WASHINGTON (NNPA)–Hugh B. Price, who took over a fading and financially strapped National Urban League eight-years-ago and transformed it into a revitalized and refocused civil rights voice, is leaving his post in April.
The Nov. 6 announcement was unexpected and Mr. Price says he has no definite plans for the future except a “better balance” between his professional and personal lives.
“There is never a good time to leave the job of a lifetime,” Mr. Price said in a letter of resignation to the Urban League’s board of trustees. “But after nearly nine rewarding and intense years, I think it is time for me to seek a new professional challenge and for the board to enlist fresh leadership for the 21st century.”
Mr. Price plans to step down as Urban League president and CEO no later than next April, depending on how soon his successor can be named.
“Hugh’s legacy of strong leadership will help shape the League today and tomorrow,” said Michael J. Critelli, chairman of the National Urban League’s board of trustees and CEO of Pitney Bowes, Inc.
In an interview, Mr. Price disclosed he had been thinking about leaving his post for a year.
“I don’t think it’s fair to any organization to stay until after you’ve peaked,” he said. “Things were going extraordinarily well and I want to pass a strong organization on to someone, not an organization that has begun to slip because my interest and energy is starting to slip.”
That Mr. Price has not lost his energy is an accomplishment within itself. He has maintained a grueling road schedule, traveling parts of 38 weeks and another 19 weekends over the course of a year.
When the Yale-trained lawyer, former foundation executive and member of The New York Times editorial board was selected for the Urban League post, there were as many questions about him as there were about the organization.
Can a person with no national civil rights experience effectively lead the National Urban League? Will his low-key, understated manner best serve the organization?
There were even more questions about the League, which was deeply in debt and perceived as rudderless and irrelevant. National figures, such as U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chair Mary Frances Berry, were openly asking: Is the Urban League dead?
No one asks that question anymore.
When Mr. Price assumed leadership, the National Urban League was more than $1 million in debt. He reorganized the staff, streamlined the organization and cut some programs. The league has operated on a balanced budget for six consecutive years.
The organization sold its old building on New York’s Upper East Side and moved into new headquarters on Wall Street, overlooking the East River. It launched an endowment fund that has tripled its capital assets. It also created the National League Institute for Opportunity and Equality in Washington, D.C., reestablishing the organization as a source of first-rate research.
Mr. Price again made the Urban League a major player in the civil rights movement. As the NAACP and other groups focused on such issues as voting–efforts that Mr. Price applauds–he decided to concentrate on education, pushing academic achievement among Black students and more parental involvement.
“He stayed with education,” said Sylvia K. Brooks, president and CEO of the Houston Area Urban League. “We could have gotten off track–he could have gotten into voting, we could have gotten into economic development–I think he felt that education is the core issue for African Americans and other minorities. He figured out how we, as a national organization, were going to focus on it.”
Internally, Mr. Price pushed the more than 100 local affiliates to meet measurable standards, become more independent and change the public perception of affiliates being merely a service delivery agency instead of a full-fledged leadership organization.
“People have often said to me that the National Urban League is a middle-class organization,” Mr. Price recalls. “I’ve said to them, ‘If you are accusing us of trying to get poor people and working class people into the middle class, we plead guilty,’ ” Mr. Price said.
Unlike some civil rights leaders, Mr. Price is not a publicity hound. Instead, he has identified his main issue and quietly worked to improve public education.
“We need to be very focused on preparing our people to be competitive,” he says. “We’ve got to participate in the processes that affect our lives. You don’t necessarily have to march to do that. You got to be at the school board meeting, you got to go to ‘Meet the Teacher’ night, you got to go up to the state legislature, if you think education is important and you want to be heard.”
Like other Urban League leaders before him, Price has had to deal with the organization’s image of being the “Avis” of the Civil Rights Movement. It was founded in 1910, a year after the NAACP was established. Its membership is believed to be second in size to the NAACP.
But Hugh Price refuses to see the Urban League as second to any group. He is also very proud of being part of the Urban League’s legacy.
And Mr. Price feels he has one more turn at bat. But he doesn’t know for which team.
“I’ll be 61 in two weeks,” Mr. Price said. “I think I got another major professional play in me. I don’t know what it is–I’ve not been looking–but it might be a range of possibilities there at 61 that might not be there at 64. So, I’m curious to see if there’s one more thing that I want to get up early in the morning to try to do.”