The Chicago Urban League

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Approaching 100 years, the organization maintains excellence in advocacy.

The Chicago Urban League (CUL) has been a champion of change and a leader in the National Urban League movement with one main thought at the helm of its existence: A strong African-American community makes a better Chicago.

Drawing from its rich history and strategic focus on educational equality, economic development and social justice, the CUL has come full circle since organizing in the early 1900s to accommodate the large volume of African-Americans that moved to Chicago during the Great Migration. And while the issues unique to Chicago may have shifted, the organization has maintained a critical role in the African-American community that still reigns today.

“The power of opportunity” is what the CUL has sought for African-Americans since the beginning, explains Andrea Zopp, current CUL president/CEO and former National Urban League trustee (photo above). “Trying to make sure that African-Americans have the chance – that’s what we’ve been about for a long time. Those things that we hope will strengthen our community.”

With a strong focus on education, the CUL has consistently provided year-round programming for children, specifically targeting kids in middle school through college with college persistence programs. “We work with that group because we think it’s critically important to keep these kids focused on staying in school and being successful,” shares Ms. Zopp on the organization, which incorporates leadership development, academic support and service learning and helps students find employment through internships at its office as well as corporate and community partners.

Committed to exposing children to different career paths, the CUL hosts a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camp for middle schoolers, participates in local non-violence campaigns and took a few students to the National Urban League Conference in July. Additionally, 23 high school students recently returned from a two-week trip to China, “to learn about the importance of our global world and one of our global partners,” explains Ms. Zopp.

The CUL also continues to focus on job creation for African-Americans, most recently working with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) as it renovates a portion of the Red Line train system on the South Side of the city. “We’ve worked very closely with the CTA on the Red Line project in ensuring that not only African-American businesses were part of the project, but also that African-American workers, both skilled and unskilled, are on the job taking part in the opportunities,” shares Ms. Zopp. She adds, “We’ve been very successful. Literally hundreds of people have been hired.”

The CUL plans on using that same model to create job opportunities for African-Americans with upcoming projects happening within Malcolm X College and the Illinois Department of Transportation. Also assisting those affected by the housing crisis, Ms. Zopp and her team are working on a project with Freddie Mac called Take Root Chicago, which will help individuals stay in their homes. “The program will assist those who are buying new homes, to make sure that they are ready and are going to have the financial wherewithal, so that once they buy, the people stay in their homes,” she explains. “So as we start to come out of the foreclosure crisis, we can rebuild and start stabilizing our communities that were devastated by so many people losing their homes.”

As the National Urban League approaches its 100th birthday in 2014 and the CUL in 2016, Ms. Zopp affirms the mission remains the same as the organization has expanded to serve other minorities and the poor. “We are focused on continuing the work we’ve been doing for almost 100 years and working to really strengthen the African-American community, because we really believe that a strong African-American community gives a better Chicago. We are and will continue to be an important voice for the African-American community and create an agent of change for the African-American community, which we think is great for our city.”

Renita_Young

About Renita D. Young

Native Chicagoan Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist currently reporting for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune in southern Louisiana. With experience reporting on a variety of topics in three countries, she previously covered breaking news for Thomson Reuters, NBCUniversal's TheGrio.com and WVON 1690AM, among others.