In my time as a Portlander, one of the most rewarding of my efforts has been my past year of service as Chair of the Board for the Urban League of Portland. Few experiences that I've had here have taught me as much about the kind of city that Portland is, and no experience has made me feel more like a Portlander at heart.
The Urban League is an organization that is hardwired into seemingly every distinct community in Portland. Its members and leaders are drawn from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and comprise a cross-section of nearly every racial, ethnic, and cultural group in our city. This diverse collection of citizens is united around one, broad objective: to elevate the economic, educational, and social condition of our entire city. And I am happy to say that over the past year, the league added significantly to both its individual and corporate membership.
The Urban League has much to be proud of these days. In the arena of education, our primary area of interest, the Urban League's programs have shown categorical improvements in student attendance, test scores, grades, and — most significantly — a 100 percent graduation rate for all participating high school seniors over the past two years. Our team of Portland Public Schools-certified academic coaches continued their fine work with local young people, helping 60 percent of their charges to increase their grade point averages, with 40 percent posting significant GPA increases, sometimes as much as 50 percent. The League's foundation has been an outstanding partner with our city's public education system, at every level from pre-school through high school and beyond.
Safeguarding the respected elders of our community has been a focus since its inception, and this past year was no different. Through our Senior Center in Northeast Portland, as well as through ongoing outreach and advocacy, the Urban League has helped area seniors to live empowered, independent lives. These efforts have helped our seniors with energy assistance during the winter months, with transportation around the metro area, and with a wide-ranging slate of enriching activities, classes, and trips.
Finally, the Urban League has been in the vanguard of the continuing effort to advance the causes of civil rights, social justice and economic empowerment. The League's leadership worked closely with state legislators during the 2007 session to identify legislative priorities for the underserved populations of Portland and beyond. At the local level, the league continues to advocate for enlightened policies that benefit the less fortunate, including reducing tobacco advertising in low-income communities, protesting against county budget cuts to social programs, and working to retain funding for senior services.
Simply put, there is no better advocate in Portland for people of color, particularly African Americans, than the Urban League. On many of the pernicious problems that continue to trouble our society — unequal treatment for Driving While Black or Getting a Home Loan While Black, for example — the League continues to lead the way toward greater tolerance and understanding. As long as the struggle continues, the Urban League will be there.
But however much good work the Urban League carries out, with additional resources — both financial and human — we can do even more. While my term as Board Chair is coming to a close, my efforts on behalf of the League will continue, and hope you will join me. I urge everyone to get involved with the Urban League – make a donation, volunteer your time, and help advance the cause of liberty and justice for all.
Algie C. Gatewood, Ed.D., outgoing Chair of the Board for the Urban League of Portland, is president of Portland Community College's Cascade Campus.