Josh Kraft to chair local Urban League board
Joseph Feaster becomes chair emeritus, plans to stay active with ULEM
The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts marked the end of one era and the beginning of another last week as they elected a new chair at the group’s 104th annual board meeting.
The board, headed the last seven years by attorney Joseph Feaster, approved a slate of new and returning members to be chaired by New England Patriots Foundation President Josh Kraft.
The elevation of Kraft, an experienced nonprofit hand who heads the charitable arm of the family-owned NFL team, comes as the latest step in an era of transition for an organization that brought on new president and CEO Rahsaan Hall last spring and aims to see growth in its scale, reach and offerings.
The moment of transition represents a critical point for both the organization and a country that is grappling with questions about the validity and value of long-term civil rights organizations, Hall said.
“We have a unique opportunity to double down on the work that we have successfully done over the years, providing services and advocacy for communities of color and the Black community in particular, but also expanding the work that we do, and doing it in new innovative ways,” he said during the annual meeting.
Feaster said the choice of Kraft to lead the board during what he called a “seminal moment” for the organization stemmed, at least in part, from a goal to bring on someone with experience running large organizations.
That follows a seven-year tenure from Feaster that Hall and others credited as a time of stabilization for an organization that was facing concerns around staff turnover and declining revenue.
Kraft brings to the role 30 years of experience with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, including almost 13 years as president and CEO. He said taking over as board chair will allow him to continue work he’s passionate about.
“The great thing about the Urban League is not only do they give folks workforce development and other opportunities, [but] they do it with support,” Kraft said. “It’s just exciting to be able to continue the things that I’ve enjoyed doing and working with different folks and bringing folks together to achieve that goal.”
Kraft’s long ties to clubs serving the Black community made his appointment as chair a natural fit, said Feaster, adding that it continues a long history of integrated leadership, including chair stints by former Filene’s executive Sam Gerson and Enterprise honcho Andrea Kershaw.
As Feaster transitions out of his role as board chair and into a position as chair emeritus, he still plans to stay involved with the group, specifically with efforts around fundraising and using his political background to support conversations between the group and political leaders.
The group hopes the inclusion of Kraft at the head of the board of the civil rights organization will also bring new support both through financial and networking opportunities as the Urban League pushes for a transition that isn’t limited to its leadership.
Rumors of Kraft being approached to challenge sitting Boston Mayor Michelle Wu for reelection in 2025 have only raised his profile in Boston. The appearance of both Wu and Kraft at the Urban League event raised a few eyebrows in Boston’s political circles. Feaster called it a non-issue and joked that “no one had to keep them separated.”
More importantly, said Feaster, the changing of the guard comes with hopes for expanding the Urban League’s scope and reach. The group’s efforts currently include training and education in the digital world, artificial intelligence, drones and STEM-related fields; elderly support; helping victims of domestic violence; networking for young professionals; and helping incarcerated individuals with their transition back into society.
Those programs are currently focused on the area in and immediately around Boston, but hoped-for growth and increased fundraising under Kraft and Hall could mean expansion across the South Shore and North Shore.
At the annual meeting, Hall highlighted his roots in Brockton and Feaster’s roots in Stoughton and said that people in those communities are facing the same challenges that the Urban League is working to address in Boston.
“As we continue to double down and lean in on the work that we’ve been doing, we’re going to continue to do it in other areas as well,” he said.
The expansion wouldn’t be a small undertaking.
“Obviously it will take a lot to be able to do that, but at least there is some consideration and thought being given to that,” Feaster said.
The group has paired discussions about geographic expansion with goals for increased fundraising. At the annual meeting, the treasurer of the Urban League’s board, Anthony Gaymes, reported that the group’s revenue is $1.86 million.
Gaymes, who serves as vice president of commercial lending at TD Bank, said the Urban League is aiming to grow its revenue to $2.4 million in fiscal year 2024.
The organization’s new faces don’t stop at the top of the ladder. Gina Knight, a Mattapan resident and long-time friend of both Feaster and former University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley, who led the local affiliate for three years on an interim basis, said she wanted to get more involved after the meeting. For her, that means becoming an Urban League member and then seeing where she can help.
“I think it’s a wonderful organization and what they’re doing for the neighborhood and for people in general,” Knight said. “I want to be a part of that. I want to make a difference.”
Robert Forbes, a Roxbury resident who attended the annual meeting, also said he intends to join, citing a lasting interest in community work and specific interest in initiatives around incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Growing and focusing on membership is also a goal Hall is bringing to the organization, including creating more structure to the Urban League’s membership with a membership drive, a membership card with discounts and perks and a more concerted effort on renewing existing memberships.
The group also intends to build stronger connections outside of the region, between the board of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and the national Urban League that oversees the local affiliate.
In the past, there has been limited coordination between the national organization and the local branch, said Hall, who is spearheading the work locally around alignment between the groups. He said the national organization is interested in increasing connection with its affiliates as well.
Hall pointed to programs from the national organization like Project Ready, which supports middle and high school students through mentorship, events and professional development, as well as federal funding opportunities that are available through the national group. He also said that greater collaboration will allow for more streamlined impact.
“We are stronger when we are involved in advocacy together,” Hall said. “Granted the local situations in each jurisdiction are going to be different, but the beauty of the Urban League is that we have the flexibility to pivot and to address the issues and concerns that are unique to the context that we’re in.”
That work with the national group will also include a focus on its new campaign, which it refers to as the “Three Ds”: to defend democracy, demand diversity, and defeat poverty.
Regina McClay said she’s excited to see the local groups focus on the effort, which she thinks will require on-the-ground engagement. She said she’s waiting to see if the group’s new leadership is up to the task of meeting the community where it’s at with the message but is hopeful.
“I think that the skill sets are there, whether or not there’s the willingness to beat the concrete is the essence of it, though,” McCleary said.