International Clash Day: Spotlight on Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

Community Engagement, International Clash Day
Alina Santillan

Because The Clash was anti-racist, anti-fear, pro-solidarity, pro-unity, pro-inclusion, KEXP is taking time to spotlight local social-justice organizations making a difference in our community. This is a public service announcement with GUITARS.

Today, we're spotlighting Urban League Of Metropolitan Seattle. KEXP's Community Engagement Coordinator Alina Santillan spoke with Felisa Bryant, Career Bridge Program Manager, and Orlando Ames, Program Manager of Education for their program Level Up. 

KEXP: Can you tell us a little bit about what the Urban League does? 

Bryant: The National Urban League was founded in 1910 with the mission to empower African-Americans and underserved communities to thrive by securing educational and economic opportunities for all with the vision to provide equity for all. Specifically, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle was established in 1929, and the organization's primary focus is on education in youth, economic empowerment, health and quality of life, civic engagement, civil rights, and racial equality. Our 2020 Vision encompasses five key areas of support to our community which is to heal, train, nurture, connect and shelter.

That is a big job. That's so big. How can people support the work that the Urban League is doing? 

Bryant: Businesses and other organizations and individuals can help support the work of the Urban League in several ways. Monetary donations are always welcome through the ULMS Fund which is the acronym for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which allows us to continue and expand upon the services that we are currently offering. Volunteering through our several different programs, which Orlando and I will talk about also, is also another way to help support the work of the Urban League. And always, always, always advocating for equality among all is also another big way to support the work of the Urban League. 

Do you want to expand more on the different programs that the Urban League has? 

Bryant: Yes, we'd love to! I'll talk specifically about the Workforce Development Department, as well as the Housing Department, and then Orlando will talk about the Education Department. So, the Workforce Development Department is actually comprised of four different programs. That's the Career Bridge Program, Career Bridge Advantage, Priority Hire and the Urban Tech Program. Career Bridge and Career Bridge advantage are programs designed to help individuals with multiple barriers to access education, employment, and economic career path opportunities in order to improve their quality of life. The goal of this effort is to create an integrated system that prepares individuals and increases access to jobs and training needed to attain good paying jobs that provide a pathway to longer-term careers and economic opportunities. Both of these programs provide services such as instant job development services, mock job interviews, resume development, exposure to hiring events and career fairs, and obtaining of basic credentials such as government IDs and Social Security cards. The Priority Hire program was enacted in 2015 to prioritize individuals for recruitment, training, and employment into the construction workforce by coordinating with contractors and union dispatch, pre-apprenticeship programs and apprenticeships, and apprenticeship on the job paid training programs to provide priority to those who live in economically distressed areas. Priority Hire impacts community-based organizations and pre-apprenticeship programs through supportive services to community members in economically distressed areas which provide pathways and removal of barriers that may be work or personal related. These barriers range from soft skills training, drivers relicensing, housing, to certification training. Removing such barriers allows clients to be work ready and gives them the pathway to new beginnings or a second chance in life. The Urban Tech Jobs Program is a technology training program that is exclusively designed for unemployed adults. Urban Tech includes job readiness and resiliency workshops, certificate or license bonding technology training classes, and paid work-based training. After graduating, participants will be able to compete for jobs in a high-demand and growing industry. So, that is basically our Workforce Department in a whole. Our Housing Department provides education in reverse mortgage counseling and first-time homebuyers assistance. They also offer foreclosure prevention and mediation, credit and budgeting, and education on expungement of criminal records. And Orlando will speak on the Education Department. 

Ames: Under our Education Department we have two programs. One of them is called Level Up, which is a culturally competent transformational process set in place to provide young men and women scholars between the ages of 12 and 18 additional academic support, personal development, financial literacy, mentorship, and advocacy. During the school hours Level Up staff will begin and will connect with counselors, teachers, and coaches to identify students that exhibit signs of trauma, behavior, attendance or grades. We focus on rectifying the situations that they're dealing with. We are in the schools during school hours and after school, and one of our other programs is called Groom, which is the acronym is Gifted Regardless Of Oppressive Methods, and it's an advocating program for youth and young adults in King County who are either justice involved or at risk of justice involvement. They provide an enriching curriculum using the Credible Messenger Model and group mentorship. The goal is to decrease negative law enforcement contact and justice involvement for youth participating in the program. It's really a strong, community-based program, and the process has been tremendous. 

You guys are doing such amazing work, and I'm so excited about that. And the Urban League is centered in the Central District, right? 

Ames: Yes, it is. It's on 14th and Yesler. 

When you're talking about justice involvement and youth, that's a really big conversation happening in Seattle. How can music, or art in general, be used as a form of social justice? 

Ames: I believe that it allows... it gives a voice to the voiceless because sometimes people can't readily express themselves through the painting of art but through music, they're able to express themselves verbally what they might not say in a normal setting. 

What about you, Felisa? What do you think? 

Bryant: I pretty much agree with what Orlando had said. You know, there are times where individuals, they can't express themselves in the written form, so they'd turn to music or to art as a way of being able to get out what's inside. So it's a very valuable tool to communicate. 

Have there been artists for you that have had a positive impact on your life or have changed your life in a way that stands out? 

Bryant: I would say yes, but I kind of answer this question in a different way because, in my opinion, I believe that artists can come in many different forms. One artist to me that I consider an artist is Les Brown, and he's actually a motivational speaker. And, as we go through life, mistakes are made. Failures happen. Sometimes we even fall. But it's not the mistakes that happen that we as individuals should focus on. It is what happens after we fall that is most important. How do we handle failure? Do we just roll over and allow for our mistakes to consume us? Or do we dust ourselves off, learn from the mistake, make an adjustment and keep pushing forward? The model that I like to live my life by was written by Les Brown, and I paraphrase: If we must fall, make sure that you fall looking up because if you can look up, you can get up. 

What about you, Orlando? 

Ames: So, for me, there were quite a few different artists that I'd taken hold of. One of them, they consider very controversial. Minister Louis Farrakhan, who allowed me to, through learning from his experience about growing up and actually being a man, versus acting like a man. And then, my father, who demonstrated a man and a father at all times. And then, there is Miss Maya Angelou. She has a poem that's just one nice verse that either I use every day. It says: I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it. 

If we could drop these mics right now that would have been a mic-dropping moment, but we can't. Miss Angelou was a very wise woman, and that's really powerful. That's so powerful. I think I need to look in the mirror and say that to myself in the morning, too. 

Ames: For me, it's because, in spite of whatever circumstances or situations you find yourself in, they can define you up to a point, but you don't let it diminish who you are. You can utilize it to rise and shine. 

Yeah, and what you're talking about specifically, I mean, it is connected to all the work that the Urban League does. When I'm thinking about juvenile justice and transformative justice and ending that school to prison pipeline, that is just such a powerful thing for young people to hear. How are we, as adults, standing with those young people and advocating for them? I think a lot of times advocating is listening because we don't listen to young people enough. A lot of times they have the best ideas, and discounting that experience of what you're seeing is really powerful in that juvenile justice piece that the Urban League is working on for sure. 

Ames: We are currently in four schools: Rainier Beach High School, Cleveland High School, Franklin High School, and the Green Dot Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. So we are busy. 

Is there anything else that you want to mention or talk about the Urban League? 

Bryant: Yes, we do have a couple of events coming up. Currently, right now, we are enrolling for our Career Bridge Program. And, as I said, it's a job readiness training program. Our next class that we are accepting applications for does start in March. So, you know, come on down to the Urban League and sign up for that. We also are in the process of putting together a Job Fair and Career and Resource Fair, which will actually be held in May. I apologize I don't have the exact date for that, but it definitely will be in May, and it will be at the ShoWare Center, so make sure to save that date when it does come out. 


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