Nancy Flake Johnson, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, is an irrepressible, ebullient advocate of the community. When you get to know her, you quickly understand, unequivocally, that community uplift is not just her job; It is her raison d’être. It is her life’s calling. Just talking about the Urban League’s plethora of programs that improves the lives of the dispossessed or disenfranchised causes her to flash that incandescent, 1000-wattage grin that lights up any boardroom – or any community in the ‘hood.’
As such, one of the highlights of Johnson’s year is the 55th Annual Equal Opportunity Day Dinner that is a signature fundraising event of the Urban League. The elegant soiree enables Johnson’s team to do two main things: pay homage to distinguished community advocates, including invaluable partners; and to honor those who have transformed their lives and now reside at enviable perches in society.
Operating under the theme ‘Men of Distinction and Empowerment,’ “this is the opportunity to say thank you to our many supporters, but particularly organizations that share our passion for economic empowerment throughout the greater Atlanta area,” Johnson said.
“This year, we have very distinguished and passionate men in our community that we just want to recognize their work and how their work aligns with the Urban League.”
One of the surprises, Johnson alludes to, is the “Young Men of Distinction” awards portion of the program, where it represents our young men who have engaged in our programs and have really worked hard to turn their lives around and take their lives forward.
Members of the august body of men who are being honored is daunting:
Mayor Kasim Reed: Johnson said Reed was key in helping the Urban League secure a modern space with the Watershed Department in order to help transform the lives of men, ages 16-24.
“This is our opportunity to really say thank you to Mayor Reed and the city for their support. And you know what I like about this story, a person like the mayor has a huge persona that people see often in the community, but they don’t always see the small but significant acts of kindness that are not printed up in the newspaper typically.”
Georgia State University President Dr. Mark Becker: President Becker’s stellar achievements include building a campus that is one of the most diverse in the nation and leading the nation in the graduation rate of students of color at public universities.
David Moody: “He is just a phenomenal individual,” Johnson testifies. “He has overcoming some serious challenges as a child, abuse as a child and how he overcame that and he is now one of the most successful black businesses in our region. So he employs lots of people. The things that he has constructed would blow your mind: hospitals, schools, the stadium.
UPS Foundation President Eduardo Martinez: Mr. Martinez worked his way up in the company to lead the UPS Foundation and its global diversity programs and works with the United Nations on issues including those that have an impact on decreasing poverty. UPS has been a long standing supportive partner of the Urban League Movement.
Dr. Rapheal Warnock: Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church has been praised for his tireless to get men re-acclimated into society after serving time in prison.
“[Warnock] has really stepped up in the last several years to support returning citizens, which is another big space for the Urban League,” Johnson said. “We have a federal reentry grant, supporting 250 adults, pre-released, to go to college and earn occupational skills credentials and GEDS, and earn sustainable-living employment before they are released from prison. That has never been done before in our state and our Urban League has been doing that with the faith based community, like Ebenezer.”
Urban League of Greater Atlanta Guild Volunteer of the Year Col. Don Latson:
Johnson said they will also be honoring two Urban League of Greater Atlant volunteers, one each from their two auxillary programs which augment the Urban League and helps the agency achieve its many objectives, including cleaning up the community, working with seniors, educating youth, etc. One of the honorees, ironically, has the last name Trump. “I’ll have to get together with him to find out the root of that last name,” she said laughing.
Awards dinners aside, looking over the multiplicity of programs that the Urban League of Greater Atlanta conducts at regular intervals is astounding: foreclosure training, computer training, homebuyer training, entrepreneurial training; job readiness training and helping people get connected with employment. There seems to be no end to what the Urban League does.
“But all of those have something in common: they are all about helping people to build their capacity so they can achieve their highest human potential,” Johnson said. “I call it the highest economic and human potential. That’s what it’s all about.”
Now in her ninth year at the helm of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, and currently creating a partnership with the Atlanta Daily World to help tell the Urban League’s stories of success, Johnson said she is just grateful for the opportunity to serve.
“How great it is that in my daily work, I get to do what I have a passion for, and that is help the black community move forward, one person at a time,” she said, emphatically reiterate her gratitude to her staff and volunteers and partners. “And my goal is just to grow the agency so that we can help more people. Despite all the good things that are happening in Atlanta, there are thousands and thousands of people who are not plugged into prosperity. And as long as there is one person like that, it is our responsibility to give them a hand up.”