Robyn Lake Hamilton, president and CEO of Urban League of the Central Carolinas, wants the organization to have a bigger voice in addressing Charlotte’s issues.
“The Urban League should be the organization that leads the discussion on tough issues that impact our community,” Hamilton told QCity Metro. “We want to be more of a player in advocacy and policy. We want to be an economic development partner in Charlotte’s growth.”
Hamilton was appointed to lead the organization on an interim basis in December 2022 after the departure of Teddy McDaniel, the previous president and CEO. She accepted the permanent role in May.
The Urban League is a nonprofit organization that provides underserved communities with resources and job training. Hamilton said she believes the local Urban League can do more through collaboration with city leaders.
In an interview with QCity Metro, she talked about what the organization is doing in Charlotte and what she hopes it can do moving forward.
Her answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
You took over as interim last December. Where was the organization when you arrived, and where do you see it going?
We’ve been operating similar to most community-based organizations, as opposed to who we are.
The Urban League is an institution that has always been about advocating and equipping underserved communities and improving the quality of life for our community.
The Urban League should be the organization that leads the discussion on tough issues that impact our community.
We want to be more of a player in advocacy and policy. We want to be an economic development partner in Charlotte’s growth. We are getting to that and want to have a seat at the table.
What led to your decision to stay with the Urban League beyond your interim role?
My “aha” moment was in March when the Urban League went to the White House. There we met with political and social leaders. It blew me away when President Joe Biden was in the room.
It made me realize the reach of the Urban League. We have an organization with a brand that can walk into the White House and have coffee with the president of the United States. Urban League is probably undervalued in the state of North Carolina. I think we have some work to do to remind people of the institution’s value and ability.
In an interview last December with the Charlotte Business Journal, you said you want Charlotte companies to “collaborate” with the Urban League on jobs programs. What does that look like, and what progress has been made?
At first, we were doing a lot of great job training, but now it’s important for us to get people quality jobs. We want a greater collaboration with our corporation on how we can build that pipeline of young talent and how we feed that pipeline of young African-American talent.
We also want to ensure the placement of other jobs that may not require a four-year degree.
How has the organization tried to engage with local youth?
For us, it’s all about access and exposure. This was the first time in years that we sent a group to our Urban League headquarters in Houston. They saw NASA and spoke to heads of state, things of that nature. We were excited to get the youth out there and allow them to represent Charlotte.
We plan to invite another group of youth out to the next national conference to participate. That’s another opportunity for us to continue our work with the youth to introduce them to the Urban League. We want them to grow up in the movement.
Urban League also focuses on health. What are some health concerns in the community that you look to address?
We have an initiative called “All In,” a continuation of our work around Covid. Three months ago, we started a campaign about the severity of Covid. We tell people not to get too comfortable about Covid. We continue to work with the CDC to ensure we send out health-related information that will help the community. We want to get as much information out as we can.
If we have to move back to the vaccine movement, we will.
Another issue that is a priority for us is the maternal mortality rate. This seems to be plaguing the African American community at a different level. Folks are having high-risk pregnancies and are dying at childbirth. We want to raise awareness of that issue as well.
You are partnered with the city of Charlotte to run an Alternatives to Violence site. What is the progress of that effort, and what are your plans for the site?
We are in the process of looking for a site supervisor located off Nations Ford Road and Arrowwood intersection. There have been some (crime) hot spots in that area, so we will do our best to address that.
We have yet to identify what we will do. It will all be decided once we do some data-driven research on what is causing crime in that area. What one site is doing in its community may not benefit what we are doing in ours.
What do you look forward to in the future?
We look forward to starting partnerships with organizations on how we attack this learning loss and support the school system.
We have talked to a number of partners, including Stanford University, about what systems we need to put in place to support our local school system.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Crystal Hill, and we talked about some methodology. Urban League is looking forward to being a leader in addressing the learning loss when it comes to the education foundation.
We are also launching an appraisal initiative to address the bias issue in our community. The organization has received funding from Wells Fargo at the national level to diversify the number of appraisers we have. It is very hard to get into this profession, and we are working hard to change that.