(Ed. Note: Today’s article is by guest writer Heather Ryerson)
As the month of February winds down and Black History Month comes to a close, we wanted to highlight an organization that is not just identifying issues that need to be solved for African American and other minority groups but working to find equitable solutions.
“The Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL), an affiliate of the National Urban League, is dedicated to empowering communities and changing lives. Their mission is to enable African Americans, other minority groups, and the underserved to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights.”
I recently had the privilege of attending the KAUL Annual Membership Luncheon, where Dr. Charles F. Lomax, Jr., the new President, and CEO, shared his vision for the organization’s future. Dr. Lomax embarked on this new journey in December as the beloved Phyllis Nichols retired after having successfully led KAUL for over 20 years.
Dr. Lomax previously served with City Mayor Kincannon for three years as the Community Empowerment Director. His work with the city and urban communities uniquely positioned him to take on this new role. Dr. Lomax is also the pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Alcoa.
The luncheon was a celebration of the work done over the last year, a call to action for the community, and a bit of vision casting for the new President and CEO. The theme of the luncheon was “Onward and Upward.” This theme seemed very fitting to the vision and new partnerships that Dr. Lomax described.
Dr. Lomax began his presentation by explaining that many in the community do not know what KAUL does. I must admit; I was one of those people. The more I learned, the more impressed and encouraged I felt as I considered the future of our community and the part I can play in it. I sat down with Dr. Lomax shortly after the luncheon to find out more about this impactful organization.
As you can see in the mission statement, KAUL works with African Americans and other minority communities in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, health, housing, jobs, and justice. Each of those areas has specific programming to address the community’s needs. While I have a background in counseling, mental health, and community service work, like many, I had little understanding of the historical and cyclical issues that affected our African American community and other minority groups in Knoxville. KAUL is on a mission to honor the history of minority groups, but also to offer hope that tomorrow doesn’t have to look like yesterday.
KAUL is reinvigorating the Knoxville Area Urban League Young Professionals group. The first gathering is at Main Event on Friday, March 3, 6:30pm. Dr. Lomax emphasized a need to keep young professionals of color in our community. Diversity is vital to healthy community growth. He wants these men and women to experience the benefits of using their talents here locally. Oh, and if you are wondering what qualifies as a “young” professional, he did clarify that you must be between the ages of 24-40. We may only be as old as we feel, but that won’t get you into this group if you’re over 40!
KAUL has multiple programs to support minority entrepreneurs, promote workforce development, and remove barriers to employment. There are classes for qualifying individuals to work to get their criminal record expunged, which reopens many opportunities for them. This program was exciting to me. It is another example of how they are offering hope to the community.
Investment in young people and their success contributes to their well-being and to our community. At the beginning of next school year, they will expand their Project Ready program to middle schoolers and continue the work they are doing with highschoolers in their nationally recognized youth program, the National Achievers Society. They are also partnering with TN College of Applied Technology to become a site for adult education to allow those who want to complete their education to have an accessible place to do so.
One of the most significant events KAUL hosts annually is Shoes for Schools. This is a community-wide event for low-income students providing school supplies and new shoes to begin the school year feeling more confident. Their 20th anniversary event was held in 2022, where they gave school supplies to over 3,000 students and shoes to almost 1,700 students. For more on this great volunteer opportunity, reach out to email@example.com.
KAUL embodies its motto of Empowering Communities. Changing Lives. And I have barely scratched the surface of the incredible things the Knoxville Area Urban League is doing. Dr. Lomax’s enthusiasm, passion and vision are contagious.
If you want to be part of what they are doing, you can become a member for a tax-deductible $25 a year, and $50 will get you memberships to both KAUL and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, a new partner for KAUL. You will get monthly updates from KAUL highlighting programming, success stories, and more with an email subscription to the cleverly named ‘KAUL and Response’ newsletter (a play on Dr. Lomax’s background in ministry and the call and response portion of the church service). To subscribe, click here. This will be an instrumental tool in keeping the community informed and increasing the footprint of the organization. Please check out their website and see all the great work they do for yourself! You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.