(Brandi Richard is president of the National Urban League Young Professionals, which exists to support the National Urban League affiliates. There are 55 chapters and over 5,000 members. She has a vision for NULYP’s members and chapters and will be in Memphis to keynote “Empowerment Conference 2014” at Hilton Memphis, Aug. 22-23. She shares her experiences as national leader of a group of young, diverse professionals with TSD President and Publisher, Bernal E. Smith II.)
Bernal E. Smith II: Tell us about the Urban League Young Professionals? What is it? Why does it exist (purpose)? How many chapters/members?
Brandi Richards: The National Urban League Young Professionals exists to support National Urban League affiliates through volunteerism, philanthropy and member (leadership) development. NULYP is made up of 55 chapters and over 5,000 members. Our network extends to over 2.5 million individuals on social media. Our members volunteer over 50,000 hours a year and over the past three years have given over $1 million to the Urban League to the affiliate network.
BES: How did you get involved and ultimately how did you ascend to become the National President?
BR: I started my Urban League career as President of the Urban League of Greater Dallas Young Professionals growing the chapter from 12 to over 130 members. After completing a two-year term as President, I ran for Southern Region Vice President and served for two years in that role. During that time I helped to increase the number of chapters from 18 to 25. I then ran for National President in 2011 and served for one two-year term and was re-elected for a second term in 2013 in Philadelphia, Pa. I also serve as a member of the National Urban League Board of Trustees. My term ends in July of 2015.
BES: You are the national leader of a group of young diverse professionals, with that comes a measure of reach and influence. What is your vision, aspirations and goals for NULYP? How do you seek to leverage that reach and influence to affect change both nationally and locally?
BR: My vision for NULYP began with a focus on advocacy training for our members, chapter and organization sustainability, and leadership and professional development. Over the last three years, we’ve honed our focus to develop our leaders into advocates for issues that impact their communities. We are preparing to receive an influx of Millennials into our organization. We expect that by developing them as leaders and providing them with the tools to be successful advocates for the National Urban League’s Empowerment Agenda and 2014 goals, we will ensure real change in our communities.
BES: How important has YP been to extending the brand and work of the NUL? How do NULYP’s work with Marc Morial and team fulfill the mission of the Urban League?
BR: NULYP supports NUL programs like the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, where we organized over 600 individuals to join the march. We coined the phrase “We’ve Got Now” during the march, which has become our hashtag for the year. In 2014, NULYP made up over half of the participants at the annual Legislative Policy Conference and lobbied on behalf of the NUL alongside affiliate CEOs, board chairs, and guild presidents. Created under NUL CEO Hugh Price, NULYP celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. During that time, NULYP has produced six current affiliate president and CEOs, countless Urban League affiliate board members and affiliate staff.
BES: Voter apathy, low graduation rates, rising violence, are issues that are plaguing our communities and particular African-American youth. How can we inspire younger generations to positive action and away from destructive behaviors? With the influence of technology and the free flow of information, do we have the ability to influence the biggest influencers?
BR: Youth need to see young professionals who care about them living, working and serving in their communities. And those professionals need to have a working strategy to transform their communities by increasing voter turnout, improving the education system, making communities safer and the like. Social media has given us great access to our pipeline (young people coming after us), but it does not take the place of building relationships with young people. Many of our members are direct beneficiaries of someone who told us we could achieve more than we believe we could. In addition to being impactful advocates, we also have to be present for our youth in order to overcome the challenges they face.
BES: Some and particularly those of the younger generation question the continued relevance of organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League, SCLC and others. How do you respond to that and what are your thoughts on the continued role of organizations such as the Urban League?
BR: The challenges we face reinforce the relevance of organizations like the National Urban League. Sometimes we as YPs think, “We have done everything we were asked to do. We’ve graduated from college; we’ve managed our finances well and abided by the laws of the land, yet we are still treated differently. Fifty years after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, we are still afraid of being killed in the street without due process of law. The problems we face seem to be beyond the jurisdiction of even the Constitution. They are deeply embedded, learned behaviors that still need to be addressed.”
Our civil rights organizations, members residing in communities across the country, put themselves on the line to support injustice. They are trained and ready to provide support while some of us are at work or supporting our families. I’m proud of the work they do and am happy to support as a volunteer.
BES: What can attendees expect the message from Brandi Richard to be as the keynote for the upcoming Empowerment Conference in Memphis? What are your expectations of the conference? What are your thoughts on the leadership of the Memphis Chapter of NULYP?
BR: The conference will prepare young professionals from Memphis and across the country to lead in a more collaborative way when they return home. President Cynthia Daniels asked me to encourage the attendees to “unite to lead.” YPs can unite to lead by overcoming racial differences and forming leadership coalitions to create sustainable change in our communities. We face too many issues to work in silos. President Cynthia Daniels is an exceptional leader and along with her team has put on a powerful conference, which will train current and future young leaders so they can make Memphis better. Our NULYP family is proud of the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals and will continue to support them in their endeavors.
BES: Tell us about Brandi Richard? What’s your story? Who is Brandi and what does the future hold for you? What’s on your horizon over the next five years?
BR: I am a proud single mother of one exceptional 17-year-old daughter. I’m the first two-term President of NULYP and the first mother. Each door that opened in my life was put in motion by God expressly for me. Right now I am working on a book project to be released next year. Beyond my project and a bright career at the Department of Homeland Security, I am open to see what door God will nudge open next. Until then, I am going to be the best NULYP President I can possibly be.
(The Memphis Urban League Young Professionals is hosting Empowerment Conference 2014 Aug. 22-23 at Hilton Memphis, 939 Ridge Lake Blvd. Special guest speakers include Petya Kirlova-Grady, Jeremy Park, John Carroll, Al Pickett and Sarah Petschonek Brandi Richard, president of the National Urban League Young Professionals, will be the keynote speaker.)