Urban League Received Its Charter on
February 20, 1968
The Urban League at 50
|Dr. Ruben Anthoy, current CEO (l-r); Edward Lee, current senior vice-president;
Rev. Melva Bishop-Hewing, project coordinator in 1970s and 1980s; Steve
Braungin, former CEO, 1998-2004; Kaleem Caire, former CEO, 2010-2014 and
Candace McDowell, former teacher and occupational
Part 2 of 4
By Jonathan Gramling
50 years ago, on February 20, 1968, the Madison
Urban League — which would eventually be renamed
the Urban League of Greater Madison — received its
charter to become an affiliate of the National Urban
League. The National Urban League was established
in New York City in 1910 to help migrating African
Americans, primarily from the South, adjust to
northern urban life.
As the 1980s approached, the effort to roll back the
gains of the civil rights movement was emerging and
a conservative agenda was being pushed to limit
government and cut taxes, threatening Johnson’s War
on Poverty that funded many of the Urban League’s
programs. During the early 1980s, the Reagan
Administration began to cut government programs by
combining streams of government funding into block
grants and then cutting the overall funding level. In
1983, CETA was replaced by the Job Training
Partnership Act, which encouraged non-profit
agencies to collaborate with businesses while also
cutting the overall funding for employment and training
Rev. Melva Bishop-Hewing (Melva McShan back in the 1980s) was hired at the Urban League in 1978 and stayed for 10 years providing
service in a number of areas. As the funding came and went, Bishop-Hewing held a number of positions including re-integration counselor, job
developer, project coordinator (youth, single teen parents & infants safety project.
True to its mission, the Urban League placed a heavy emphasis on employment and training programs during that time.
“We operated a Heavy Equipment Operating Engineer Program, a Re-Integration Program for Offenders , Clerical Skills Training Programs, Job
Development & Employment Readiness Programs and a Mentoring Program for Teen Parents,” Bishop-Hewing said.
And it was the Urban League’s expertise in employment and training that made the difference.
“I think we had the best job development system,” Bishop-Hewing said. “We were even better than the Employment & Training Association. We
would actually go out and get jobs. We had the kind of relationships with employers where we could advocate and case manage the people
whom we worked with. And I think that was important too. I think people who came to us looking for work knew that if we helped them get a
job, it was about the reputation of not just them, but also of the Urban League. We stood for something.”
During the 1980s, the Urban League issued two reports that revealed the employment and educational disparities that existed. The first was
published in 1982 during James Graham’s tenure as executive director. It was a study, written by Dr. Hazel Symonette, on the residents of
federally-subsidized housing that showed African Americans experienced a much higher unemployment rate than Madisonians as a whole.
In the late 1980s, two studies were published by then Executive Director Betty Franklin-Hammonds and two social work interns that showed
that African American students at Memorial High School had, on average, GPAs that were over 1 point lower than students as a whole. These
reports led to a dramatic increase in MMSD funding for programs targeting African American students and the creation of programs like Project
Also in the 1980s, the Urban League sponsored a Youth Speak Out Day at the old Holiday Inn Southeast to let youth express their concerns.
“A number of the youth felt that they didn’t have a voice,” Bishop-Hewing said. “And one of the things that we wanted to do was allow the youth
to realize that they had a voice in the community to make some decisions and to be heard. And they needed to be heard not just by a parent.
They needed to be heard by law enforcement, government officials and funders of agencies who were giving money to different community-
based agencies. They wanted them to provide services that they needed and they wanted. We had different people from different segments of
the community. Some students organized the effort. Some of them had already determined that they were going to be speakers. But then, we
also had an open mic. We held it at the Holiday Inn Southeast. We had support from the school system that helped provide transportation to the
site. And we had the neighborhood centers provide transportation to the site. It was probably one of the largest efforts that was made at that
time for youth to really have a voice and be heard. At that time, there were a lot of young kids being put in detention for minor things. And there
was a lot of activity happening in the schools. So this was a time for them to be heard.”
Also during the end of the 1980s, the Urban League renovated its facility at 151 E. Gorham Street that it had purchased in 1978. It restored the
exterior of the building to its original historic look and received a local historic preservation award in the process.
When she left the Urban League in 1988, Bishop-Hewing became the director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center in 1989. The Urban
League was a good training ground.
“When I was at the Urban League, we had to manage our own budgets,” Bishop-Hewing said. “It was very important that you knew how to
budget and write proposals. You had to be actively involved in everything that related to your program. You had to be good at quality control
where you are meeting the goals and objectives of your program. That was huge. To me, you didn’t just work at the Urban League. They trained
you how to be an administrator. And if you look at many of the people who worked there and left, they went to be administrators. Everyone one
whom I know who worked at the Urban League, when they left, became administrators somewhere. And that’s because of the training that they
received from the Urban League.”
By the early 1990s, the Urban League was operating a full slate of middle school programs with Project JAMAA and the Pre-Employment
Program. It was also operating the Multicultural Agency Training Program with Centro Hispano and United Refugee Services and Centro
Hispano and an AIDS/HIV Prevention Program with Centro Hispano as well. It was also running the Minority Youth Initiative, (Job) Service
Network Program, Community Advocacy Program, School Age Parents Program, Learnfare Case Management, African American Male
Initiative, Partners in Prevention Project and the Single Family Homeownership Program, a rent-to-own program for income-eligible families.
The Urban League also started to address the digital divide back in the mid 1990s as PC computers came online at an affordable price.
“We started getting more technology,” said Ed Lee who came in as a staff person in Project JAMAA and is now the Urban League’s senior vice-
president. “I remember getting the first computers here with Internet and email. I remember back at the Gorham Street office actually working
with DANEnet. We put two computers in the back corner of the building that were set up to have access to online job boards. Everyone got
their first email addresses at the Urban League. It began to become a much more intricate part of the employment and training programs that
we were operating, starting to teach people computer skills and about email and how to conduct online job searches. That was towards the
later part of the 1990s. We got a punch of donated desk-top IBM PCs in the middle part of the 1990s, around 1996-1997. We got a donation for
everyone who was on staff. We had some folks from the Madison PC Users Group come over and help get that all set up for people.”
The Urban League, which by this time had changed its name to the Urban League of Greater Madison, greatly expanded its focus on education
during the 1990s.
“Project JAMAA became the foundation for Schools of Hope at the middle school level and expanded dramatically from two schools to
eventually 13,” Lee said. “That was a late 1990s deal. What I recall was there were a bunch of things that converged all at once. There was
some desire at the Urban League, some need to expand beyond the two schools that Project JAMAA was running at the time. The Minority
Student Achievement Coalition was formed. That was something that Calvin Williams and Progressive Dane spearheaded. They had done
some work around bringing groups together to look at how after school programs could be more supportive of school district efforts. And then
United Way had formed its Schools of Hope leadership team. All of those things intersected at one point. The stars aligned for the Urban League
to take what was the Project JAMAA program and its experience giving school-based tutoring in partnership with MSCR to create some full-
time positions so that we didn’t have an Urban League staff member trying to run back and forth between 2-3 different schools in a given day. I
think by the end of the 1990s, we had expanded to 6-7 schools in Madison. And in the early 2000s, that continued to grow until we got to the
point where we are at today in 12 schools in three school districts.”
Next issue: 1990s into the 2010s