National Urban League official says Columbus affiliate moving in right direction

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2013 

The National Urban League is committed to maintaining an affiliate in Columbus and will do everything in its power to help local leaders get the organization back on track, a national official said Thursday.

Herman Lessard, senior vice president of affiliate services for the national organization headquartered in New York, made his comments after conducting board training for members of the organization’s newly elected transitional board. The training, held at the Government Center, was followed by an installation and swearing-in ceremony of about 30 board members and officers, who were sworn in by Superior Court Judge Gil McBride.

Lessard told the group that he was impressed with the new leadership of the local affiliate, which represented a cross-section of backgrounds that could move the organization in the right direction. The areas of expertise include administration, finance, fund development, marketing and communication, and programs, he said earlier in an interview.

Lessard said the Urban League, which aims to empower the economically disadvantaged, has 95 affiliates in 35 states, including the District of Columbia. But only two are located in Georgia, the second being in Atlanta, and that’s why maintaining the local affiliate is so important.

“The National Urban League feels very strongly that we need to keep a footprint in the Columbus community,” he said. “And that’s why you have the commitment of the National Urban League to work along with you, the new transitional board, as you develop the concept, the mechanism to fine tune the leadership.”

Susan Cooper, chair of the newly elected board, said the new leaders will move forward in unity.

“In everything we do, there is no I or me,” she said. “It’s just us, and we will move the organization forward.”

In an interview, Lessard said it was his third trip to Columbus since the organization’s most recent president Reginald Pugh resigned in August. Since then, the organization has been in shambles due to political divisions in the African-American community, along with funding shortages, that left the organization in turmoil.

Lessard said services provided by the Urban League are suspend while the organization regroups. He said the focus over the next few months will be to determine what services are needed in the community, build support and collaboration. He said a national search will begin for a new president and CEO only after the local organization has regained its footing, a process that could take up to six months.

“The National Urban League will be working along with the transitional board, monitoring its activities and looking at the direction it’s going into,” he said.

When asked how the local organization got off track, Lessard said: “I think the leadership lost the focus of the organization.” He also said it’s important for the CEO and board to have a strong partnership, and he believes that contributed to the organization’s recent strife. But he’s confident that the organization is in a position now to make progress.

“We’ve had maybe a couple of affiliates who had a similar situation,” he said. “But this is one that I would say has the right flavor in the room to move this agency forward. They know the history and I think they also understand the vision for the future.”

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