The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis helps families survive, then thrive.
“Most people don’t know what the Urban League does,” admitted Tom Bailey, Jr., Vice President of Development for the Urban League.
He recounted how a Black activist and a white philanthropist founded The National Urban League in New York City in 1910. Then, he explained how the group continues to help African Americans nearly a thousand miles away and more than a hundred years later in St. Louis.
The St. Louis office recently bought the Old Sears Building on North Kingshighway near Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The building that once held various small businesses and unrelated organizations is now a hub with nearly 20 service centers in Missouri and Ilinois.
“This is a special time to be at the Urban League.”
“Save our Sisters was created specifically to empower African American women and others due to mass incarceration of African American males,” Bailey explained. “How are you going to manage a family, and the husband is not here because he is in jail?”
The program offers job training, resume building, and interview readiness. The space also looks like a boutique. Neiman Marcus, Urban League board members, and the community donated suits, pants, skirts, jackets and accessories for work.
Getting these services to women takes a lot of money. Bailey thanked a big business for cutting a big check.
“U.S. Bank just made a $1.5 million contribution to the Urban League, and they said, ‘We want you to make sure the bulk of those dollars go to the Save Our Sisters Program,’” Bailey said. “In fact, they bought naming rights to be there. That’s just how important they feel that women are in the whole context of having a progressive community being developed.”
The Urban League launched the Save Our Sons program in direct response to research done after the police-killing of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
“[Urban League St. Louis President and CEO] Mike McMillan shared, the number one thing that needed to be done was helping [men] get gainful employment.”
Save Our Sons dedicated an entire room to business menswear. Men can also find resume building, networking and support.
“We’ve been able to generate 168 major corporations who have bought in to help us get African American males and others employed.”
Bailey added that Urban League branches in Portland, Ore., Indianapolis, Memphis, and Houston took notice and wanted to know more about Save Our Sons in St. Louis
Thrivent is a Fortune 500 financial-services firm. After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Urban League held frequent and massive food distribution events to help affected families. Bailey credited media coverage for putting the Urban League on the radar for Thrivent.
Thrivent sent volunteers for the distribution events and $30,000 to the Urban Expo Back-to-School event. Then, executives made a request that would give the company one of the first physical presences in a Black community.
“’Can we talk to you about having some space in the building?’” Bailey remembered. “And that is how that came to pass.”
Now, when neighbors come for job training on the second floor and food from the pantry on the first floor, they can stop by the Thrivent office to plan investments for their financial futures.
“For me, it fits what I’ve always wanted to which is to help Black people.”
Bailey joined the Urban League in 2016.
Today, Tom Bailey continues building new relationships that also build a pipeline for neighbors to cross from day-to-day survival to planning for their futures.
“What I like about being here is the opportunity to help people make a major change in their lives, to help them get better educated, to help them get more income, to help them do a better job of raising their families. That means something to me.”
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis offers many more services. Learn more by calling 211.