I am honored to recently be elected chair of the board of directors of the Urban League of Greater Hartford (ULGH), a proud affiliate of the National Urban League (NUL). I have been a member of the board since 2012 and am now excited to take the lead in guiding the organization in its future direction. My specific goals as board chair include increasing the visibility and impact of the ULGH’s vital programs and services, strengthening the League’s work in the health sector, and ensuring the long-term sustainability and capacity of this critical community resource. I am particularly enthusiastic about working with a committed, engaged, and creative board of directors.
Building Synergies Across Three Roles
When ULGH president and chief executive officer Adrienne Cochrane and former board chair Jeffrey Oiler invited me to join the board four years ago, I questioned my capacity to effectively contribute. As a product of the turbulent ‘60’s, I was confident in my commitment to the organization’s mission, vision, and values. I wondered, however, how this role could be informed by and be synergistic with my leadership activities in the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office) and our Help Me Grow®National Center (National Center). Upon further reflection, the link seemed rather obvious, given the extraordinary influence of such critical factors as education, economic development, workforce development and employment, and housing on economic empowerment and, as a consequence, on families’ capacity to promote children’s healthy development. Furthermore, our activities in the development of programs, public policy research, and advocacy are highly pertinent to the related efforts of the League. As a consequence, I enthusiastically joined the board and, ultimately, assumed the role of chair. As anticipated, the opportunities for synergy are abundant. For example, ULGH has expanded its focus on health and wellness through such activities as housing a Hartford Healthy Start outreach worker and ensuring the outreach worker’s familiarity with the resources of Help Me Grow® and participation in our Office’s regional care coordination collaborative.
Current momentous, tragic events across our nation now command the full attention of our mission-driven organizations. Mass and individual shootings of civilians and police, protests against police aggression and misconduct, and overt acts of racism and terrorism demand the best thinking and collective action of our leaders. I now ponder the implications of current events for the activities of the Office, the National Center, and ULGH, as well as the interface among these efforts. While such time-sensitive issues as community policing and community relations, gun control legislation, and immigration systems and policies are debated at the societal level, we must simultaneously consider the “upstream,” longer-term interventions that address the root causes of current problems. In our current work, we are constantly mindful of the critical importance of efforts in multiple sectors: child health, early care and education, and family support, as well as child welfare, food and nutrition, housing, economic development, workforce development and employment, neighborhood health and safety, transportation, arts and culture, and faith-based initiatives. We also realize the need for all sectors to effectively collaborate within a comprehensive system of programs and services.
I have also come to conclude that our efforts to successfully address seemingly overwhelming and ubiquitous contemporary problems are ultimately predicated on the extent to which we strengthen families’ capacity to promote their children’s healthy development. I invite you to consider the extent to which our current challenges may be mitigated by strengthening families’ protective factors: family resiliency, concrete support in times of need, social connections, understanding of children’s development and parenting practices, and children’s social and emotional development. I no longer wonder as to the interconnectedness of my roles across multiple organizations. The unifying factor is the extent to which all interventions must engage and strengthen families. In fact, we will only succeed by ensuring that our efforts are collaborative and synergistic.
Building from Strong Roots
Founded in 1910 and headquartered in New York City, the celebrated mission of the NUL is to, “enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.” NUL experienced tremendous growth in the 1960’s when its executive director, civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr., championed racial integration and African-American economic empowerment. Over decades, the target population of the NUL has broadened beyond its historical mission as it strives to promote economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living for all in historically-underserved urban communities and close the equity gap which exists for African Americans and other ethnic communities. The NUL’s commitment to organizational diversity is exemplified by its current leaders, president Marc Morial and board chair Michael Neidorff. Morial is a nationally prominent political and civic leader who served as mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1994 to 2002. He grew up in the city’s Seventh Ward, the son of New Orleans’ first African-American mayor. Neirdorff is a Fortune magazine ranked corporate chieftain who is chairman of the board, chief executive officer, president and chairman of the compliance committee of Centene Corporation, described as a “managed care behemoth” with headquarters in St. Louis.
ULGH was founded in 1964 with the mission to reduce economic disparities in our local communities through programs, services and educational opportunities. It provides programs and services to more than 3000 area residents annually in the areas of adult education, youth development, workforce development and training, economic enrichment, and health and wellness.
Paul Dworkin, MD, is the executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, the director of the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and the founding director of the Help Me Grow® National Center.