Brandi Gray is a young, Winston-Salem native who attended the Winston-Salem Urban League’s Young Professionals Meet Up earlier this month. Working two jobs, one as a sales associate at Marshall’s, she was on the hunt for a career better suited for her B.A. in Mass Communications from Elizabeth City State University. This was her second time at this event, and she was dressed for success from head to toe. She fearlessly worked the room, picking up business cards and shaking hands. While she had not yet made the commitment to join the organization, she noted why she felt it was important:
“I like how this gives me the opportunity to be around young people like myself,” Gray said. “Growing up in Winston, there’s not really people like me who went to college and graduated. Most people I graduated with I can’t relate to – they’re either parents or just working odd jobs. So joining would give me a group of peers I could relate to.”
Tucked in a corner of downtown on 510 Trade St., one would discover the Winston-Salem Urban League– a non-profit civil rights and service organization formed in 1953 dedicated to providing various outlets of support for African Americans and other disenfranchised communities. The “Young Professionals Meet Up” is an event held every third Thursday, stemming from their Young Professionals group. This event aims to provide a place for mainly young, African-American professionals and students to build their network.
Jazz music filled the space as people socialized, their plates loaded with fruit and crackers. The event included a mix of both Urban League members and guests, and folks from a wide range of professions attended. In a room of around 20 people, there was a journalist, pastor, accountant, physical therapist and even a certified beekeeper with her own brand of honey.
Chatter died down as Ashley Banks, president of the Young Professionals Group, stepped to the podium and proceeded by providing a synopsis of benefits within the Young Professionals program, including a career exposition that will be held Oct. 16, the Summer Youth Employment program preparing high school students for future careers and mixers held throughout the year for network building. More exclusive benefits are available for members of the Winston-Salem Urban League, including services like résumé workshops, as well as leadership positions on the executive board.
The last speaker of the night was CEO James Perry, who encouraged folks to join the organization, and explained why the work of the Young Professionals group was an essential part of Urban League. He emphasized the program’s ability to bring in low-income teens from troubled backgrounds and provide services like paid internships in the summer – transforming kids from people not as concerned with their reality, to people who want to achieve better for themselves.
Jamal James was a junior student pursuing a business and economics degree at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He was interested in a career path that allowed him to be entrepreneurial.
“I just became a member over the summer, so this is my first networking event,” James said. “I enjoyed the general body meeting last month, and I’m expecting the program to help me meet other people, help out with the community and just help me grow as a person.”
While the Young Professionals group of the Winston-Salem Urban League focuses on prepping the youth for careers, there are many other benefits that the organization provides for the greater community. From voter registration campaigns, providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers to those who qualify, and a variety of community service opportunities.
“We’re all here because we believe there are great things destined for this community,” Perry concluded, “But we also know it will take work from those who live in the community.”