When Jay Young moved to Madison in 2008, he wanted to make professional connections in his new hometown. This is often a difficult task, but he knew where to turn.
“I’m originally from Milwaukee and our Urban League in Milwaukee plays a vital role in the African American community,” he says. “My father got his trade through the Urban League back in the ‘60s so that type of continuity and history is important. When you move into a community like Madison as a young black man you’re looking for ties back to your heritage, back to things that were familiar to you and the Urban League is really the only beacon that shines bright for the African Americans in this community.”
Those connections are especially important to young professionals, who may not yet have established ties in the community, or who may simply relate to their heritage and their peers differently than previous generations.
Following the footsteps of its national chapter and the Urban League at large, Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals has created that connection, and has become a force to be reckoned with within the Madison community. YP, as it’s known, has made waves through a variety of outlets such as workshops aimed at workforce readiness, charitable events such as the most recent YP Cabaret, and through the development of a supportive network for young professionals of color looking to make an impact.
The Urban League has been around for 100 years nationally, and the Madison chapter was developed in the 1960s, despite the community’s belief that they didn’t need one. More than 50 years later, the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) continues its mission to promote civil rights and has held the well being of the African American community at its core.
They have ingrained themselves in the fiber of Madison in the face of continual denial of any racial disparities and insistence that Madison is a “tolerant” and “diverse” city. Since the Race to Equity report highlighted the very real disparities, there has been more of a push for an open conversation and less of an ability to dismiss such organizations.
“The report wasn’t new to us. We knew the disparities, the report just gave us the ability to articulate it to those who wouldn’t hear,” says Corinda Rainey-Moore, interim president of the Young Professionals Madison Chapter. “Now people are more apt to open their doors, when before they were more apt to close them. People are more willing to at least engage in the conversation about how to help.”
Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals formed organically in 2010. Immediate Past President and one of the founding members of this chapter, Nia Trammell recalls, “we were tasked with addressing ills in the community so one of the ideas that came up in the group I was in was to start an auxiliary and we explored and found the National Young Professional Chapter. Since then we have supported the Urban League and their philanthropy and volunteerism.”
Trammell says many young professionals of color in Madison feel an absence of a space for them to make a difference. This need drew many of the board members and Young Professional members, including people like Jay Young, who’s now the Marketing and Communications Chair of the group.
Personal and Professional Development Chair LaKendra Adesuyi also sees her involvement with YP as an opportunity to give back. As a professional woman of color she recalls being helped by the Urban League. In 2012, she “jumped on the opportunity” to serve on the YP board. “I thought to myself how dare I not give back to an organization that had done so much for me,” she says. “I want to see that in the people that come into our organization and I want to be that for some of the individuals that are just looking to find their way in Madison and professionally.”
Adesuyi’s area, professional development, is the Young Professionals Chapter’s primary focus. They seek to help with workforce readiness and getting people employed and empowered with the tools they need in order to succeed. This is done through helping them with their interview skills, reviewing some resumes, and putting people in front of employers. This kind of work creates a lot of positivity.
“For what we are doing in the community now I just think there is a lot of opportunity for us to get involved and the networks are growing and I feel good about what we are doing,” says treasurer Renae Sigall. This positivity and hope for Madison’s future in terms of significant civil rights work is refreshing and is another aspect at the core of the Young Professionals Chapter.
“As far as individuals are concerned this is a great opportunity for people to bring their professional skills and work to the movement in general,” says Membership Chair Lauren Rock. “So I know a lot of people will have said we are advancing the movement, what does that mean, what does that look like? And I think it looks like me, it looks like you, it looks like anyone who is passionate about those issues and specifically passionate about those issues in the African American community and other marginalized groups Corinda had alluded to. I know I myself and everyone else around this table bring very unique skills and backgrounds all of us come from different career paths and got engaged in YP in various ways but I think we are all passionate about what it can provide and also very passionate about what we can provide to it.”
The Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals meets the fourth Tuesday of every month.