Last month Clarence Hightower, Minneapolis Urban League’s president and chief executive officer announced his resignation. Hightower is stepping down at the end of this month after 10 years at its helm, and began a new job as executive director of the Community Action Program of Ramsey and Washington counties on July 31.
“The Board of Directors is deeply saddened by the resignation of Clarence Hightower,” MUL Board of Directors Chair Clayton Tyler said in a written statement. “He has been an able steward of the Urban League … and has achieved many great accomplishments, among them an outstandingly successful capital campaign.”
In 1998, MUL’s net assets amounted to $3.28 million. In the organization’s 2006 – 990 form, MUL reported assets almost quadrupled to $11.03 million. Their annual budget has more than doubled since 1998, when Hightower came on board, growing to $6.2 million. His legacy includes the completion of two flagship service centers. The main offices are housed in the Glover Sudduth Center for Economic Development and Urban Affairs on 2100 Plymouth Avenue N. Its massive square footage offers varied tenant space and state-of-the-art meeting rooms. In south Minneapolis, the Sharon Sayles-Belton Community Services Center at 411 East 38th Street houses employees dispensing varied support programs for area residents as well as a place for the community to gather.
Since its inception in 1926, the Minnesota Urban League has led the region in improving inter-racial relations. In a book soon to be published by the St. Paul NAACP, Crusaders of Justice, writer Arthur McWatt chronicles trailblazing efforts made by the Twin Cities Urban League (the St. Paul and Minneapolis branches were combined in the early years) to secure employment opportunities and ensure just treatment for its constituents.
“The (first) decade also brought the Twin Cities their first Urban League which was to champion the cause of widening employment opportunities and social progress for both cities,” says McWatt. An example of this is found in their first year as the Twin City branch. They found 240 jobs for blacks in need. In their first four years this chapter of the Urban League continually found African Americans jobs and fought for equal rights in the papers or with employers through direct protest. McWatt lists accomplishments from procuring employment opportunities for blacks at the St. Paul Hotel, Ford Plant, and American Radiator all at the height of the depression. In 1929 (Hightower’s predecessor) Robert Smalls corrected KSTP-radio and won a promise from them to no longer use racial slurs when introducing black musicians.
Today, the MUL offers a wide array of social services. In 2006, 65 people enrolled in MUL’s Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP), part of its community empowerment cluster. The LEAP participants received mentored training and exited the program into jobs with an average salary of $19.43/hour. More than 3000 people utilized MUL tools for job searches, and more than half requested further assistance or referral from the employment/ empowerment staff. Other programs focus on youth services and social wellness.
“The organization has enjoyed a period of growth,” Hightower said. “And it enabled us to launch a capital campaign and allowed us to raise millions of dollars to create additional spaces for our community and for our staff. Although there is no perfect time, transition gives us the opportunity to change and grow. I will be leaving an organization that is sound and has a clear direction for its future.”
“Clarence Hightower has had tunnel-vision in his 10 years here at the Minneapolis Urban League and his 30 years on the North side of Minneapolis,” says Lisa Bryant, Director of Marketing and Communication with Minneapolis’ Urban League. “He’s been completely dedicated to helping communities of color and the under-served. [Now] he’s been offered an opportunity he couldn’t pass – to lead Community Action, which has a $20 million budget and a staff of 300. This is an opportunity rarely granted to a black man.”
The Bridgespan Group’s 2006 study titled “The Nonprofit Sector’s Leadership Deficit” shows an ever-growing competitive market for leaders.
“Nonprofits with revenues greater than $250,000 (excluding hospitals and institutions of higher education) …over the next decade, these organizations will need to attract and develop some 640,000 new senior managers—the equivalent of 2.4 times the number currently employed,” says the report.
Hightower’s successes, coupled with a marketplace hungry for leaders probably increased his attractiveness to headhunters and area nonprofits.
Abukar Ali, president of the board of directors of the Community Action Program of Ramsey and Washington counties said, “We are very pleased that Clarence Hightower is joining Community Action as the executive director. I think he will be a good leader for Community Action.” Ali, a retired professional from Somalia has credentials from here to the United Nations. While abroad and employed by the UN he translated documents geared at recruiting and training farmers in techniques that would improve harvesting yields and provide new ways to protect produce. “I see a numerous opportunities for us to learn and grow with Mr. Hightower. His vision and leadership will be put to great use,” said Ali.
Community Action’s clientele are under-represented, impoverished, under-employed and marginalized Twin Citians. The bi-county organization has net assets of more than $9.5 million. Next year will be the organization’s 45th year in service to East Metro communities. Some keystone services include Energy Assistance, Energy Conservation, Foundations for Success, Head Start, Senior Nutrition, and Self-Sufficiency.
Similarities between the two organizations are hard to miss.
“I think there’s absolutely the potential for the Minneapolis Urban League to partner with my new organization, chiefly because the audiences we serve are essentially the same,” Hightower said. “The missions of the Community Action’s programs are focused on reducing the effects of poverty. And too, we should be talking about combating it jointly and how we can do it better.”
David Oguamanam became interim director of the Minneapolis Urban League on August 1, 2008. He has worked for MUL since 1997. During that time he acquired a mini-MBA for Non-profit Organizations from the Center for Non-profit Management at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The civil and corporate law attorney has practiced abroad in Lagos, Nigeria and stateside, in the Twin Cities metro region.
“I have learned a lot from Mr. [Clarence] Hightower during his tenure here at the Minneapolis Urban League,” Oguamanam said. “And I look forward to carrying on where he left off. We have a number of programs and activities planned for the rest of the year, and we have a staff that is dedicated to our mission and to serving our community. I’m honored to be given this important task.”