The Urban League of Portland’s 2019 Equal Opportunity Day

The Urban League of Portland hosted its annual Equal Opportunity Day Dinner on September 17, 2019. The theme for the evening was Celebrating Our Legacy: Honoring the Past and Preparing for the Future to commemorate the beginning of organization’s 75th year of service to African Americans and others in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Each year, the OMA is delighted to attend to feature materials from the Urban League of Portland archival collection so dinner attendees can see highlights from decades past of how the organization has supported communities — support and empowerment provided through advocacy and civic engagement as well as youth, senior, health, and employment services.

Check out the photos of the display!

In addition, this year the OMA created a small display inspired by the evening’s theme celebrating legacy — a display of recent past presidents and well as “first” presidents.

A Legacy of Leadership: Urban League of Portland Presidents

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, 2015 – present day

Raised in Northeast Portland and Salem, a product of the famed Catlin Gabel School and Harriett Tubman Middle School, Harmon Johnson received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Florida A & M University, and a Master of Business Administration from Trinity University in Washington, DC.  She earned her Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law.  Harmon Johnson is a member of the Oregon State Bar and the District of Columbia Bar. Harmon Johnson served under former Oregon Governor John A. Kitzhaber, MD, as Communications Director from January to July 2014.  She then returned to private life and her small business. Her husband, attorney Erious Johnson, is the Director of Civil Rights with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s office. In 2015, Nkenge Harmon Johnson became the fourth woman CEO to lead the Urban League of Portland.

Harmon Johnson’s Call to Action!

Past Presidents

Michael Alexander, 2012 – 2015     

During his presidency, Alexander positioned the organization on solid financial, programmatic and management footing. Prior to the Urban League, he served in executive roles at Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, Magellan Behavioral Health, Human Affairs International and Aetna, including four years as vice president and executive director of the Aetna Foundation. Alexander received his bachelor’s degree from Lewis University in Illinois and graduate degree from Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research in Pennsylvania.

Marcus C. Mundy, 2007 – 2011 (interim during 2006)

Mundy is a Los Angeles native who moved to Portland in 2000 when his late wife took a job at Nike. He worked in risk management for the accounting firm KPMG and later became a vice president and regional compliance officer for Kaiser Permanente. He is a graduate of Howard University and the University of Oregon’s executive MBA program. Shortly after arriving in Portland, Mundy joined the Urban League board. Mundy took over as president and CEO in 2006. Mundy resigned from his position in 2011.

Vanessa R. Gaston, 2003 – 2006      

As president of the Urban League, Gaston focused the league’s activities within a seven-year strategic plan that established and tracked performance outcomes for programs; hired a professional staff to deliver quality services to the community; and served as an advocate on educational issues for youth, with particular attention to eliminating the academic achievement gap. Prior to her work with the Urban League, she served as associate superintendent at Washington Soldiers Home & Colony in Orting, Wash. After departing form the Urban League, she accepted the position of assistant director of social services for Clark County, Nevada.

Margaret L. Carter, 1999 – 2002    

Margaret Carter is the first African American woman to hold elected office in the Oregon legislature. Carter was a Democratic member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, in the Oregon House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1999 and then in the Oregon State Senate from 2001 to 2009. In 2009, she left the Senate to work as Deputy Director of the state’s Department of Human Services, continuing with the department until her retirement in 2014. Raised in Louisiana, Carter moved to Oregon in 1967. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Portland State University in 1972 and a master’s in counseling from Oregon State University’s Portland-based program.

Celebrating Firsts

Edwin C. “Bill” Berry, First President, 1945 – 1955

Edwin Berry was born and raised in Ohio. In May of 1945, Berry moved to Portland and joined the Urban League of Portland. He lobbied the Oregon legislature to adopt a Fair Employment Practices law and in 1949, the legislature approved the measure, and Oregon became one of a handful of states in the nation to have a law banning employment discrimination. He also worked on the campaign for the adoption of a statewide Public Accommodations law. In 1956, the Chicago Urban League offered Berry the position of executive director, which he accepted.

Freddye Petett, First Woman President, 1979 – 1984

Through her early career in the Pacific Northwest, Petett worked in many community-based organizations as well as in state and local government. She was Portland mayor Neil Goldschmidt’s administrative assistant and Board Chair for the Housing Authority of Portland. In 1979, Petett became the first woman to lead the Urban League of Portland. Through her leadership, the organization’s headquarters moved out of downtown and into Northeast Portland. Petett left her position with the Urban League in 1984 and became Administrator of the Adult and Family Services Agency in 1987.

Until 2020 and the Urban League of Portland’s official 75th anniversary!

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