WHO ARE WE
The Greater Washington Urban League (“GWUL” or “The League”) is on a mission to strengthen the economic and political power of Black populations in the region. We work tirelessly to achieve a racially equitable metropolitan area and aim to ensure all Greater Washington regional residents benefit from the rewards of full citizenship.
For decades, the League has stood on society’s front lines, serving as both a safety net and facilitator of opportunity in Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, Maryland. As one of the region’s longest-standing civil rights organizations, the League continues to carve a distinct path towards justice and fair play by putting families first and focusing on the needs of children, the elderly, and everyone in between. GWUL has touched more than three million lives since 1938, guiding them down the road to self-sufficiency.
The Greater Washington Urban League is a 501(c)(3) non-profit civil rights and community-based organization. It is a member agency of the United Way of the National Capital Area and among the largest of over 80 National Urban League affiliates in the United States. GWUL is a HUD certified agency and employs staff that are certified financial counsellors.
GWUL will continue to advance racial equity as a mechanism to achieve equality while also fueling the acceleration of economic self-reliance, political parity, and physical and mental wellness.
WHAT WE VALUE
Through facilitating people’s journeys along a continuum of wealth and wellness, we foster dialogue around critical social justice and equity issues in our local communities. We carry out that work through the lens of five core values:
WHAT WE DO
The League empowers communities and improves regional quality of life through services in:
including employment and training services, job fairs, professional development, and networking opportunities.
The Greater Washington Urban League understands how urgent the economic situation is for our region’s most vulnerable residents – and that no one can be left behind as the region’s economy grows. We’ve created the Workforce Development division of the Greater Washington Urban League as a professional development sourcing mechanism for the residents we serve, as well as a career incubator driven by a mission to support a strong economy and the ability of each person to achieve self-sufficiency.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
including entrepreneur advising and business creation services.
through partnerships with area housing and utility services.
Even with the Great Recession officially ending, people are still in need as we continue dealing with the prolonged effects of an economic crisis. For vulnerable populations, the stakes are even higher: many must constantly choose between basic needs and paying their utilities. The Greater Washington Urban League services are free. We work with anyone who asks for our help. We gladly partner with key utility companies like PEPCO and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) to assist clients who are unable to pay their water, electricity or other utilities to get back on their feet. The ultimate goal of this cadre of programs is to help people arrive towards self-sufficiency while providing short-term crises intervention. The programs cover emergency assistance for water, gas and electricity bills – and, through that, more than 1,400 individuals on average benefit from utility assistance each year.
SECURING AND PROTECTING HOME OWNERSHIP
through financial assistance, first-time buyer seminars and trainings, and foreclosure counseling.
The Greater Washington Urban League’s Housing Division builds financial bridges from rental housing to homeownership, creating stability and prosperity for families throughout the region. Programs on financial literacy help youth and adults understand resource investments and wealth accumulation. The Housing Division offers homebuyer education workshops teaching participants how to apply for a loan, prepare a budget, and resolve credit problems. These and other workshops are offered at the Greater Washington Urban League headquarters in Washington, D.C. and in our Prince George’s County, MD Office
YOUTH DEVELOPMENT AND SCHOLARSHIPS
as well as internships and academic and vocational training programs.
Experiential learning is as valuable to the growth and development of a young person as is an academic education. The Greater Washington Urban League provides a broad array of experiential opportunities to young people. These include hands-on workshops for students and parents, field trip learning opportunities and mentorship.
The Urban League has been transforming Black lives in the metropolitan Washington area for more than 83 years, and we are nowhere close to being finished.
In 1938 when the Great Migrations brought thousands of Black people to DC in search of a better quality of life, The League was just in its infancy. Its founding board, chaired by Dr. Garnet C. Wilkinson, included Elwood Street, Howard Long, Alice Strong, John Corson, Campbell Johnson, William Lee, Belford Lawson, Anson Stokes, Newbold Noyes, John Pinkett, Thomas Parran, Velma Williams, and Muriel Alexander. At that time the 150,000 Black DC residents suffered from excessive unemployment and half of them lived on meager earnings from part-time work. A mere 8.4 percent of the Blacks in DC were federal workers with 90 percent of them holding custodial jobs.
The League made it their duty to increase Black employment in the public and private sectors and improve the status of domestic workers. They did so by using community activism to establish channels of education and organization.
The next 12 years leading to 1950 proved to be difficult for Blacks in the District. However, few saw the need for a new organization with progressive leadership and ideas. Some were satisfied with the employment opportunities; others feared that any partial gains that had already been made would be destroyed; in turn, they shunned the Washington Urban League.
The League began with no government funding and was able to raise $10,000 in an initial campaign. After joining the Washington, DC Council of Social Agencies in 1941, the League qualified to receive $4,000 each year in government funds.
In 1956 when Sterling Tucker became executive director of the Washington Urban League the struggle for civil rights was just getting underway; however, by the time his tenure ended considerable progress had been made toward equal opportunity and full citizenship rights for African Americans. As a fierce advocate for Blacks, Tucker introduced a range of programs at the WUL that proved to ameliorate some of the worse effects of racism and segregation. The 1960s became a decade of transformation for the League as racial animosity peaked nationwide. The work done in these times made WUL an integral part of the progress made in the civil rights movement.
In 1970 WUL opened its second branch office in Alexandria, Virginia and by 1976 its first privately owned headquarters was born at 3501 14th Street, NW. Three years later the Word Processing Center began operation and WUL’s programs became metropolitan in scope. These programs were designed to accomplish their mission through advocacy, action-oriented research, direct services, and interracial interaction.
In the 80s the nation's capital boasted a thriving downtown, a strong Black middle class, and a relatively low unemployment rate, but the city still endured de facto segregation.
In 1983 Betti S. Whaley was named president of WUL, making her the first female to head a League office. Under her leadership, WUL became completely immersed in the politics of District neighborhoods and its programs touched nearly every aspect of Black life in the District.
In 1990 the organization became known as the Greater Washington Urban League to reflect its expanded reach into Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Then-President, Maudine R. Cooper also received a title change from President to President and CEO.
For the next two decades, Cooper worked relentlessly to empower residents in the metropolitan Washington area through innovative programs and services in education, employment and training, health services, housing, and community development, and environmental training programs. In fact, one year after Cooper took the job, the League provided direct services to 58,437 clients.
In 2014 George Lambert took over the role of President and CEO.
As times change The Greater Washington Urban League’s commitment to closing the race equity gap does not. We will continue to provide strategic resources that enrich the Black community with invaluable knowledge.