The Urban League of West Michigan, formerly Grand Rapids Urban League, was organized in 1942 and is one of 100 affiliates located in 36 states and the District of Columbia and is the second largest affiliate in Michigan. The idea of a local Urban League began during 1942 when the League, known as The Brough Community Association of Grand Rapids, was organized to provide recreational and self-development opportunities for the Urban League of West Michigan community. One year later, the Board of Directors, anxious to improve and enlarge the programs of the organization, held a series of meetings involving other concerned citizens from businesses, industry, churches, and civic groups. The meetings quickly indicated an awareness that a local Urban League might help meet the needs of a rapidly growing urban area such as Grand Rapids.
In 1943, the name was changed to the Grand Rapids Urban League and Brough Community Association, and its first Executive Director was Edward P. Simms, Sr. The size of the staff was three. In 1947, the name of the organization was shortened to the Grand Rapids Urban League, its Executive Director was Paul I. Phillips, and the size of the staff was five. Mr. Phillips would serve the organization for nearly 30 years until his death in 1976.
In 1976, John W. Hall, became the Executive Director. He would serve for two years followed by Dr. Walter M. Brame, who served as Executive Director (later changed to President and CEO) from 1979-1992. Under Dr. Brame’s leadership, the League grew in staff size to 22 and its annual operating budget grew from less than $200,000 to over $2 million. In 1993, Rodney N. Brooks became the President and served through April 1995, followed by Lawrence Borom from 1997-1999. Dr. Brame returned to the position of President and CEO in 1999 and remained until his retirement in 2011. In 2012, the Board of Directors unanimously appointed Joseph D. Jones as its seventh President and Chief Executive Officer. Through his dynamic leadership, Mr. Jones will lead staff and volunteer teams focused in the areas of workforce development and neighborhood transformation models in Employment, Housing Education and Health.
In 2020, we officially renamed the Urban League of West Michigan to show our services reach beyond Grand Rapids. Today, the Urban League of West Michigan is dedicated to delivering services and creating systemic changes which eliminate racism and increase the availability of quality life chances. Our goals then are to enable African Americans, other minorities and the disadvantaged to become self-sufficient, secure, and healthy by providing programs in education, job training, employment, housing, health and economic development and to collaborate with other community groups to help achieve these goals.