The Urban League of Greater Atlanta at its core is a civil rights organization. The President and CEO, Nancy Flake Johnson, has fought for affordable housing, equity in lending and voting rights. In an interview with Chief Brand Officer, Dawn Montgomery, Johnson described the nature and scope of her work.
“Our whole focus is to advance African Americans economically. And we do that through a number of holistic approaches,” Johnson said. “People need housing, they need education, they need the skill sets to be able to plug into today’s economy, and make livable wage jobs. And unfortunately, technology and the economy.
And then on top of that, the pandemic and the recession really have created a perfect storm where the need for skills rapidly accelerated far past our ability to keep people current. And so you add on the pandemic, where many individuals without skills have service running jobs, where they’re the lowest paid, and they don’t get paid if they don’t show up. So it’s now really a window of opportunity for people to tap into what their interests are, and we help them map that against this metro area and statewide economy.”
The City of Atlanta has one of the most highly publicized wealth gaps in the United States. According to AtlantaWealthBuilding.org, 70% of Black Atlantans are liquid asset poor, meaning those individuals in that category do not possess items such as bonds, cash, stocks. Conversely, only 22% of Atlanta’s White residents have this issue.
In her interview, Johnson addressed this harrowing dynamic in the post-COVID world.
“So what we’ve got is a tale of two cities, a tale of two states,” Johnson said. “And so Urban League sees ourselves in the middle, our job is to connect with the people who are thriving, and support them to connect with these opportunities, right that are there for them.
So it means education for all and it always comes back to that. But to get to education, you have to have a safe roof, you have to have your basic needs met, because you kind of focus right in order to strive and move forward. And there’s just a lot of families totally, totally unstable right now.”
Johnson recently proposed a $500 a livable wage for certain Atlantans that meet the following qualifications:
- Live in the City of Atlanta
- Be willing to participate in research
- Income up to 200% of the federal poverty level.
- Single without children make up to $25K
- Family of four making up to $53K
To sign-up for consideration in the program, go to: www.ulgacoaimpact.org.
Johnson said the work the Urban League of Greater Atlanta performs is people-driven and they need volunteers who can help bridge the gap and connect those in need with valuable services to get them current and competitive in our city with its dynamic marketplace.
“It’s all about career pathways and small business development,” Johnson said. “We need instructors, we need mentors, we need capital, we need donations, we need all of those things, people and companies and the government. And then we teach people how to manage their money, understand credit and build wealth. There are so many people that have that talent that know how to counsel people on budgeting, and credit score.
And then last but not least, as we make sure everyone understands the importance of civic engagement, and how that’s more than voting for the President of the United States, or even the Senator. We got to vote up and down, politics are local and the people in the seats matter.”
Johnson is planning a transition after fourteen years at the helm of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta. She promises to leave the organization in a better place than she found it. Before she departs, Johnson is working on creating a financial assistance plan for Atlantans that reside on the margins of our community.
“This housing issue has really touched us,” Johnson explained. “We got into the emergency financial assistance business at the very beginning of the pandemic, because we knew the main thing people needed was help with paying bills, rent, and car notes.”
Johnson went on to say she would like to build a farm as well as a Financial Empowerment Center. The Urban League of Atlanta has raised $2.5 million so far and they have another $4 million coming from various sources, according to Johnson.
“ That’s what we are now, and I would like transitional housing, 24 hour daycare, and opportunities for people to upskill attached to it,” Johnson added. “I want our people to be supported every single minute of the day. So that’s my vision.”