and charter schools.

Working with students from middle school through college, Hollmon has various programs set in place to help youth not only stay in school but complete school as well.

“We have a college preparation program that helps young people get into a college and also help them with scholarships and financial aid,” Hollmon said.

“Primarily, we help them with the application process and the identification of existing scholarships.”

Hollmon depends on his staff to take time to research on what scholarships are available, the types of scholarships including eligibility and how students can apply.

“We want our young people to graduate from high school and then go on to college or some kind of post-secondary education,” Hollmon said.

cMUL are co-sponsors of the Annual Black Excellence Program held every February.

The program recognizes various young people within the community for their contribution to society and their community service.

MUL also works with the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation where several different scholarships have been received by MUL students. “It’s the highlight of our year,” Hollmon said.

In order to reach out to as many youth as possible, MUL works alongside MPS and charter choice school. A big program that MUL supports is the National Achievement Society Program. For the last several years, MUL has contributed laptops and computers to a couple hundred seniors who are college bound, provided that they have retained a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Hollmon and his staff do all that they can to support young people.

“We are in a complex, global society and if young people are not prepared academically and have a good education, they will not be able to compete for the jobs that exist in the 21st century.”

The second goal Hollmon focuses on is employment among adults by incorporating two types of services, the Employment Assistance Program and the Driver’s License Assessment Program.

EAP offers training to those have a desire to work in the professional field while the DLAP provides a chance to reinstate driving privileges.

MUL’s top priority is to help people prepare for a job and find a job that supports a livable wage. “People will just walk in and say they need help looking for a job,” Hollmon said.

The process for seeking employment through the organization involves working with their employment specialists.

The employment specialists will then do an assessment on that person’s background, interests, skills and abilities.

“That information is really important in helping a person find the job suited for them,” Hollmon said.

MUL provides as much organized help as possible but there are few barriers that prevent plans from being carried out completely.

“One of the challenges we face is helping people to overcome some of the barriers so that they will be more marketable towards employers,” Hollmon said.

Hollmon encounters major yet common barriers such as people losing their driver’s license, those with a criminal record or have not completed high school.

“We’ve had people who cannot pass the drug test,” Hollmon said. “Many employers today do random drug tests.”

Hollmon noticed the trends between companies where drug tests will take place before an applicant t is hired, randomly or shortly after being hired.

To prevent such cases among adults, Hollmon and his staff have a network of companies to work with.

“Depending on the issue, we refer them (the applying adults) to the local connections. Everything is local.”

The last primary focus is helping adults reach a higher form of economic independence and development. “We want to try and generate more wealth in our community,” Hollmon said.

“One of the best ways is to have a strong, vibrant African American business. Strong African American business can help to generate wealth, create jobs and stabilize neighborhoods.”

MUL works with two types of people who want to succeed in business, the entrepreneur and those who want to work for other employers.

“We try to give them basic information as to how to start up a business and make it successful,” Hollmon said.

“For an existing business that wants to grow stronger, we try to assist them with their goals. We work with the SBA, Small Business Administration here in Milwaukee to provide resources and technical assistance.”

MUL also works with several banks including big names like US Bank, Associated Bank, Park Bank, BMO Harris Bank and PNC Bank.

A disturbing trend Hollmon has noticed is the crime rate in Milwaukee, specifically the increase in gun violence.

“As we work on our programs, we are also very concerned about other issues about our community,” Hollmon said.

“What we are very concerned about now is the increase in the gun violence that is really having a negative impact on parts of our community.”

According to the Milwaukee Crime Statistics Report, crime rate in 2010 was significantly higher than the national violent crime rate average by 158.77%. Total incidents in 2010 were 37, 781 compared to 2014 was predicted to be 37, 208. That is a 1.5% decrease in crime.

MUL is working towards finding more solutions to further decrease the crime. There have been efforts to work with local police departments and even Mayor Tom Barrett regarding solutions.

“We don’t want the first contact between our young people and the police to be negative,” Hollmon said.

“We, as a collective community, have to come together.”

Despite the negative actions Hollmon has seen, he also continues to witness success stories among his staff and former students.

“We have been able to help our students get a $1000 from the Milwaukee Brewer’s scholarship,” Hollmon said.

“We cannot help everybody but when you help someone succeed in their goals, it really makes you feel good.”