By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham chapter of the National Urban League (NUL) found itself in the national spotlight during last week’s armchair conversation between Mayor Randall Woodfin and Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C.
Woodfin mentioned the Birmingham chapter and its president and CEO William Barnes several times during a nearly 35-minute conversation with Harris about crucial national and local issues, including voting rights and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Barnes, president and CEO since 2016, said it was an “ecstatic time” for the local chapter.
“The wide range of topics that they were able to cover, not only spoke from a national perspective, but certainly drilled down to the issues that we know that folks face every day here in Birmingham,” said Barnes.
The NUL is an organization which advocates for Civil Rights and economic equality for African Americans and underserved populations in the country. Local affiliates, like the Birmingham chapter, offer direct services to residents in the areas of education, jobs, housing and health.
Having Woodfin in Washington D.C., just after the completion of The World Games 2022, is in line with the “continued upward trajectory” of the city on the move, Barnes said.
“When you think about shining a light on Birmingham, it allows folks to see that we’ve got leadership here that is thinking more globally, that understands these issues, and here locally, are trying to be sure that we’re able to help folks in a way that is informative, based on what we’re seeing on national trends,” Barnes said.
Birmingham holds a unique position as a forward-looking city in Alabama and will continue to be an important voice in the country, he said.
“I think that the continued spotlight that’s been put on Birmingham, being a very progressive city in the state of Alabama, certainly will allow us to continue to be able to inform and provide necessary input on our national policies and issues, so I’m looking forward to ongoing conversations.”
While the Birmingham chapter focuses on the same issues of the NUL, more eyes will be on the city following the recent conference, Barnes said.
“This is not new work for the Urban League, but certainly to have our [mayor] on the national stage certainly increases the visibility of the work that we’re doing here in Birmingham,” Barnes said.
The NUL is focused on making sure “that there’s an equitable society for everyone,” and Woodfin is an important part in that cause, said the chapter president.
“I believe that the mayor has the right spirit, and he’s going to need continued support and help in making sure that we’re able to do that…City Hall can’t do it by itself. I call on the corporate community every day, to be sure that they are looking at the diversity and inclusion spaces,” Barnes said.
Focusing on equity is important because “otherwise, we’re going to have the haves and the have-nots,” he said, “it’s going to continue to be a widening wealth gap, and we’re going to have the same struggles that we’ve always had in the city, where even though there’s growth here, if everyone’s not participating, we’re going to have extremely, extremely deep problems that continue to persist in the city.”
With recent events like The World Games, Barnes said it’s essential that everyone has an “equitable opportunity to participate in any economic boom that happens” in the city.
“Too often, folks are overlooked, so we want to be sure that we are always positioning and sharing that message and doing the necessary work to be sure that everyone can take advantage of it. I do believe that the city of Birmingham will continue to attract high profile types of events. We just want to be sure that we’re extremely focused,” he said.