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William Barnes: Overseeing a renaissance at the Birmingham Urban League

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William Barnes (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

William Barnes (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)
William Barnes (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

William Barnes has had a busy year at the Birmingham Urban League — and doesn’t intend on slowing down any time soon.

As a former aide to Birmingham Mayor William Bell and current interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Urban League, Barnes is excited about all of the plans in the future.

The League is in “what I would consider a renaissance of sorts in terms of its ability to make a more impactful contribution to the community,” Barnes said.

With school starting back, Barnes said he is excited about a program where certified teachers will help students with additional support and tutoring in their core classes, free of charge.

“Most learning centers cost money to attend and most of the citizens that we work with may not be able to afford for their child to get the additional assistance,” Barnes said. “The goal is to help increase the graduation rate for city school systems, help improve the overall GPA and efficiency of the core subjects, and make sure that they are college- or career-ready.”

They will partner with Parker High School for the school year, he said.

He and his team are also preparing for the State of Black America report which is released in September and compares black communities to white and Hispanic communities.

“The median net worth of a black family is $6,000, for a Hispanic family it’s $7,000; for a white family it’s $116,000,” Barnes said. “There are huge disparities and so much of why the Urban League does what it does is to make sure we help close that disparity gap.”

Barnes said he is passionate about economic equality.

“I’m very interested in the economic empowerment of our people,” Barnes said. “In fact, that was what the Urban League was founded for: to address the economic equality issue in housing to ensure that blacks had access to fair housing and jobs.”

Barnes, 38, a Hooper City native, has called Birmingham home all his life.

With a degree in computer engineering, he used his degree to establish XPC, Inc., a technology firm, in 2001 which he sold 2014.

Barnes has also spearheaded the Hooper City Homeowners Association and was the president of the Hooper City Neighborhood Association from 2002 until 2005.

“Hooper City is home,” Barnes said. “I always had this knack to figure out how we could better serve our folks [in the neighborhood].”

In 2005 he ran for city council for District 9 and came in third. “I was the youngest in the race, so it was like I was just getting my feet wet,”

Barnes came behind Roderick Royal and Leroy Bandy and considered Bandy, who died in May, a great inspiration.

“Watching Mr. Bandy and how his neighborhood and community showered him with love and respected him, inspired me to be a better community activist,” Barnes said. “When you would mention Mr. Bandy’s name the response was always positive.”

Barnes has been married for 10 years to his wife Christe and has a daughter, Aaliyah, 8. His son William Kristopher died at age 8 from a rare blood disease. “He would have been 14 this year,” Barnes said.

Barnes said that he enjoys spending free time at Railroad Park.

“Railroad Park signifies the connection and the bridging of the gap between the haves and have nots,” Barnes said. “It helps to signify tearing down the barriers we’ve faced as a community.”

He hopes that unity can be continued through the city, including in City Hall.

“I do believe the city as a whole could be moving along much further than it is if our city’s leaders would just work together,” Barnes said. “The Urban League is calling for unity; while there has been progress, there could have been so much more had we not had the impasses that we’ve had.”

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