Entrepreneurship Empowerment Camp // The Urban League I know

By Jerome Robinson

I remember in my early twenties seeing the Memphis Urban League for the first time.  I had no idea what it was or what it was about. It was there in my thirties, it was still there in my forties, and now I am fifty-one and I got a call to work on something for the Memphis Urban League.  I had no idea how to get started.  I knew nothing about them.  I googled them and I still didn’t learn much.  I got to meet the board of directors and the executive director and while they all seemed like really nice people, I still could not figure out who they really were.  Several race related issues hit the news and I expected to see someone from the Urban League in the news taking a stand, but that didn’t happen.  People around me talked and would give their opinions of what the Urban League was doing or in most cases not doing.  I sat down one day with executive director Tonja Sesley-Baymon and in my overly transparent way, I shared way to much of my personal story with her.  Tonja had a wall up around her, she seemed a little disconnected.  So I was starting to ask myself, who really is the Memphis Urban League and what do they do?

The JustMyMemphis Fun Crew started working on a new website for the organization and we shot some short videos to help promote them.  I was not there for the shoot, so while watching an interview of Tonja Sesley-Baymon I saw something I had not seen before.  Her “Why” showed up.  She had lost her brother.  He needed help, he wanted help, but ultimately he did not find the help he was looking for and as a result Tonja lost a brother, the community lost the gifts this young man was yet to share, and our city lost another piece of its soul.  But for Tonja, his lost would create a power that lives on today not just in her but in the Memphis Urban League.  For me, this was the moment I learned who and what the Urban League was all about.  So I went to work, looking for for stories to share about the work being done.  I had not seen the impact yet but now every time I step in their office I feel it.  There is a spirit of growth and development of those without voices, without hopes, and without directions.

 

The Fun Crew went behind the scenes of a program Mr. Barry Jackson had been working on.  Barry is the Workforce Economics & Development Specialist – Save Our Sons Facilitator for the Memphis Urban League and graduation was coming up for his Youth Entrepreneurship Empowerment program.
We spent a couple days at the Urban League headquarters just capturing what was going on with this group of young people that had devoted their summer to learning how to be entrepreneurs instead of just a summer of school break.  I wasn’t there to see the program in person.  The Fun Crew was though and the video below is the result.  I have to tell you, I am a fairly emotional guy at times.  My heart takes over and then come the tears.  I missed the lesson that guys don’t cry!  So when I saw this video for the first time, yes I got a little emotional.

 

Young Entrepreneurship Empowerment Camp

This was the Urban League I know.  The work they do is changing lives, but almost no one could see that.  Not because it wasn’t being done.  But because our city, our communities, our world is so focused on the negative.  We are focused on talking about what isn’t getting done and as a result we miss the positive stuff happening right in front of us.  The young people that came to the Youth Entrepreneurship Empowerment Camp are talented young people but without the hope and polish and promise given to youth of other communities.  But at the Memphis Urban League these youth got coaching, training, styling, and then put in the spotlight.  The goal was to show them just a little of what is possible.  Give them a spark and allow it to blaze up into an amazing future.  This is the Memphis Urban League I know.  This is the organization that has been serving our city for 75 years.  I hope all of Memphis will look around and find ways to help support organizations like the Urban League.

At JustMyMemphis, the Fun Crew started asking this question one night over drinks, Whats Your Story?  Once I decided to ask that question of the Memphis Urban League, I realized that while we were not paying attention this organization was at the work of helping individuals and communities reach their full potential.  This is what a #BeAmazing organization looks like and I am so proud I get to help them in at least a small way!

Michael P. McMillan

President and Chief Executive Officer

Michael P. McMillan is the President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been providing social services to the metropolitan St. Louis community since 1918. The Urban League is the largest affiliate of the National Urban League movement, headquartered in New York City. The Urban League’s mission is “to assist African Americans and others throughout the region in securing economic self-reliance, social equality and civil rights.” Each year, the Urban League serves more than 100,000 residents with economic opportunity, educational
excellence, community empowerment, civil rights and advocacy programs. As an advocate for social and economic parity, McMillan speaks on behalf of Urban League constituents.
In response to the crisis in Ferguson, McMillan created the Save Our Sons program in St. Louis County to help 500 African-American men and others find jobs and wrap-around services. He recently opened the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center in partnership with the Salvation Army Midland Division.

This center houses the Save Our Sons program in addition to programs offered by the Salvation Army, Lutheran Hope Center and the University of Missouri Extension. In 2017, McMillan and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis hosted the largest National Urban League Conference in the history of the movement with nearly 25,000 in attendance.
Previously for almost seven years, McMillan served as the License Collector of the City of St. Louis, administering an annual budget of over $60 million. Prior to serving as License Collector, McMillan was Alderman of the 19th Ward for a decade supporting $1.25 billion in economic development and neighborhood revitalization. He was the youngest person elected as an Alderman and License Collector in the history of the City of St. Louis.
McMillan has received over 150 awards and commendations from various organizations and was recognized as one of the Ebony Power 100 Most Influential African Americans in the United States. Additionally, he
is a member of the International Civic Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta and a recipient of the 2013 Trumpet Award for Community Service; the Whitney M. Young and the John Mack Leadership Awards from the National Urban League; an Honorary Doctorate from Webster University; Chairman’s Award presented by the St. Louis Minority Supplier Development Council; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montford Point Marines and for the Salute to Women in Leadership Awards program.
McMillan is a member of 15 Boards of Directors including Children’s Hospital, Reliance Bank, The St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Regional Chamber, The Sheldon, Grand Center, Ranken Technical College, Heat Up St. Louis, Inc. (Cool Down St. Louis), The St. Louis Community Foundation, The DESE Task Force, The Muny, Greater St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the Workforce Investment Board of St. Louis County.
Michael P. McMillan is a graduate of Saint Louis University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies and a minor in Political Science with an emphasis on Finance. Additionally, McMillan
is an Eisenhower International Fellow and an alumnus of the American Council of Young Political Leaders

Countdown To The Annual Empowerment Luncheon

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