Message from NY Urban League President Arva Rice

Arva Rice

On May 19 the New York Urban League celebrated our 50th Anniversary Frederick Douglass Dinner in a spectacular evening.  The room was filled to capacity with partners and donors who have supported our education and employment programs for decades and people who recently become friends of the Urban League.   We honored corporate partners Macy’s and GEICO, education and philanthropy champions Dennis Walcott and Jason Franklin. We also thanked stalwart volunteers at Viacom and our very own Tammi Butler.  Members of our Young Professionals, our board, and participants in our programs were all hand to share the Urban League story with our guests.  We exceeded our fundraising goal with an impromptu alter call by TV commentator Roland Martin.

And yet my heart is heavy once again. My heart is Ferguson heavy, Baltimore heavy, Cleveland heavy, Staten Island heavy, and now McKinney heavy.  It is heavy because there is a need for us to do more and be more.

At our Frederick Douglass dinner I reflected on the quote by the renowned orator and statesman, It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.  

This quote from Frederick Douglass has stayed with me, because at first I did not understand it. I kept thinking but isn’t light a good thing?  Isn’t it something that brings us warmth and comfort?  Something that nurtures and makes things grow.  How could be being comfortable in the warmth of the sun be bad – unless we begin to forget those who still struggle.  Unless we have forgotten what it is like to be without.  Unless we forget those who have been left out and forgotten.

The light can be bad when it make us too comfortable.  Too comfortable to host an intern, too comfortable to speak to a classroom of students, too comfortable to mentor…too comfortable to write a letter, to attend a protest or to volunteer for a campaign.  Too comfortable to remember the costs of the comfort.

Frederick Douglass said that we need the storm, the whirlwind and the earthquake.  I can’t help but think that those of us who more often than not are judged by the content of our character have a responsibility to those whose zip code keeps them defined by the color of their skin.  I cannot help but think that for those of us who have been blessed to stand in the sun that it is our time to BE the storm, to CREATE a whirlwind and make the earth QUAKE.

At the New York Urban League we are working every day to send kids to college, and to find jobs for New Yorkers.  Through our summer programs, after school activities and Empowerment Days we are working to ensure that the growing New York City tech economy will not pass our communities.  We are training our young people to build and create rather than just consume.   We are bringing parents with them with our parent’s guide to college and STEM – dispelling myths that technology and science is only for rumpled old men in lap coats.   We are working to make the earthquake for the young people whose lives we have lost and who have been disrespected.  We hope that you will join us.

Arva Rice, President & CEO


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