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by Maria Lloyd
Today I had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Arva Rice, the President and CEO of the New York Urban League. Rice, a graduate of Northwestern University, is no stranger to the urban community. Aside from living right outside of Chicago while attending Northwestern, she has dedicated close to twenty years of her life in the non-profit sector.
Rice discussed the fatal shooting that occurred just hours after President Obama addressed a packed auditorium in Chicago to discuss violence. The victim’s sister had attended President Obama’s address to Chicago residents just moments before the teenaged girl was tragically shot and killed. Mainstream media seems to narrowly focus on discussing the violence, but seldom offer any programs/initiatives that provide solutions to ending it.
Over the past few years, Rice has pushed the NY Urban League to work alongside community leaders and other organizations to address the issue of gun violence in the city. Our conversation is transcribed below:
Maria: Who are you and what do you do?
Arva: Well you did a very good job of letting folks know who I am already, but I am Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League. The New York Urban League is a 93-year-old Civil Rights organization that has been dedicated to providing education and employment to African-American New Yorkers for 93 years.
Maria: What are your thoughts about this tragedy?
Arva: I think that it really underscores how comprehensive that the issue is and how the fact that it’s not just about one savior, but it really is about the community coming together. As you mentioned, this woman’s sister was attending that event and then she comes back home and her sister has been shot in this incident. So I think that it is very much about gun control and gun violence.
…The African American community has had all kinds of struggles with our mayor but the one place and space that we stand very firmly behind him and think that he’s had a terrific leadership role is in the work that he has done organizing mayors against guns. But I think that it’s not only about taking guns out of the hands of young people, but it’s about what are you putting in their hands. The fact is that young people don’t have as many summer youth employment opportunities. There aren’t as many gyms that are open doing midnight basketball. There’s not as many opportunities for leadership. And because of that that is why we’ve had such an escalation of violence. Violence isn’t operating in a vacuum. It’s in fact a more comprehensive issue and problem and so we really need to support mentorship. We need to promote opportunities for leadership, as well as apprenticeships within our communities if we’re really going to address this issue.
Maria: What has the NY Urban League done to tackle this issue?
Arva: Sure. There’s some things that we’ve done that have been specifically focused on the issue and then there’s go to the larger issue, as I mentioned, comprehensive support for young people. We organized a conference and forum that we had looking at the issue and idea of violence here in the community — brought a number of different individuals including our police commissioner, our district attorney, as well as the head of our school’s department together to talk about this issue. The conference was organized, we did a whole one day session and out of it came a Harlem Youth Council that we created. And it was made up of the members of not only our organization, but also some of the other non-profit organizations. And the young people came together and talked about the issue of violence andalso… in collaboration and conjunction with the Schomburg Center.
That was a specific initiative that we did working with young people. And more comprehensively, we’re about education, so we provide young people with the tools, and support, and the money to get to college and through college. Because like I said, it’s more than just guns. It’s a grouping of people who feel like they don’t have the inspiration and support in order to reach their full potential, so they don’t value life the way they should and could. And so we’re providing them with the comprehensive support that they need to be successful.
Maria: How can we keep in contact with you and get involved with the NY Urban League?
Arva: We have a Twitter. People can follow me personally @ArvaRice. We have a Twitter account which is @NYUrbanLeague. We also are on Facebook. We encourage people to become a member of New York Urban League, which they can do at www.nyul.org. And we also have a very vibrant young professionals group which is made up of individuals between the ages of 22-40 who are looking to build their professional and career networks and also give back to their communities. So, the young professionals is a terrific group to be involved in.